Test Drive: 2008 Honda S2000 CR
The Honda S2000 convertible sports car has never been for everybody. It is not designed to appeal to a broad spectrum of buyers. Its interior isn't laid out for optimum commuter efficiency. It does not deliver silky ride quality. It is as far from all things for all people as a car can get.
The Honda S2000 does, however, kick some major butt.
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Honda is largely known as a producer of economy cars, family sedans, and other sensible transportation modules like minivans and crossover suvs. Yet Honda has a different side, the one where all of its vehicle engineers work on racing programs before being turned loose on passenger cars. The really lucky ones got to work on the Honda S2000. Although it's been around for the better part of a decade now, this two-place, front-engine, rear-drive sports car still boasts excellent handling, stellar balance, great looks and an engine that revs like it came from a Honda motorcycle. It's aimed squarely at the hearts of driving enthusiasts, those who are willing to give up a certain amount of sound deadening, creature comforts and refinement to get a car that carves a mountain road like a butcher slicing a roast.
For 2008, Honda introduced an even more extreme version of the S2000, the limited edition Honda S2000 CR. "CR" stands for "club racer," and this S2K is aimed at an even smaller crowd that eschews street tires for sticky gumballs on the weekend, hitting the track, winning trophies, and bragging about it to their friends the following Monday. Honda split its own arrow with the CR, and if the above describes you, the 2008 Honda S2000 CR is possibly the ideal car. For everyone else though, the compromises made to the S2000 make it unworkable as a daily driver. Luckily, the standard Honda S2000 is still around to fill that gap.
The 2.2-liter 4-cylinder engine under the long hood of the S2000 is a peaky little beast. In lay terms, that means that it generates a lot of power (237 hp) and decent torque (162 lb.-ft.) but at very high engine speeds (7,800 rpm and 6,800 rpm, respectively). The upshot is that you have to drive the S2000 CR like you stole it to get anywhere fast, because all of the power is gathered at the top.
That said, top-ends don't get much better than this. The little engine screams to redline, the VTEC variable valve timing audibly switching to its high-lift mode at about 6,000 rpm, and the engine suddenly makes more power. In the CR, a light appears on the dash telling you when you're making maximum power, and with only about 2,850 pounds to move, the S2000 CR is definitely quick.
The transmission is about as close to perfect as it gets. The clutch take-up is smooth and light, but positive -- there's no question of when you're engaging or not. The Honda S2000 shifter's throws are so short that inexperienced S2000 pilots question whether they've made a complete gear change or not (they have). If you're flogging the S2000 CR, the gears are perfectly matched to the engine's powerband, and you stay in the meat of it when you shift at redline.
Drive the Honda S2000 CR in traffic though, and it's not all sonnets and roses. The engine's high-rpm power comes at the expense of low-rpm grunt. Ask for additional thrust at 60 mph in 6th gear and you get little forward motion, but a lot of grumbling from the engine compartment. It's really not a huge deal to us though, as it simply gives us another opportunity to play with the excellent S2000 CR transmission.
Ride & Handling
Whip the Honda S2000 CR up your favorite mountain road, and you'll wonder why Honda doesn't do more rear drive cars, since it so clearly has a knack for them. The S2000 CR's steering response is immediate, perfectly weighted, and as pithy in its communication as a nightly news anchor. The car's limits are surprisingly high, with the front end gently breaking away at the edge of adhesion. However, you can pitch the Honda S2000 into a corner and let the tail slide just as easily if you like, doubly so if you switch off the stability control. The brakes live up to their end of the bargain by being strong, easily controllable and fade free.
Yet again, get the S2000 CR out on the open road, and you discover that however good its trick is, this pony only has the one. The ride is unforgivably harsh, with every divot, pockmark and pebble transmitted to the cabin...and the small of your back. The steering is twitchy, the brakes grabby. Commuting in an S2000 CR is as irritating as blasting around in one on a racetrack is fun; Honda should have a contrasting black-white color scheme just to emphasize the vehicle's yin-yang nature.
Interior & Exterior
Yes, that wing is standard on the Honda S2000 CR, and no, you can't delete it. Along with a few other aero enhancements, the wing helps separate the S2000 CR from regular S2000s. That, along with the lack of a soft top. If you want to keep the rain off your head when you drive, you'll have to leave the black-only hard top in place. Removal is a two-person job, and be careful, as the prongs that locate it to the body hang down far enough to gouge the wing if you don't lift high enough. On the plus side, Honda provides two panels to fill the gap between where the top was and the body work, and they look particularly nice.
The interior on the CR is standard-