While Japanese automakers are well known for producing small, economical cars, there is also a chapter in their history which celebrates the most exciting small cars of all -roadsters. An open-top two-seat automobile provides thrills and style which is tough to match, and in the 1960's companies like Honda were at the forefront of developing interesting variations on what has traditionally been a British theme. However, since these vehicles were only sporadically exported, and since Honda's relationship with the U.S. market was at the time largely limited to motorcycle sales, the iconic S series of cars developed by the company never had the chance to weave their way into the collective automotive unconscious of the American car enthusiast.
While almost everyone is familiar with the roadsters produced by Triumph and MG, the names S500, S600 and S800 mean almost nothing to the average sports car fan. These sporty, 4-cylinder convertibles were some of the company's most interesting products of the decade, but when the final S800 rolled off the assembly line in 1968, it would be the last convertible to be produced by the company for 30 years.
Adopting an economy-oriented approach to the North American market meant that for the most part, Honda focused on providing buyers with more value than thrills in the 1980's and 1990's. Still, a few hot versions of their domestic performance cars managed to make it overseas, such as the Honda CR-X. Seeing the potential for a possible topless variant on the popular two-seat barnburner, Honda decided to produce a targa version of the car and market it as the Civic del Sol. While not a true convertible, the removable roof option combined with the vehicle's short wheelbase and excellent handling allowed Honda to compete with the Mazda Miata.
When the del Sol ended production in 1997, Honda came to realize that by mining their corporate history they could come up with a replacement roadster that would also tie in to their somewhat obscure sporting heritage. The decision was made to produce the Honda S2000, a direct descendent of the rev-happy 4-cylinder vehicles of years past. The S2000 was to be Honda's first rear-wheel drive performance vehicle sold overseas, and every effort was made to ensure that it would enjoy rousing success amongst sports car buyers. This article takes a look at the Honda S2000, and discusses which generation represents the best used convertible currently available on the market from Honda.
2000 - 2003 Honda S2000
The first generation of the Honda S2000 sports car is also the best to many of the model's fans. There are a few reasons for this, with the most often cited being the fact that Honda decidedly toned down the subsequent versions of the car in order to offer a driving experience which was more compatible with urban traffic. This included changes to the vehicle's engine and to the overall suspension and chassis setup of the roadster. To many, this diluted the purity of the vehicle, causing it to trade excitement for an aura of domestication.
At the heart of the high-strung two-seater is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that uses dual overhead camshafts and variable-valve timing to produce an incredible 240 horsepower and 153 lb-ft of torque. Perhaps the most exceptional characteristic of this motor is that peak power is produced at 8,300 rpm, leading many to compare the vehicle's power delivery to that of a sport bike. The S2000 is outfitted with a 6-speed manual transmission, and drivers must stay fairly involved in order to make sure that the engine's revs stay in the necessary range in order to provide the right amount of motivation. This makes the S2000 better suited to the open road or the race track rather than bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Once in its natural element, the 2000 - 2003 Honda S2000 really shines. The vehicle's incredibly rigid frame and smartly designed suspension deliver exemplary performance even as the vehicle is thrown hard through a corner. The ride never feels harsh, a testament to the amount of time Honda spent on the vehicle's dynamics, but it definitely does have an edge, meaning that at the limit drivers must be careful not to induce power oversteer. There is a learning curve associated with the S2000's power band and handling style, but once mastered the vehicle is extremely rewarding for driver and passenger alike.
The 2000 - 2003 Honda has it all - thoroughbred good looks, a screaming high-horsepower engine and knock 'em dead handling - making it one of the best used roadsters available.