Test venue: Sutton Coldfield and Warwickshire
The market for sports roadsters is one of the most hotly-contested in the UK, with potential products coming face to face with the flagship Porsche Boxster or the new BMW Z4. In recent years Honda has built up a formidable reputation for designing and selling quality cars powered by some of the world's finest engines. It is the latter trait which makes the S2000 stand out from the crowd.
Rear-wheel drive, front-engined sports cars are a dying breed on modern-day roads. Back in the seventies and eighties you could buy a tail-happy sports car and enjoy hours of fun on the roads without running the risk of upsetting the local constabulary of falling foul of a speed camera. The hot-hatch era of the late eighties and nineties saw the powerful front-wheel drive car in vogue with only a handful of manufacturers persevering with a rear-wheel drivetrain.
Wheel out the S2000. This nimble little addition to the Japanese marque's range is powered by a 240 bhp, 2.0-litre VTEC engine mated to a six-speed transmission. The aluminium-alloy engine delivers 208 Nm of torque at an astonishing 7500 rpm and will take you on to illegal speeds in just over six seconds and to a top speed of 150 mph.
Sit in the figure-hugging sports seat of this two-seater and you immediately feel that you are at the wheel of something a little different. A push button start gives the S2000 that race-car feel and then the howling VTEC fires into life. Engage first and join the flow of traffic and there is no evidence that this sports car is anything more than a street cruiser, although changing gears at low speeds takes some getting used to with the sensitive clutch and close ratios of the gearbox.
It's when you spot a patch of open road that the S2000 comes into its own. Floor the throttle in second gear and you'll be catapulted into the rear of your seat as the engine screams its way towards 9000 rpm. Quick changes into third and fourth gear keep the momentum up and you realise that this is a serious driver's car when driven on the limit. The engine sounds like a full race-built unit from inside the rather claustrophobic cockpit. I didn't have the opportunity to drive this car with the roof down on a wet Valentine's Day in Birmingham!
But the S2000 is more than just a throaty and highly-tuned lump in a sports chassis. Honda have introduced a number of key changes to the 2004 model. The chassis has been further stiffened and a new performance strut has been developed between the two ends of the front frame and ahead of the radiator. Additional bracing has been installed to the front suspension upper arm brackets, the rear wheel bulkhead area and the front cross member. Rear suspension bushes have been strengthened to prevent body roll and increase stability.
The result is a neutral-handling sports car, which only misbehaves itself in the most extreme situations. Honda have stiffened springs and dampers as well and reduced the size of the rear anti-roll bar.
The car brakes superbly when called upon to do so. Honda has introduced a more advanced ABS system and the S2000 stops on a sixpence when the need arises without the driver losing stability behind the wheel.
From the outside the S2000 looks every bit the stylish two-seater you would expect for an on-the-road price of £26,513 for the base version or £27,513 for the GT, which includes a hardtop, cover and stand. New 17-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels are fitted as standard and the tyre dimensions have been increased to a 215/45 Bridgestone profile at the front and a massive 245/40 at the rear.
Modifications to the front end see the introduction of a triple beam headlight assembly and a distinctive arrow-like nose design. The rear end features a revised bumper and new twin chromed exhaust pipes.
Inside there is limited storage space, although Honda have tried to maximise the available area by designing deeper door side pockets. A leather gear knob, leather gear shift surround and silver interior trim have been introduced. The instrument panel is digital and a pair of speakers have been mounted in the seat headrests for ease of listening when the roof is off.
Don't worry too much about fuel consumption either. Honda cars have never had a reputation for being gas guzzlers and this model will easily see an average of 28-30 mpg in general driving, although this might drop below 20 if you are feeling a little more adventurous.
The S2000 a quality product in the niche sector of a competitive market. If you don't fancy the status or the insurance costs of the Porsche and are not a fan of the BMW roadster, then the Honda is the car for you. Besides, its engine is one of the finest on the road today and it sounds fantastic when revved to the limit.
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