Honda S2000 (1999-2008) - Buyers' Guide

By: Cliff Chambers

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honda s2000 4 honda s2000 4

Developed from a motorshow design and to commemorate Honda's 50th anniversary

 

Honda S2000

Honda during the 1960s built Japan’s most innovative sports cars then went away and for 30 years did not build a soft-top of any significance.

When it appeared in 1999 the Honda S2000 bore no resemblance to the S600/800 cars that launched Honda into the world of car making. Except that those early cars and the S2000 both used engines that loved to rev.

The S2000 was developed from a motor-show design exercise displayed in 1995 and was launched to commemorate Honda’s 50th Anniversary as a motor manufacturer. Australia saw its first S2000s late in 1999 and during the model’s first full year in our market more than 500 were sold.

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At almost $70,000 and with the hardtop an extra cost option the S2000 was $20,000 dearer than a VTi-R Prelude while delivering only 30kW more power and a few extra inclusions. However it was still $5000 cheaper than the 2.0-litre BMW Z3 which could only muster 110kW.

The 1997cc engine was of course vastly different to the Prelude’s less potent 2.2.  A glance at the S2000’s bar graph tachometer with its 9500rpm red zone would have provided a big hint that this car liked to rev and was going to provide nowhere for the lazy driver to hide.

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Cars sold in Australia came with a lower compression ratio than in some other markets and slightly less power as a result. This was because most of Australia had limited access to higher octane fuels and, while 95 Premium was recommended, a tank or two of 91 when venturing to places where it was the only option wouldn’t send the knock sensor nuts.

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With its VTEC variable valve timing system coming on stream from 6000rpm, the Honda engine did its best work in rev ranges that would send other engines to the wreckers. Maximum torque was a miserable 208Nm and it didn’t deploy fully until the tachometer was registering 7500rpm. Well before that the symphony of exhaust and engine would had become very apparent. 

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The S2000’s six-speed transmission was then and is now regarded among the best gearboxes and shift actions ever encountered in a road car. In keeping with the car’s character and the demands it placed on the driver there would never be an automatic version.

What there was from 2004 in some markets but not Australia was a less frenetic, 2.2-litre VTEC. It still reportedly made wonderful noises but produced its power lower down the rev range.

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The Honda on its 2400mm wheelbase looks relatively roomy however the driving position is cramped if you’re tall and the passenger will feel a mite adjacent if you’re bulky.

Steering wheel and gearshift are in close proximity though, so time spent away from the wheel when grabbing a gear is minimal.

Finding a pre-2003 car in decent condition still isn’t difficult, however prices during 2019 were rising. Cars that had averaged 5000-7000 kilometres annually for their first 20 years of life often exceed $25,000.

Sales of S2000s after 2002 plunged significantly and cars of this age aren’t as easy to find.

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Value range Honda S2000 (Pre-2003)

Fair: $9500
Good: $18,000
Excellent: $30,000

(Note: exceptional cars will demand more)

BUYER'S CHECKLIST

Body & chassis

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Honda’s reputation for build quality has been brilliant since the 1970s and the only reason for an S2000 to be rough and rattly is owner abuse. Check that low-slung sills haven’t been dented by speed bumps and the bumper extremities haven’t been kerbed. Replacements for cracked bars cost less than $400 with new covers less than half that amount. Cars with a hardtop are desirable but remember you need somewhere to keep it and a friend to help remove and re-attach the heavy lump of fibreglass. 

Engine & transmission

These are an engine where scrupulous maintenance is absolutely essential to survival. Changing engine oil and the filter well before service intervals expire will be vital if the car is used infrequently or for short trips where the engine barely gets warm. Sludge comprising old oil and carbon particles clog the valve train and especially the VTEC actuator causing damage and blunting performance. The gearbox is tough but they do wear so budget $4000 for a replacement if gears don’t engage easily or there is bearing noise. Due to the high revs needed for clean getaways, the clutch can suffer rapid wear. If it squeals or shudders ask the vendor for a price reduction to cover replacement.

Suspension & brakes

The S2000 with double wishbones, coil springs and massive anti-roll bars needs immediate attention to any problem that arises. Any hint of front-end bounce, excessive squat or camber at the rear when accelerating, noise when turning tightly at low speeds or from the power steering needs investigation and possibly a costly repair. Genuine parts are not cheap and it may be preferable to get advice from a specialist in high-performance suspension and spend the money on re-rated springs, bushings and shock absorbers to suit your use pattern. S2000 brakes are excellent but several suppliers offer ‘big brake’ upgrades with 13-inch rotors.

Wheels are not interchangeable front to rear.

Interior & electrics

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Leather that has seen 20 summers without particular care will be cracking and need at very least some worn sections replaced. The hood may also be suffering similar age-related issues and if getting a new one spend some extra on the later design with a glass window rather than plastic that goes milky and cracks. Seat runners need to move freely and lock in position, so too the electric windows which might have been down for long periods in seldom-used cars and don’t want to move. 

1999-2008 Honda S2000 specs

Number built: 110,678
Body: All-steel integrated body/chassis, two-door convertible
Engine: 1997cc in-line four-cylinder with overhead camshafts & fuel injection
Power & torque: 178kW @  8300rpm 208Nm @ 7500rpm
Performance: 0-100km/h  6.4 seconds, 0-400m 14.6 seconds
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Suspension:
Independent with wishbones, coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers & anti-roll bar (f)
Independent with wishbones, coil spring, telescopic shock absorbers & anti-roll bar (r)
Brakes: Disc (f) disc (r) power assisted with ABS
Tyres: 205/55R16 radial (f)

 

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