Retro road test: Honda S2000

What is it?

The Honda S200 is one of the most iconic roadsters of all time and was produced from 1999 to 2009 – proving itself immensely popular during the entirety of its production time. But what makes it so special? The engine’s a crucial part of this, with the 2.0-litre, naturally-aspirated petrol engine producing 237bhp – though we’ll come to this a little bit later.

Essentially the best part of the S2000 is its sheer simplicity. You’ve got a lightweight motor up front, a manual gearbox, rear-wheel-drive and that’s it. If you’re after a proper sense of driver connection, then this is the car for you – you don’t feel like you’re sitting in the car so much as wearing it. Honda really thought about connectivity with the person behind the wheel when they made the S2000.

It may feel a little old-school compared to today’s modern sports cars, but it’ll still crack 60mph in 6.2 seconds and hit a top speed of 150mph. Though that may not sound awfully fast – the modern diesel Volkswagen Golf is capable of seeing the same figures – the way the S2000 delivers its power is utterly intoxicating.

What’s under the bonnet?

As mentioned, the S2000 has a 2.0-litre engine sitting underneath the bonnet. In fact, it’s actually set back a little bit further than you’d expect – this contributes to a perfect 50:50 weight distribution. Power is sent to the rear wheels via one of the best six-speed manuals in the business – it’s an absolute joy to use. It’s all about that VTEC performance here, of course.

Low down in the rev range, the engine feels like it’s barely doing anything at all – and you’re almost fooled into thinking that the S2000 is a bit of a damp squib. But keep your foot in it, and as the revs build so does the excitement. Make sure you keep those revs building and you’ll be rewarded – don’t worry, the valves aren’t going to come bursting out of the bonnet, even though it may sound a bit like it. You then completely rethink the way you drive; you want to keep that engine on song the whole time, so you only change gear when the engine is utterly crying out for it. It’s an amazing experience, and it makes you realise just why the S2000 proved so popular over its lifetime.

How are values today?

Prices for the S2000 are relatively affordable today. Ensure that any car that you’re looking at has been well cared for and that the tyres and brakes have been well looked after to ensure trouble-free running. In fact, you should be able to pick one up from around £4,500 – though this is likely to be a relatively high-mileage example. Add around £3,000 to that for an even smarter used version. You’ll look to pay quite a lot more than that for a special-edition model, while prices for second-generation facelift models will be a little bit higher too.

That facelift brought a fresher exterior look, and also implemented some pretty radical changes to the suspension. Honda revised the car’s chassis extensively, and this made it far friendlier to drive than the earlier models. One thing to note, S2000 prices seem remarkably stable, with plenty of examples holding their values well. It means that if you do take the plunge and purchase your own iconic Honda, then you shouldn’t see much of a drop-off in value during your ownership of the car.

What were its rivals?

When the S2000 came out in the late 90s and early 2000s, it did have a number of rivals to go up against. There was the all-conquering Porsche Boxster which, despite being in its infancy, was delivering a premium sports car experience alongside knockout looks. Yes, it may not have been the fastest Porsche out there, but that badge alone was enough to get people flocking to their nearest dealership.

You also had the curvy and stylish first-generation Audi TT. It was available both as a hardtop and a roadster, with both proving incredibly popular. It wasn’t that practical, however, but that didn’t stop this icon from flying off the forecourts.

BMW’s Z3 has gone down as one of the best-to-drive around, particularly in the case of the larger, more powerful six-cylinder versions. That said, the smaller-engined versions weren’t all that exciting to drive, but still packed the same retro styling of the more potent versions – which was good enough for most people.

The S2000 had more than enough competitors in the roadster segment, that’s for sure. However, thanks to its decent price and involving drive, it could keep its head held high – even against the likes of BMW and Audi.

What should I look out for?

The bad points with the S2000 are rear tyre wear and poor suspension. It’s quite a short suspension travel on it, and the rebound — over the course of time — gets knocked out. The large tyres are expensive to replace, too.

These Hondas are a little susceptible to rust as well, so if you’re looking at a model make sure to check right underneath the sills and arches, and keep an eye out for any bubbling paintwork too. Honda didn’t do a thorough job when sealing the underneath of the S2000, so it’s quite prone to rust. It’s worth checking to see if the previous owner has applied any new sealant to the underneath of the car.

One of the key things to have a look at is the roof. Ensure that it raises and lowers properly and that there aren’t any rips or tears in the fabric. If it happens to be dry when you’re inspecting the car, give the cabin a thorough going over to look for damp – this would give you an indication as to if there was a leak in the roof or not.

  • Model: Honda S2000

  • Engine: 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated petrol

  • Power (bhp): 237

  • Top speed (mph): 150

  • Price (when new): £27,730

  • Price (today): circa £4,500

  • Production run: 1999-2009