Roadsters tend to be narrowly focused on performance, sacrificing practicality in the name of merriment. There are many different flavors, though. Increased athleticism usually results in reduced comfort, so it's essential to know what you're willing to forgo. On one end of the spectrum, there are the luxury drop tops, replete with every conceivable option and modern appointment -- and on the other end, there are the performance-biased sporting roadsters that purists drool over. The 2009 Honda S2000 falls squarely into the latter category, somewhere in between the docile Mazda Miata and the hard-core Lotus Elise.
The S2000 delivers plenty of knife-edge excitement and very little else. In keeping with the traditional roadster mantra, weight is kept to a minimum, thanks in part to a distinct lack of creature comforts. Power is supplied by a high-strung naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine that's matched to a deliciously mechanical six-speed manual transmission. Precision handling dynamics are also part of the S2000's DNA, as this high-revving Honda evinces excellent balance during hard cornering with minimal computer intervention. Moreover, there's no cowl shake to speak of. Even after nine years on the market, this is one of the most rigid roadsters you can buy.
This year sees the continuation of the S2000 CR model, which was introduced last year. CR stands for "club racer," denoting this model's track-specific tweaks for reduced weight and sharper handling. The performance gap between the standard S2000 and the CR isn't readily apparent unless you're on a racetrack, but for those who enjoy the occasional track day, the S2000 CR is worth considering.
There are three main knocks against the 2009 Honda S2000. First, its appearance hasn't changed significantly since it debuted way back in model year 2000, so your shiny new S2000 will bear an uncomfortable resemblance to $15,000 used versions on Craigslist. Second, while its 2.2-liter VTEC four does a credible impression of a racecar engine above 6,000 rpm, there's little power to speak of at lower engine speeds. Finally, modern amenities like Bluetooth and a navigation system are simply unavailable on this spartan sports car.
Nonetheless, we're still fans of the S2000. Its mid-$30K price positions it well against the cheaper but less capable Miata and more expensive European offerings from BMW, Porsche and Lotus. If what you're looking for is a focused driving machine, the S2000 remains a compelling choice despite its advancing years.
The 2009 Honda S2000 is a compact two-seat roadster that is available in two versions -- base and CR. The base S2000 includes a power convertible soft top with a glass rear window, 17-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights, leather upholstery, full power accessories, air-conditioning and a CD player. There are no significant factory options for the S2000, but a number of dealer-sourced accessories, including a removable hardtop, are available.
The CR model is a racetrack-focused variant aimed at die-hard enthusiasts. Air-conditioning and the sound system have been removed to reduce weight, though they can be added back as options. Other casualties of the CR's diet include sound insulation and the power soft top, the latter being replaced by the removable aluminum hardtop. The CR also receives some unsightly but effective aerodynamic spoilers, dark gray wheels with wider rear tires, even sportier suspension tuning, a quicker steering ratio, a sport-tuned muffler and fabric seats with suede inserts. Add it all up and the topless CR is 99 pounds lighter than the standard S2000 (51 pounds lighter with the hardtop installed). Some of the base model's options are also available on the CR.
Both variants of the 2009 Honda S2000 are powered by a 2.2-liter VTEC four-cylinder that produces 237 horsepower at a stratospheric 7,800 rpm and 162 pound-feet of torque at 6,800 rpm. A six-speed manual transmission relays this power to the rear wheels. Fuel economy checks in at an EPA-rated 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway and 21 mpg in combined driving.
All S2000s come standard with antilock disc brakes and stability control. In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tests, the S2000 was awarded four out of five stars for frontal impacts and five out of five stars for side impacts.
As with the rest of the S2000, the interior is focused on performance. All vital controls are at the driver's fingertips, including the bright red start button to the left of the leather-wrapped steering wheel. Though there's little in the way of luxuries, materials quality is first-rate. The cockpit is as snug as a racing helmet, and the seats offer superb side bolstering to keep the occupants in place during high-G maneuvers. The CR model's fabric seats with synthetic suede inserts provide even more support, and the CR boasts a revised shift lever that provides slightly shorter throws and more positive engagement. Trunk space is modest at 5 cubic feet, but that's on par with other roadsters.
Taking the 2009 Honda S2000 to its limits is a rewarding experience, thanks to its perfect 50/50 weight distribution, front and rear double-wishbone suspension and minimal body roll. Handling is razor-sharp and predictable, with nary a hint of body flex despite the absence of a solid roof structure. The engine's more aggressive variable valve timing kicks in with gusto at 6,000 rpm, delivering a flood of power much like a turbocharged engine. There's not much power until you get there, however, so the S2000 can feel flat-footed when driven around town.
Performance differences between the standard S2000 and CR model are nearly indistinguishable on public roads. It's on the track, however, that these differences make themselves known. The tighter suspension, upgraded tires and quicker steering ratio allow the CR to turn in quicker and with more authority.