By James Wong
It’s rather irrational, this Honda craze. After all, the natural progression for a typical Singaporean car buyer is to go from a mass-market Japanese car to, eventually, a ‘continental’ car (understood to mean European and American brands) which has supposedly better safety, performance and handling but at a price. While this traditional view takes some beating nowadays, I go quite completely opposite and am cherishing Japanese cars more than I ever did. In fact, I am quite sick of German cars that have been my mainstay for the past 2-3 years. You could say it is just childish indecision or naive ‘avoid the herd’ mentality, but I am certain I am changing to a Japanese car next. About why, that’s for another article. Right now, let’s focus our attention on the S2000.
There is no link between the car’s launch in 1999 and its ’2000′ nomenclature to signal the new century. Rather, it is so named because of its engine displacement – a 2L engine also known as the F20C that has the famed 9,000rpm redline. The engine that replaced it in the AP2 models is the 2.2L F22C1 that reportedly had a more usable torque curve with the sacrifice of a lower redline (8,200rpm). Both are good for around 240PS and around 220Nm of torque. Astounding numbers for an engine of that size, which Honda seems to churn out effortlessly. In fact, the S2000′s engines have one of the highest power-to-displacement ratios of any production engine ever produced.
Sampled in this article is the F22C1. Although the paper figures are mightily impressive, make no mistake – against modern machines, the S2000 is not a fast accelerating car. In fact, it feels like something from the appetizer menu next to the main course full-on K20A experience in the FD2R (disclaimer: the FD2R I sampled had a Hondata chip up to about 240bhp). What comes to mind is the Accord Euro R CL7, with its milder power delivery than in the FD2R despite having the same engine. The S2000 feels even milder. In fact, I felt it a bit difficult to figure out whether VTEC has kicked in simply because its effect is almost like a heady top-end of a sporty naturally aspirated engine, very much unlike the huge step-up of power, noise and acceleration that the K20A brings when on VTEC. However, every zing to the redline is an event; multiple downshifts are necessary to access the top-end power but when you get there it is thrilling just like in any great Honda: sound deadening is minimal and you get to hear all of the engine’s wail shrilling through underneath the cabin. The sweep of the digital tachometer never fails to raise heartbeats by a few notches.The gearshift, surely the best I have ever felt in any road car (yes, it unseats even the 997.1 GT3), sweetens the wait for VTEC. If there was any gearshift that defines the cliched expression of a rifle-bolt action, the S2000 can hold its head very high indeed. However, I can’t help but imagine having the K20A under the S2000′s bonnet will surely add a few more stars to the car’s favour.
I didn’t get to bring the car to its handling limits as it was a very wet day and the car was on semi-slick Toyo R888 tyres. Unless I wanted to incur the wrath of my good friend Brendan (and surely the most JDM-crazed and one of the most dedicated car enthusiasts I know), I drove the car exceptionally carefully. However, in its current state, the car is very difficult to live with in a daily basis. Heck, it was just a 20-minute drive and I already had a list of things to moan about!
First, it was the clutch-actuated aftermarket LSD fitted to the car. I honestly felt as if a whole gearbox came out of the undercarriage and was being dragged along the road. I hastened to act as if nothing happened in case Brendan caught a whiff of something wrong with his car, but in actuality there is nothing wrong at all. ‘It’s just the LSD, I forgot to tell you about it’, he muses as I gravely looked upon his car as if I did some offence to it. I honestly didn’t drive it enough to feel its effects, but remembering the same in Brendan’s previous Silvia, it’ll probably be a great step-up in terms of grip. Not something I would install in my daily driver though.
Next were the seats. I must be old. I had a (*(*^^$^^&*() time prying myself out and in from it. No problem if it’s at Sepang, but a big no-no for the road. Good thing then that the car is not overly loud and that it has a comfortable suspension (but still with a front splitter that will repel unfriendly car parks). Well, viewed as a track car, it is fantastic – I am excited just thinking about how it will perform on the track. But as a road car, it is far too compromised. At Lenspeed we like our cars to be used for what they were designed for (or modified for) – so as a package this particular S2000 didn’t really appeal to us on the road. That would be an unfair verdict though. After all, I tested it in its unnatural environment and as such deserves brownie points for being able to be driven on the road at all.
What can’t be denied though is that the S2000 is a very, very special car. This is certainly an epic drive that I can never forget (even if only for 20 minutes). There might be nothing like it ever again. In fact, Honda seems to be straying further and further away from what we love them for. We no longer have the Type-R, let alone the promise or hope of a replacement; we have instead a hybrid sports car (yeah, right) that is currently fronting Honda’s sporty range. Honda killed off the S2000 and has lukewarm plans for a new NSX. What exactly are they doing? It seems that it is following Japan’s near two-decade long lull into irrelevance, alienating its enthusiasts and instead building cars for the mass market. Sure, this would keep the company alive, afloat, but where is the reward for the Honda loyalists? Thankfully, we still have the old Honda cars which we can buy, which is what most enthusiasts are doing now. Let’s just hope Honda will follow Toyota/Subaru’s lead in the GT86 and re-engage the enthusiast again to rekindle what is most needed at Japan right now: rejuvenation.
So would I buy an S2000? Surely. But a stock one, please – and an AP2 for the torque and sorted handling.
Thank you to Gerald for the pictures and Brendan for letting me drive his vehicle.