Like so many members of the automotive press, we raved about the Honda S2000 ever since we got a chance to drive it last year. In fact, we liked it so much, that we named it best performance car in our annual Drivers’ Choice Awards. But while we’ve spent plenty of time behind the wheel, we never got to give it a proper workout in the arena where performance cars are at their best, the race track! So now we have a S2000 and a day at Georgia’s challenging Roebling Road Raceway. So let’s get to work!
If we were to hazard a guess, we’d say that 95% of all sports cars sold in the U.S. will never pass an apex marker on a real racetrack. But many of them, like this new Honda S2000, will see action on twisty country roads or steep mountain grades, and that’s why we at MotorWeek perform race track tests. Only on a racetrack can we safely discover the limitations of a car’s design, and from that learn how a car will behave in demanding or unexpected street situations.
Take Georgia’s Roebling Road Raceway for instance: This 2.0-mile track’s flat, fixed- radius turns and long straightaway are a perfect match for the S2000’s reach-for-the-sky power curve. With plenty of room for the 2.0 liter twin-cam inline-four to rev to its 9,000 RPM redline, the driver can experience the S2000 as its engineers intended it to be driven.
Rowing through the precise 6-speed gearbox, you can feel the torque curve as it surges past its 7,500 RPM peak of 153 pound-feet. Then the power band climbs more progressively all the way to 8,300 RPM and 240 horsepower.
We also find Roebling to be a good test for a high performance suspension and tires. Even as the S2000 picks up speed in the turns, the suspension remains compliant and responsive, keeping the driver firmly in control. Here Honda’s torque-sensing limited-slip differential, and compact, in-wheel double-wishbone suspension, eliminate those nasty mid-corner surprises.
But what Roebling really demands of a car is brakes. Lap after lap, diving into turn one from speeds of 130 or more, the Honda’s ABS-equipped four-wheel discs never left us wanting, and showed no signs of fade.
We like Roebling Road for its consistency, as it lets us easily compare one car against another. But to fully exploit a car’s potential, it’s tough to beat Georgia’s other great road course, the 2.5-mile Road Atlanta, where we also tested the S2000. Here, major elevation changes, off-camber turns, and heavy braking zones, really work a car to its limit.
The S2000 boasts an ideal 50/50 front to rear weight distribution, but perhaps more importantly, nearly matches that number in side-to-side balance as well.
By placing the spare tire, battery and fuel tank in the mid-section of the vehicle, and locating the engine behind the front axle, Honda engineers have achieved what they call a “reduced yawing moment of inertia,” or what you and I might simply call “nimbleness.”
Snaking through Road Atlanta’s S-bends, or cresting a hill into a blind-entry turn, the S2000 always remains poised, moving from side-to-side as easily as a downhill skier.
Exiting the slower corners also revealed our one quibble, however, a lack of low-speed grunt. Climbing towards the bridge in 2nd gear, we more than once wished for a less top-heavy torque curve. You really have to rev this engine to get the most out of it, and frankly, it gets tiring after awhile, especially on the street.
But, when all is said and done, we are in awe at the Honda S2000’s smart, sophisticated design. The digital instrument display, cockpit-style interior, aluminum shifter, and separate engine start button are a clever nod to Honda’s racing heritage, while the S2000’s rev-happy drivetrain speaks for itself, establishing its own performance legacy.
On its performance merits alone, the Honda S2000 stacks up well against the likes of the Porsche Boxster and BMW Z3. But consider also its $32,415 base price, and the S2000 then becomes a screaming performance car bargain. Yes, we know you’ll be lucky to find one of the 5,000 examples at that price. But Honda hopes to up production by 10% for 2001 to help that search. Because, from green light to checkered flag, and all the asphalt in between, the Honda S2000 is the race track friendly, main street cruiser that is a total winner.
Engine: 2.3 Liter,dohc, 20-valve, Turbocharged In-line 5-Cylinder
Torque: 243 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 6.2 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 14.8 Seconds @ 98 MPH
60-0 MPH: 110 Feet
EPA Mileage: 21 MPG City 27 MPG Highway