/ 22 October 2023

Honda’s modern-day classic icon


As time passes, more and more cars are being considered classic. This is true of the JDM (Japanese domestic market) segment more than others, with legends such as the R34 GTR, Supra Mk4 and Mazda RX-7 entering their mid to late twenties.

There is one car in particular that appeals to a niche group of enthusiasts, falling under the Honda brand. You might be thinking about the Civic or the NSX but a car that is equally impressive and highly respected is the Honda S2000.

And I got to spend some time with one.

The first time the world laid eyes on the S2000 was at the 1995 Tokyo Motor Show. Honda recognised the need for its own front-engine, rear-wheel-drive sports car after its early 1960s Formula One car and with the rising popularity of the Lotus 7. The car presented at the show, though, went by a different name: the SSM.

Honda kept showing off the SSM until 1999, when the Japanese marque unveiled the brand-new Honda S2000. The S stood for “sport” and the 2 000cc (two-litre) engine size accounted for the number.

The car’s popularity grew rapidly after it was featured in the Fast and Furious film series. Its bold, elongated front end, combined with its compact design with sharp, eye-catching lines, piqued the interest of many enthusiasts, and it quietly became one of the more sought-after JDM cars around.

The first iteration of the S2000 was given the chassis name AP1 and was produced until 2003. 

Following the highly enjoyable AP1 was the AP2, produced between 2004 and 2009. It saw the addition of the 2.2-litre inline-four motor, which increased power but lacked the thrillingly high red line. The engineers also tweaked the chassis to enhance cornering and reduce understeer.

Although these models were strictly reserved for the US and Japanese markets, they left us with an interesting unit here in SA. This model has the look of an AP2 but the chassis, handling and, more importantly, the crazy motor of the AP1.

The model I spent some time with is this very unit — an AP1 facelift. Being a passionate JDM enthusiast, I was itching to see what this car had to offer and what I found surprised me. 

The interior screams early-2000s JDM, with its futuristic digital dashboard and driver-focused cabin, with the radio hidden away behind a stunning S2000-branded cover. 

But these little features, although aesthetically exciting, didn’t get me smiling as much as the engine did.

This 2.0-litre was particularly special and went by the name of F20C. It is one of my favourite four-cylinder motors, the main reason being that it redlines at 8 900r/min. 

The noise that comes out of the engine bay resembles a chaotic cartoon character getting all wound up and ready to explode. The power band feels endless as, with every climbing rev, the torque builds and builds.

Of course, you can’t mention a Honda without touching on the topic of V-Tec and, in the S2000, it feels like a boost switch. Passing 5 500r/min, you begin to feel the car getting excited as the V-Tec gets involved, giving you a uniquely wild experience that produces a heck of a noise. 

This special engine punts a decent 179kW, but with the car weighing only 1 274kg, it sat proudly in second place on the production power-to-weight leaderboard, only beaten by the Ferrari F355 Spider. An impressive feat for a little sports car, indeed.

Being an older Honda, there is a level of expectation regarding reliability. The S2000 doesn’t disappoint as this model had done over 150 000km and had no major mechanical issues. Even the original clutch is still going strong. 

The owner has played a role in this as he insists all parts are replaced with original Honda service parts.

To say this car was a joy to drive would be an understatement. The firm, yet manageable, ride quality makes it a comfortable daily, if needs be, while it is still playful in the corners. 

Of course, being a JDM car it can slide out on you with ease. This could be due to its 50-50 weight distribution. It’s a joyous experience that sparks boisterous behaviour.

It’s your typical driver’s car, enjoyable to drive at any speed and, unlike the super saloons of today, speed is not necessarily what makes this car enjoyable, but rather its ability to engage a driver even at low speeds. 

Another point I found interesting is the fast opening and closing of the roof — a mere six seconds. 

Unfortunately, finding clean and, more importantly, stock Honda S2000s is becoming increasingly challenging. This is why owners such as this model’s, with a car they have cherished for over a decade in the way the designers intended — stock — is so important in ensuring these icons live on. 

The S2000 is a special roadster, from the motor to the cabin. It is a different car and that is why I like it so much. 

The bold design and rare nature add to the experience and it’s cars like this that make me worry about what the future holds for motoring. In the realm of sports cars there simply isn’t anything quite like it.