Honda S2000, 2004: The Weekly Driver Car Review

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Winding country roads provide great driving delight. They give sports car owners ample proof why they often sacrificed luxury and comfort for speed and excitement. In Northern California, the wine country roads through the Napa Valley and Mendocino Coast are prime examples — at least for drivers.

There are plenty of stretches where passengers susceptible to car sickness may be in trouble. But for a driver, the deep turns and switchbacks require plenty of shifting, maneuvering and accelerating skills. So with a 2004 Honda S2000 as my weekly test drive, could there have been a better location for a getaway weekend?

The two-door, rear-wheel drive sports car is a sleek, quick-moving 2.2. liter, 16-valve, 240 horsepower convertible with a six-speed manual transmission. The renowned Japanese manufacturer offers the vehicle as competition against the BMW Z4, Mazda Miata and Nissan 350Z.

The S2000 has a nicely contoured body design, its front and rear bumpers and lights have been restyled from 2003 and it offers an increase to 17-inch tires from the 16-inch tires from last year. With its new features, my red (body) and black (top) vehicle drew plenty of looks.

But while the exterior is attractive, it’s the interior of the vehicle that figuratively shines. It is a combination of efficiency of space and homage to racing vehicles.

For example, I wouldn’t have known, but a friend keen on motor sports mentioned that the S2000 RRM and gas tank volume graphic bars are the type used in Formula 1 racing cars.

In fact, combined with the large digital MPH readout, the instrumentation is void of traditional needle-style readings. Similar to other racing cars, the S2000 also has a push-button ignition when the key is in the start position.

To further accentuate the sports car feeling, both driver and passenger sit in tight but conforming seats. As the driver, the small, compact steering wheel complements the 17-inch wheels. The result is superior responsiveness, and “Go-Kart-flat” corning and “Pin-sharp steering,” as one consumer guide describes the vehicle’s feel on the road.

Further, with the six-speed transmission and quick acceleration (rated at 0 to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds in 2003), anyone who enjoys the mechanics of driving, gets his or her share.

Leather upholstery, high-intensity headlamps, a glass rear window with electric defroster and a wind deflector are standard. A removable aluminum hardtop is optional, but side airbags are not available.

As a two-seat sports car (there is no rear cargo or passenger area), space is at premium. That’s good and bad. The shifting box, audio system, small vertical, locked console storage compartment and all other instrumentation is in close proximity.

But as a 6-foot, 185-pound driver, the comfort level waned after a few hours on the road. Likewise, entering and exiting the vehicle is best accomplished with the “crouch-and-crawl” method.

Surprisingly, while the trunk compartment could hardly be described as spacious, it provides enough room for two soft-sided weekend luggage bags. And there was also enough space left for several plastic bags of beach-combing discoveries.

One oddity: Since the convertible top is not insulated, the car drives with less bothersome noise with the top down than it does with the top up. The convertible top, by the way, is easy to lower or raise.

It attaches and detaches with pushed button locks on the outside ceiling of the driver and passenger seats. The electric function is engaged by a large red button on the middle console. It can’t be missed unless it’s covered by a map and newspaper, as was the case when we wanted to lower the top. We looked for several minutes before discovering the button was right in front of our eyes.

Not-so-easy to find is the gas tank cover opener. After another extended search and without the benefit of an owner’s manual, the button was finally located inside the driver’s back door panel.

Its discovery provided more humor and another small confirmation of the S2000’s unique position in the sports car marketplace.

Safety Features — Driver and front passenger airbags, side impact door beams, emergency trunk opener.

Fuel Mileage (estimates) — 20 mpg (city), 25 mpg (highway).

Warranty — 3 years/36,000 miles (bumper to bumper),  5 years/unlimited mileage (corrosion).

Base Price — $32,600.

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