Friday, March 20, 2009

First Impression: 2008 Honda S2000 CR

Today I test-drove a 2008 Honda S2000 CR.  I don't feel that I can give a full review based on my brief time with the car, but I can offer a few first impressions.  Oh, and more background information than you want.


The S2000 is a small-ish 2-seat roadster.  You might think that it's a direct competitor to Mazda's Miata, but the S2k is a much more focused performance car;  as such, it offers somewhat less practicality and much higher performance.  Oh, and it costs about 50% more.

The first "generation" of the S2000, the AP1, was introduced for the 2000 model year.   The car and its name carry on the tradition of earlier Honda roadsters, such as the S500, S600, and S800.  The numerals in the name indicate the AP1's displacement of 1999 cubic centimeters or about 2.0 liters.  The S2000 was built to showcase the performance potential of a company most well known for building commuting appliances like the base-model Civic and Accord but which also competes in motorsport at the highest levels.  Honda is arguably the best engine-builder in the world, and they are indisputably the planet's best builder of of naturally aspirated inline 4s.  Given this vehicle's role as halo car, you might expect something special from the S2000's mill, and you wouldn't be disappointed.  The F20C engine, which powered the AP1, redlines at an astonishing---for a reciprocating engine---8800 RPM.  It puts out 240 BHP and 153 lb-ft.  The high ratio of torque to power results from the extraordinary engine speed, since power is given by the product of torque and angular velocity, with an appropriate constant to give you the units you like.*  

The mill, by the way, is positioned entirely aft of the front axle, making the S a true mid-engined car and giving the vehicle a near-perfect weight distribution.  The S2000 actually has a rearward weight bias, carrying 51% of its weight on the rear axle.  Add an occupant or two, and the situation will get slightly worse.  Speaking of weight, the AP1 weighs 2809 pounds when filled with fluids, about 350 more than a naturally aspirated NB Miata.

When the car was tweaked to become the AP2 for the 2004 model year, it was sold, in the North American market, with a new 2.2-l engine, the name went unchanged.  The F22C1 engine in the AP2 was intended to increase torque output, and it was created by increasing the stroke of the F20C, thus upping the displacement to 2.157 l.  The redline was reduced to a somewhat less stratospheric 8000 RPM to keep piston speed in check.  The F22C1 puts out only 237 BHP and 162 lb-ft.  Other changes were made to the car;  the suspension geometry was tweaked to reduce oversteer, and the interior was restyled.  However, the AP2 is essentially the same car as the AP1, and so it weighs just 46 lb more.  

For 2008, Honda introduced a second trim level to the S2000 model.  The CR or Club Racer trim was intended as an even more serious performance machine.  The base s2000 always came with a 6-speed manual transmission and a limited-slip differential, and, in Honda's words, the powerplant offered no room for improvement, so changes were mostly confined to weight, aerodynamics, suspension, chassis, and tires.  Here is a probably-not-exhaustive list of mechanical changes to the CR.
  • Stiffer dampers, springs, and anti-roll bars.
  • Harder suspension bushings.
  • Functional front spoiler and rear wing, reducing lift by over 70%.**
  • Soft top deleted and replaced with a hard cover with seat/roll-hoop fairings.
  • Hard top, which is optional on the base car, included.
  • Chassis brace positioned where soft top formerly lived, when folded.
  • Air conditioning and radio deleted, but available as an option for about 1000 $.
  • Spare tire deleted and replaced with repair kit.  (This is the same arrangement found in the NC Miata, RX-8, and some other cars.)
  • Slightly wider rear tires.
  • Stickier tires.
  • Slightly quicker steering ratio.
  • Leather upholstery replaced with grippier fabric to better hold the driver in place.
These changes result, by the way, in a weight reduction of up to 100 pounds---no air or audio, top off---from the base S2000.  There are also some cosmetic differences for the CR trim.  I won't discuss them here.  

The CR is priced about 2 grand above the base model.  That price more-or-less makes sense;  there's probably about 2000 bucks worth of parts missing from the CR, and there's about a thousand dollars worth of extra parts on it in, addition to the 3400-dollar hardtop.

I should add that no changes were made to the CR for 2009, so the leftover 2008 that I drove is representative of the 2009 car as well.

What I Liked
  • Instruments and controls.  The AP2's instruments are compact, and all digital, but very easy to read.  All the controls on the car are located less than 4 inches from the steering wheel.  There's even a set of remote stereo controls located on a pod to the left of the wheel.  The HVAC controls are on a pod to the right of the wheel.  The steering wheel itself has an almost perfect major diameter, and its minor diameter is pleasantly large.  I wasn't wearing the best shoes for heal-and-toe-ing, but I think the pedals are well laid out.
  • The engine.  The S2k's engine actually feels a lot like a rotary.  Look at their specs, and you'll note that the F22C1's power and torque curves are pretty similar to those of the 13B-MSP Renesis in the RX-8.  The mill doesn't have gobs of torque, but it puts out plenty of power and is perfectly happy to rev to a bazillion RPM.  This combination makes the S challenging but rewarding to drive.  I didn't get a chance to really stress the powerplant, so take what I say with that caveat.
  • Transmission.  The tranny is described by the word "close."  The shifter is very short, and the throws are extremely short, putting the gears very close together, front-to-back.  When I got back in my Miata after driving the S, I felt like I was moving my arm almost through it's full range of motion to shift from first to second gear.  I think that same motion in the S is about 2 inches.  The gears are also close together, left-to-right.  All this closeness might lead you too believe that shifting is challenging, but the transmission is quite smooth.  I didn't have any trouble shifting, once I became accustomed to the tinyness of the motion required.
  • Chassis.  The S2k's chassis is far stiffer than my Mazdaspeed Miata's;  there was no hint of cowl shake during my test drive.  Of course, you'd expect a stiffer chassis when driving a car that's not much bigger but weighs 300 pounds more.
  • Handling.  I frankly couldn't push the car very much on my short drive, but it seemed like it would be very happy to go any direction I wanted, at any time I chose.
  • Forward visibility.  You can see out the front of the car quite well, which is surprising, given the length of the hood.  Fortunately, the hood drops away toward the nose, giving you a good idea of where you are putting the vehicle.
  • Exterior styling.  The S2000 CR is a serious sports car, and it's dressed for the part. 
  • Exterior colors.  I should mention that Apex Blue Pearl, the color of the car I drove, is lovely in person and certainly the one I'd choose.  the CR is also available in black, white, and a very pretty yellow; any of these colors would be acceptable, in my opinion.
  • Interior styling.  The interior is clean and businesslike.  The yellow accents of the CR are a little over-the-top---slightly more so than the red accents on my Mazdapseed Miata---but not unattractive.

What I Disliked
  • The clutch.  The clutch pedal engages much too high for my liking, leading me to rev the engine unnecessarily when pulling away from a stop.  I suspect I could get used to this feature after an hour or so of driving, and it wouldn't bother me any more.  But, during my time with the S, it did.
  • Space.  Although the wheelbase and width of the S2000 are 6 and 10 inches, respectively, greater than the same parameters of my NB Miata, there is noticeably less room in the cockpit and trunk.  Actually, that's not strictly true.  The cabin is clearly wider than the Miata's, which gives more room for your elbows or race seats, should you choose to install them, but stock seats are very snug, and the cockpit feels very tight. It's great for driving the car, but there's no room for any other movement.  The trunk probably has about the same volume as the Miata's, but it's arranged somewhat less usefully.
  • Rearward visibility.  The window in the hard top is quite a bit bigger than the window in my Miata's soft top, but the view aft is compromised by the wing.  Still, the obstruction is not as bad as I expected, and it's certainly worth putting up with, in exchange for the lift reduction.

The Bottom Line

I really like the Honda S2000 CR.  It might be a bit...raw for some tastes, but it suits me well.  I can't really give it a rating, since I didn't get a chance to explore the power and handling of the vehicle, but I can say that I'd like to drive a CR again.  The dealer offered me 7,000 dollars off sticker price without any negotiation, so I may have to investigate more after our upcoming move.

* This mathematical relationship is the reason that curves showing power in horsepower and torque in lb-ft always intersect at 5252 RPM.

** Honda doesn't say at what speed the lift is reduced by this much;  it's certainly a function of airspeed.


  1. Anonymous3:39 AM

    The s2000 cr is a fantastic car, its so fun and easy to drive. Im 18 and its actually what i learned to drive stick in. I just recently had to sell mine due to insurance costs (1000 a month). My girlfriend had one complaint about it which was the suspension, you feel EVERYTHING. This didnt bother me at all but since i live in pennsylvania and all the roads here are shit i can see where shes coming from. also i believe i should add that of course no changes were made to the 09. the 09s are all caryovers 08 was the last production year for the s2000.

  2. Anonymous4:30 PM

    I have been driving my CR everyday for 10 months. Enjoying it very much, especially on twisty roads. Corning performance is amazing. oh, remember to turn the traction control off and let the tail slide a little......

  3. I'm glad to hear that you are enjoying your CR. I ended up buying an '09 Miata. It's not as fast out of the box, but the two cars are very evenly matched when prepared for the SCCA's STR class. The Miata has the advantage of being cheaper to buy, insure, fuel, maintain, and modify. Plus, being small, it's more fun, in my opinion, at legal speeds. It's not quite so sleek as the CR, though. Good luck with it.