Is this the forgotten sports car bargain? The Honda S2000 is fast, fun and reliable – and here's how to find a good one
How much to pay
• Project £2000-3000 • Good £5000-8000 • Concours £9000-13,000 •
Running costs ★★★
DIY Friendly ★★
When Honda decided to celebrate its 50th birthday in style, it didn’t hold back. To mark the occasion, the company developed a rear-wheel drive sports car with double-wishbone suspension all round, perfect weight distribution and an engine that could rev to 9000rpm.
While early cars could be tricky on the limit, occasional upgrades along the way meant the S2000 became easier to drive hard. Although, because the Honda is so grippy and capable, many S2000s have led hard lives in pursuit of enjoyment.
Don’t shy away from high-mileage examples; unless they’re properly abused or neglected the sporty Honda keeps coming back for more – just as you will once you’ve sampled one.
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Your AutoClassics Honda S2000 inspection checklist
The naturally aspirated VTEC four-pot that powers all S2000s is a masterpiece. It will rev to 9000rpm and, thanks to variable valve timing, it’s worth venturing towards the red line on a regular basis to savour the howl as well as the punch. All UK cars got a 1997cc unit, but US and Japanese cars were fitted with a 2157cc engine from 2003 and 2005 respectively.
Although incredibly complex, the VTEC engine is reliable if serviced regularly; the original schedule stipulated every 9000 miles or 12 months. A healthy engine can use up to a litre of oil every 1000 miles, and only fully synthetic will do. Such a high oil consumption has led to engines being damaged as their bearing shells breaking up from a lack of lubrication, so listen for untoward noises at tickover.
On your test drive check for any hesitation when pulling away; this will probably be a failed MAP (Manifold Absolute Pressure) sensor on top of the inlet manifold, but it could be a dodgy lambda sensor. The MAP sensor can sometimes be cleaned up but the two lambda sensors must be replaced if they fail.
Misfiring will probably be down to blocked or dirty injectors; a fuel additive may fix things, or new injectors may be needed. Misfires could also be down to one or more faulty coil packs – there’s one for each cylinder.
Overheating shouldn’t be an issue; if it is, expect major trouble ahead (the engine is all-alloy). On cars built up to 2003 there shouldn’t be any more than three bars showing on the digital temperature read out. Later S2000s featured different instrumentation, and on these it’s OK for up to seven bars to be showing.
Power is transmited to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox (there was no auto option) and a Torsen limited-slip diff. You’re unlikely to encounter significant problems, aside from a worn-out clutch once 70,000 miles have been racked up.
Suspension and brakes
Electric power steering was standard from the outset, but early cars were criticised for their lack of feel. Honda responded by fitting a less direct rack in 2004; combined with significant suspension changes, the difference in the driving experience is very noticeable. Whatever is fitted, expect it to be reliable.
More likely to be a problem is imprecise handling because of split castor bushes and/or misaligned suspension. Repairs are complicated by the fact that the offset bolts through the Metalastik lower wishbone bushes tend to seize, and the wholesale replacement of the wishbones is the only solution.
As if this isn’t enough, the radius arms incorporated into the rear suspension design are also fitted with offset bolts through their bushes, and these also seize – putting everything right with aftermarket parts can be costly, so check the service history for evidence of the suspension having been adjusted and greased.
With servo-assisted discs all round (ventilated at the front) and anti-lock tech as standard for all cars, the S2000’s anchors aren’t lacking. However, while the footbrake works superbly, the handbrake is notoriously poor, although it should be able to pass an MoT.
Thanks to the fitment of some plastic panels (such as the front and rear bumpers), an aluminium bonnet plus modern (but not generously applied) rustproofing, there should be no significant corrosion on any S2000 – especially if the owner has invested in some Waxoyl treatment. But accident damage is another matter, especially on older cars with their less-developed suspension. Check the inner wings for signs of rippling or welding. Do the same with the boot floor; any poor crash repairs will be obvious in these areas.
Look for rust in the inner rear wheelarches and the leading edge of the sills. Stone chips that have been left to fester can result in corrosion, although it’s unlikely to have amounted to much.
Honda offered an optional aluminium hard top, which came as standard on GT-spec cars; there are also aftermarket hard tops available. A fitting kit is required to install a hard top, so any S2000 that hasn’t previously featured one will need to have the necessary parts fitted.
All S2000s have an electrically retractable soft top, so check it closely, along with its mechanism. Raise and stow it a few times and be especially wary of cars that have had their hard tops fitted for months (or even years). Check the roof material around the side windows, as it can wear – also ensure that the plastic window of a pre-March 2002 car isn’t damaged. Later cars got a glass rear window.
Leather trim was standard from the outset, and there shouldn’t be any wear issues unless the car has been left in the sun and the trim has been allowed to dry out and crack up. The bolsters may be worn on high-mileage cars and the stitching could show some signs of wear, but the leather itself should be fine.
The quality of some of the interior plastics is poor, and so is the standard radio, so many S2000s have an aftermarket unit fitted. Whoever installed it will probably have damaged the radio surround as it’s fragile.
The S2000 features an ECU that by modern standards isn’t very complex and you can buy a diagnostic tool to see if there are any electrical or electronic issues in the car’s history.
- 1999: S2000 launched with 1997cc four-cylinder engine.
- 2000: A hard top becomes available.
- 2001: There’s now softer suspension, a heated rear window and ECU revisions.
- 2002: A glass rear screen becomes standard and the GT is introduced.
- 2003: The chassis, steering, brakes, throttle, clutch, gearshift, trim and lights are revised. There are now 17in alloys.
- 2005: ESP is now optional.
- 2007: The suspension is stiffened up, ESP becomes standard and there’s a new wheel design.
- 2009: The final S2000 is built; last cars are sold as Edition 100, available only in white.
Proving that Honda got the S2000 right at the outset, there were only minor changes to its specification during more than a decade of production. However, they were useful changes; early cars were easy to sling out of shape, which is why the suspension was upgraded several times. As a result it’s worth going for the latest car that you can find or afford.
Significantly modified cars should generally be avoided, as reliability might be compromised and the standard car is so good there’s no need for upgrades. The key thing is not to rush into a purchase and buy a dog, only to find that the cost of bringing it up to standard is higher than buying a top example. That’s advice that may be sound for any used car – but because the S2000 is such a recent classic it’s easy to assume you can disregard it. You can’t…
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