We’ve been focusing our Throwback Thursday series so far on the 70s and 80s. Now lets jump forward and discuss our first experience with something that had a huge impact on us in more recent years.
This is the Honda S2000, and this was my first test drive of one back in the year 2000. My trip started in Las Vegas, Nevada, and went out to the Valley of Fire State Park and along Lake Mead.
What follows are our original impressions and photos, written in the year 2000.
This is the drive that started it all. I’d seen the car introduced at the NAIAS press introduction, but hadn’t had a chance to drive it until now. At NAIAS, I knew right there I had to have one. And while I might have said that about many of the cars I’d seen introduced over the years, this one was different. And after this drive we knew we had to own one. And it only took a couple of months to get our very own.
I’ll say it right at the start: this was one of the absolute best drives I’d ever had in my life to date. The car was great, the roads were fantastic, the temperature was brutally hot but survivable, and I was pumped up and ready to drive.
But I’ll backup first and say that I was in Nevada on business and decided to rent a sportscar to take a long drive out in the desert. I had a choice of several different sportscars and exotic cars – but when I found out an S2000 was available the choice was made. I’d been intrigued by this car – and this was my first chance to actually put some serious miles on one. I couldn’t wait to get started, and I was really looking forward to finding out how this great engine worked out on the open road!
For my first drive over the course of the weekend, I decided to map out a trip from Las Vegas to the Valley of Fire State Park, and then come back along a road that parallels Lake Mead. Along the way I stopped at the new racetrack just north of town and at a gift shop on an Indian reservation.
My route gave me an opportunity to drive the car thru city streets, on an expressway, on lots of open highway, many miles of back roads, and finally along some very twisty roads with posted speeds in the turns all the way down to 15 MPH. That (of course) doesn’t mean I (ever) limited myself to only 15 MPH! :-)
Starting the S2000 is a great experience – the car has a start button (instead of a twist of the key) and it’s not a gimmick. First the instrument panel lights up, then the engine quickly starts. You’ll immediately notice that this car is all about the experience – how it feels inside, how it sounds, how it handles. How it “feels”. The experience is a truly great one.
Once you get out on the highway for a cruise you’ll notice that you are running at a much higher RPM than you’d normally see in another car. At only half way up the tach it looks like a muscle car without an overdrive, except unlike those old iron lumps of the past this modern car is happiest well past a couple of thousand RPM. Cruising at 4000 RPM equates to a very comfortable 76 MPH – and the engine couldn’t car less. No excessive noise here, the car is entirely comfortable with this role. Forget the outdated paradigms of other cars.
Once I got out of Las Vegas I turned off the highway towards the State Park. This gave me an opportunity to test out the S2000’s handling and ride. Up to this point, the ride was perfectly acceptable. The car didn’t dart on the highway, although it was already clear this car has go-cart like handling. I’ll give Honda credit for a great alignment: it was easy to keep this car in a straight line going down the road (so many performance cars don’t want to go down the highway without switching lanes on their own), and it wasn’t difficult to go thru turns. This car really wants to go thru turns!
I’d been to ‘Vegas on business trips (conferences) many times, but had only been out of the city once to the Hoover Dam and back. This trip gave me a chance to get way out of town. It was tremendously scenic (and a lot hotter, especially with the top down)!
I got stuck behind some traffic going into the park… and it was frustrating. By this time it was clear that the car could really shine in the upper RPMs. Fortunately, given the perfect gearing, it could crawl at lower (legal) speeds if it needed too.
The Valley of Fire is aptly named… as soon as you approach you see the red rocks and formations. It is tremendously scenic.
Once in the park, I pulled over to take a short hike. There is also a small museum, where I learned that the rocks are actually acidic. Prehistoric people who lived here had to develop special shoes to prevent acid burns from the rocks.
There is plenty of hiking available, although only a few places to park. It’s best to bring heavy duty hiking books. And, if you come in the warmer months, plenty of water. We were not prepared… and had to stop on the way back for some serious quantities of H2O.
There is one main road thru the park, and one offshoot dead-end (left at the museum). The museum is worth seeing.
On the far side of the park, the red mountains start to wind down.
Outside the park, I didn’t stop to get any pictures. The route alongside Lake Mead was very fast and furious… awesome… no traffic meant I really had a chance to open it up. And, open it up I did… as I said before this turned into one of the best drives of my life to date.
This wasn’t so much a drive about speed, that’s not a great idea on public roads anyway. With dozens of twists and blind sharp turns down to 15 MPH, it was a drive about handling. And, the handling and dynamics were exemplary – this is a fabulously fun and capable car to drive. There were some motorcycles on the road, too, but they weren’t a problem – they were easy to pass in the S2000! What they thought of this banshee engine howling at 9000 RPM as it blew by them, I can’t imagine.
Later trips during this week including a blast towards LA on Route 10, and some further exploratory trips around the back country.
Styling & Technical Impressions
I had seen the North American debut of the S2000 at NAIAS, and was very much impressed. This was my first chance to drive one… and unlike a conventional “road test” it was a chance to drive it in its element. The S2000 is a wedge, shape, with a very long hood and short rear deck.
The car has great seats, and a great driving position. Visibility is excellent with the top down… but takes some getting used to with the top up.
It was brutally hot on this drive – probably the hottest drive I’d ever taken. I was thoroughly dried out by the unrelenting heat.
When I finished with the Lake Mean portion of the drive, I stopped for some major quantities of water and put the top up for the drive back to the hotel. Where, after some recovery, I took the car back out for another drive (halfway to LA and back at a “very nice” clip).
Wheels and and tires at first struck me as simply adequate… however a drive on the unique Bridgestones (unique construction and size for this car) proved them to be nearly perfect. Remember, it’s not the size of the tire as much as the geometry that really counts.
The car’s styling is striking from any angle… its well beyond “generic Japanese” and continues to grow on you.
The trunk is much larger than you’d think. After being stuck with a Miata on several other trips, which is hardly able to carry anything (much less keep up in traffic), the very smart packaging of this car is a revelation. For a “real” sportscar, its very livable.
Two thirds of the way thru the trip, I popped open the hood for my first look at everything. The packaging is very nicely done.
Note the very large intake manifold (not staged), and especially the extraordinarily large air filter box. The conical cone inside the air cleaner box appears to be around 95 MM in size!
You can easily see the full length stainless exhaust header (ends well under the passenger seat), but the really neat aspect is the intake system. The battery is small, but very efficient. Moving it well back contributes to the car’s 50/50 front-to-back and side-to-side weight balance.
Anti-lock brakes, 4-channel ABS, and electronic proportioning. Road tests show this car stops better than a Boxster, and it feels like it too.
Exhaust system splits after the converter into two separate mufflers. Also, the mufflers have both a low-speed and a high speed path thru them… at higher speeds the exhaust is routed straight thru the mufflers while at lower speed its passes thru a loop for quiet operation.
The air inlet to the air cleaner box. This is obviously a restriction point… but also unlike aftermarket filters, it won’t suck up foreign objects and water.
Seats are unique to the S2000, and are excellent. While they won’t fit those folks who are, ahem, wide of beam, they will hold the rest of us in place perfectly. Especially welcome is the shoulder “wing” support: they make a major contribution to holding you in place.
The “office” is all about “business”. No frills, no distractions. Even the radio is hidden behind a movable panel, so that it doesn’t distract you in the drive. Volume changes are handled via a paddle switch to the left of the steering wheel – its actually possible to change the volume or mute it without removing your hands from the wheel. Very smart.
The shifter is the best in the world, and in the perfect location. It does not get any better than this!
Back of the car, Very handsome, and another terrific angle.
Our trip outside of ‘vegas was the start of a beautiful relationship. When I picked up my own S2000 from the dealer a few months later, the first thing I did that evening was to take a similar type of drive on our own back roads in Texas.