What we want for the new year from Honda

Very simple: a new S2000. What better way to showcase the newly reborn spirit of Honda than a new S2000?

Just recently Honda seems to have suddenly sprung back to its old self, with newly developed state-of-the-art engines, new transmissions, and upcoming new platforms (we’ll note than an engineer is running the company again as Soichiro Honda had always intended – not a bean-counter). And we’ve seen the Civic Type R (frankly a disappointment with its antique beam-type rear suspension on an old platform – soon to be replaced, but a legend in the making with its new turbocharged 2-litre engine) and the NSX (too expensive for most, but previewing performance hybrid technology for the rest of us). And more recently Honda has introduced the S660, a very small Kei-class sportscar (and we’ve put some significant miles on the only example in North America). The S660 is an excellent car, fully in the spirit of the S2000, but is also much too small for North America. What’s needed is a car in the middle size-wise, but still at a reasonable price. In other words, a new S2000. A new S2000 that, like the last one, highlights the technical capabilities of Honda as well as it’s core spirit.

History of the S2000

Think back to the excitement of the late 1990s, as we saw prototype S2000s photographed and shown as “spy” pictures in AutoWeek. And then later as we saw the video of Gan-san testing the then-prototype S2000 at the Nurburgring.

All of us had unlimited faith in Honda back then, and that faith was rewarded with a number of terrific products – both performance-oriented and not. And when the S2000 arrived for sale for the model year 2000, we remember the excitement of its North American debut at NAIAS. We walked around and around the two examples looking at its perfect proportions, it’s restrained form-follows-function styling – and taking note of the clear priority of the driving experience above all else. After a test drive from Las Vegas to the Valley of Fire, we purchased our own 2 weeks later.

What is it about the S2000? In the words of those of us who have experienced it:

  • “I will boldly defy any genuine sports-car aficionado–particularly one with road racing experience–not to fall head-over-heels in forbidden, Lolita-lust love with this champing, snorting filly of a classic roadster” – car magazine review
  • Faster, faster! Until the thrill of speed overcomes the thrill of death!” – H.S. Thompson
  • “Do it at 4965 fpm!”
  • “Drive it like you stole it”- Car & Driver S2000 Road Test
  • “Life is measured by the number of times your soul is deeply stirred” – Soichiro Honda
  • “SHIFT_9000” – take-off on Nissan ad campaign

And in the words of one who didn’t have the opportunity, but who understood the feeling:
“I’ve got you under my skin
I’ve got you deep in the heart of me
So deep in my heart that you’re really a part of me
I’ve got you under my skin”
   – Frank Sinatra

Let’s make sure that we understand the definition of a pure sportscar is (note: “sportscar”, not “sports car”). This is the definition of what we expect in a new S2000.

Definition of the term “sportscar

  • Sportscars are for the purist: it’s all about the driving and handling experience. Any comfort or convenience that would draw attention away from the road is strictly secondary.
  • Lightweight, with a perfect or very near-perfect weight balance. The S2000 has near 50-50 fr/rr and side-to-side.
  • Rear wheel drive. Front and AWD not allowed. Econobox drivetrains moved to the back are not allowed. The S2000 is a purest sportscar on the market with rear wheel drive.
  • Dedicated purpose-built chassis: not taken from a sedan platform. The S2000 has a dedicated chassis not sharing design with any other vehicle.
  • 2 seats: not designed to carry more than 1 passenger. The S2000 is a true 2-seater. There is no possible provision for rear seats.
  • Inexpensive – sportscars cost more than a sedan, but not in the realm of exotica. The Ferrari Enzo is the pinnacle of its market spaces, but a true sportscar is and has to be in reach of more people. The S2000 costs about $33,000.
  • Form follows function. The S2000 styling makes a statement about the modern technology underneath the body and inside the engine compartment. It’s purpose beyond that is simply to contain those items. There are no styling cues for looks: no fake hood scoops or other poseur statements.
  • Luxury takes away from the driving experience. The purpose of the S2000 is to drive – not to be coddled. The seats are very supportive – and unlike some other brands, the US model doesn’t get “American-ized” (wider) seats. All of the controls are centralized around the steering wheel and can be adjusted while keeping hands on or very close to the wheel. The radio is covered when not needed. The purpose of the console is to support the arm which in turn supports proper shifting (and the S2000 has the best shifter in the world).
  • Ready to go right out of the box. The S2000 was literally ready to go onto the track right out of the box. I added the minimum required modifications (for safety purposes) that any track car should have: braided stainless brake lines, track-specific pads, and a very mild alignment (to protect the tires). There are very few sportscars you can say this about. There are almost no other cars other than exotics that you can say this about. Aftermarket performance parts should be added as enhancements and not as requirements to make up for faulty design.

The Next S2000

We’ll make provision for modern realities: the engines available are Honda’s new 1.5 and 2.0 liter turbocharged engines from the 2017-2018 Civic. These are transversely oriented engines that will need to be modified to fit longitudinally in the new S2000. Tuning these engines for power beyond that offered in the Civic is expected: any idea of detuning them defeats the purpose of the S2000. And while we accept the market reality of offering the 1.5 liter engine as a base (or only in some markets) engine, we expect the 2-litre here in North America, and we expect it to be tuned at least as well as offered in the 2018 Civic Type R: 306 HP at minimum. We also expect a navigation system (always offered in Japan, it is a very useful tool for designed and leading back-road drives) as well as some safety systems (which are gradually becoming the law). These features, and a current safety structure, will add weight over the old S2000, but with the use of a Mazda-like “gram strategy” and liberal use of some high-strength steel and aluminum the weight should be kept to 3000 pounds even. A 50/50 (or very close, as there is reason to believe a bit more weight on the front end supports balance while in the turn) weight balance is a requirement.

The next S2000 also needs to look ahead: while the first example should be a no holds barred car with the full 2 liter turbo as the top option, Honda will need to look to the longer term and make architectural provisions for hybrid power. This would not at first be the type of hybrid power that would allow the car to run solely on battery power, but instead would add in sequence to the overall power of the car. An electric motor sandwiched between the engine and transmission, with a small battery pack in the trunk, needs to be accounted for in the architecture of the platform. This is not expensive technology, not anywhere near that of the full-tilt NSX (multiple electric motors and a much larger battery pack), but it is enough to pioneer the production hardware that would be used across future Civics and Accords, while providing a nice HP boost of around 40 and a torque boost of around 75 lb-ft. And yes more weight… but it is also an important step in the evolution of an all-electric S2000 in the far longer term. That’s the reality of the long-term worldwide market.

Are we dreaming? At the moment perhaps, but then isn’t this what Honda has always been about? Note some of the products in this video – including the S2000.

So will we see an S2000 in the year 2017? No… but then the clay model in the Honda styling studio escaped (or leaked?) onto the ‘net as did the patent drawings filed with the Government (clearly showing an S2000-sized product). And of course we have the large and tiny sportscar products well into production from Honda. So an S2000 is the next step… and we can hope for a spy picture or perhaps additional patent filings in 2017.

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