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A sports car that makes few compromises, the 2002 Honda S2000 is one of the more visceral cars sold in America. And yes, that's a good thing.
Agile chassis, rev-happy engine, minimalist design, optional hardtop.
Not much low-end torque, no passenger airbag cut-off switch.
For 2002, Honda has added a glass rear window with a defroster, an improved transmission and a more powerful audio system. There are also a handful of minor changes that only '00-'01 S2000 owners would notice, such as chrome-bezel taillights, an upgraded center console, door panel net storage pockets, a new shifter knob, an aluminum-accented foot rest and silver trim interior accents. There's also a new color for 2002: Suzuka Blue.
It's all about that little red button. Located on the left side of the driver's console and labeled "engine start," the button reflects the racing heritage found on the S2000 roadster.
Honda's two-seat, open-topped roadster is based on the SSM concept car first shown at the 1995 Tokyo Motor Show. Designed to be fun to drive, the S2000 uses a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive configuration. As is often the case with Honda's performance vehicles, the S2000 contains many technological advances that will surely trickle down to less-expensive models as time rolls by.
The centerpiece is a 2.0-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine. It is equipped with an updated version of Honda's VTEC system, which can alter both valve timing and valve lift. The VTEC system allows the engine to produce maximum power while still being tractable enough for urban driving. If you need proof of Honda's technological prowess, look no further than the specifications: 240 horsepower at 8,300 rpm and 153 pound-feet of torque at 7,500 rpm. Twist the key, hit the red start button, and the engine will give you the highest specific output (120 horsepower per liter) of any normally aspirated mass-production engine in the world. It will also spin to speeds that most other engines would choke on -- redline is 8,900 rpm. If this still isn't impressive enough, Honda also says that the engine will meet low-emission vehicle status.
Power is routed though a six-speed close-ratio transmission that has been updated for 2002 to provide smoother and quieter shifts. As with most Honda manual shifters, the feel is excellent and throws are very short. A Torsen limited-slip differential for the rear axle is standard equipment.
Honda's expertise is also evident in the S2000's responsive handling. The exceptionally rigid chassis has an ideal 50/50 front-to-rear weight distribution. Both the suspension and power steering systems are unique designs. The suspension is a four-wheel double-wishbone type with a racing-inspired "in-wheel" design. And in place of conventional hydraulic power steering, the S2000 uses an electrically assisted system. This makes the steering feel much more responsive.
Visually, the S2000 is compact and angular. The convertible top is power-operated, and Honda has replaced the plastic rear window with a defroster-equipped glass window for 2002. An optional aluminum hardtop, which can be retrofitted to all S2000s, became available mid-way through the 2001 model year.
There is only one version of the S2000, so all cars get 16-inch wheels and high-intensity discharge headlights as standard equipment. For occupant safety, Honda says it has designed the car to absorb as much crash energy as possible. It also has installed seatbelts with load limiters and pre-tensioners, driver and passenger airbags and roll bars. Inside, the S2000 comes with air conditioning, a digital instrument panel, a CD audio system and leather seats.
Honda's roadster provides an excellent alternative to the Audi TT, BMW Z3, Mercedes-Benz SLK and Porsche Boxster. Out of that group, the S2000 is the most performance-oriented. It's not as apt at city use, nor does it have the prestige that comes with owning a car emblazoned with a German marque. But for a visceral (and less-expensive) driving experience, the S2000 is the car to get.
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