What's New for 2008
The 2008 Honda S2000 adds a new trim, the performance-oriented CR. This racer-inspired edition brings with it track-oriented suspension settings, reduced curb weight, higher rigidity, a removable hardtop and extroverted, more aerodynamic bodywork. All S2000s this year have a revised gauge cluster, and Honda says it's retuned the regular model's suspension for better high-speed stability.
The 2008 Honda S2000 isn't like one of those infomercial all-in-one vacuum cleaners that can clean rugs, mop floors, cook your dinner and do your taxes; it doesn't attempt to woo you with its versatility, or leave you speechless at its miles-long list of features. Instead, it has but one purpose, which is to deliver a high-performance driving experience at a relatively low price. Impressively, Honda's eager little roadster has made good on that single-minded mission statement since its launch eight years ago.
Thanks to its racecar-inspired suspension, perfect weight balance and high-output four-cylinder engine, the S2000 holds its own with costlier German and American rivals on twisty roads. It also offers another attribute -- the bulletproof reliability promised by its impeccable Honda bloodlines.
For 2008, a new trim level debuts that's geared to boost this Honda's performance profile even further: the CR (an abbreviation for "club racer"). The CR is quicker than the standard S2000, but its gains aren't achieved via increased horsepower, since the CR offers the same 237-horsepower engine as the base model. Rather, the CR quickens its heels by lightening its load; it weighs up to 99 pounds less than the standard S2000. This has been achieved by deleting the air-conditioning and audio systems (they're optional) and deleting the power-operated soft top entirely in favor of a removable hardtop. The CR also has an aggressive track-tuned suspension, a quicker steering ratio and stickier tires.
Oh, and let's not forget the big honking wing bolted to the trunk lid and a chin prominent enough to make Jay Leno envious. Honda says these pieces reduce high-speed aerodynamic lift by about 70 percent. Maybe so, but one could argue that they also reduce the car's overall visual appeal by, oh, 79 percent. And of course, the aero pieces are only effective on the track. We think most S2000 buyers will be better served by the standard model, which is just as well because Honda says it's only going to make 1,500 CRs this year.
Whether you choose the standard or CR model, the S2000 offers a purely visceral driving experience. This will please some, but will likely alienate others used to traveling in a bit more comfort. It's also hindered by its aged design; save for minor tweaks, the car has remained pretty much unchanged since its introduction almost a decade ago. During this time, the segment has only grown more competitive. The raw lightweight Lotus Elise has come along to take top honors as the segment's pick for sports-car purists. BMW's Z4 and Porsche's Boxster have benefited from recent improvements, and while flawed, the Solstice GXP and Sky Red Line twins offer stronger performance and competitive prices. The 2008 Honda S2000 continues to be an impressive choice in this segment, but buyers would be wise to investigate all the latest offerings before making a commitment.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Honda S2000 is a compact two-seat roadster that's offered in two trims: standard and CR. Standard models include a power-operated soft top, a glass rear window with a defroster, 17-inch alloy wheels, xenon HID headlights, leather seats, full power accessories, air-conditioning and a CD player.
The performance-oriented CR lacks the power top and instead has a lightweight removable hardtop. Air-conditioning and the sound system have been similarly stripped to reduce weight, but they can be added back on as options. With the CR, you also get more aggressive body styling (with spoilers that are hard to miss), fabric seats, a sport-tuned suspension and high-performance tires. No factory-installed options are offered.
Powertrains and Performance
Powering Honda's roadster is a 2.2-liter four-cylinder that churns out 237 hp at a lofty 7,800 rpm and 162 pound-feet of torque at 6,800 rpm. This power is routed to the rear wheels through a six-speed close-ratio manual transmission. Fuel economy for 2008 is rated at 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway.
Both trims feature standard antilock disc brakes and stability control. The 2008 Honda S2000 performed impressively in government crash tests, earning four stars (out of a best score of five) for protection against frontal impacts. It also earned five stars for side-impact protection despite its lack of side airbags.
Interior Design and Special Features
The S2000's cockpit is basic and businesslike. Only the most essential convenience features are provided, and nearly all the controls you'll ever need are mounted within a finger's extension of the steering wheel. The cockpit retains a snug fit better suited for hard runs on back roads than daily commuting. The laterally bolstered seats hold the driver and passenger tightly during aggressive cornering. The trunk, with 5 cubic feet of volume, is about average for this class of car.
Piloting the 2008 Honda S2000 takes some getting used to, since peak power is delivered at almost 8,000 rpm. Revving the engine to its upper limits rewards the driver with a surge of power once the variable valve timing system switches modes at about 6,000 rpm. It's an exhilarating ride from a seat-of-the-pants perspective, but the assault on the ears is slightly less endearing, especially on long trips. The noise factor is even more of an issue with the CR trim, since CR models sacrifice sound-deadening material in the interest of reducing curb weight.
There's virtually no perceptible flex despite the S2000's roofless architecture, and body roll is kept to an absolute minimum by the sophisticated double-wishbone suspension front and rear. A 50/50 front-to-rear weight distribution gives the car exceptional balance and predictable manners in the corners. CR models feel quite at home on racetracks, stable at even the highest speeds. On the street, though, there is little discernible difference in the performance offered by CR models relative to the standard S2000.