If you're not already planning to purchase a 2008 Honda S2000 CR, then it's not the car for you.
We do not write this as a knock against this special-edition S2000. Indeed, it's a compliment.
We've counted the S2000, entering its eighth year on the market (yes, you're getting old), as one of our favorite roadsters since we first piloted one in late 1999. We've always praised its knife-edge dynamics, its simplicity, its utter lack of electronic intervention, its resolutely modern and anti-retro style, and six-way toggle switch of a shifter. The CR edition doesn't change any of that. In fact, the stripped-down CR, which stands for club racer, is an even more intensely pungent version of that same flavor.
And, after a day of hammering an S2000 CR on the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, we found it to be the most tightly focused, single-minded performance roadster on the market. Even a Lotus Elise has air-conditioning.
Buyer Beware In an effort to shave off bits of weight and wring out the last few droplets of performance that the standard S2000 leaves on the table, the CR version comes without a stereo, air-conditioning, sound-deadening material or a top. Take into account the heavier-than-stock components the CR adds, such as the rear wing, body strengthening and wider rear tires and Honda says the CR weighs 2,765 pounds — 99 pounds lighter than the standard '08 S2000. However, secure the standard aluminum hardtop in place and the CR's curb weight goes up to 2,813 pounds.
These are trade-offs only a few will be willing to make, and unless we're going to spend more than 50 percent of our time on a racetrack, we count ourselves among the majority on that matter. Hey, maybe you want a steaming-hot, music-free buzz box to advertise your commitment to performance, but A/C and a stereo are on our necessary list. And the 42 pounds saved by their omission doesn't seem worth the discomfort factor.
So we're soft. We'd also like a power-retractable soft top, too, but that's another story.
The thing is, saving weight is the only way to make the S2000 quicker. Honda has given up on improving the roadster's weight-to-power ratio on the engine side. The CR's 2.2-liter DOHC makes the same power (237 horsepower at 7,800 rpm) and torque (162 pound-feet at 6,800 rpm) as the standard car's motor.
According to Senior Chief Engineer Shingeru Uehara, there is simply no more power to be had from the four-cylinder without adding forced induction or failing to meet drivability and emissions targets. And Uehara knows from Honda performance vehicles, having birthed the NSX and the original S2000. A few within the company consider the CR a retirement gift for him. The gear ratios of the six-speed manual and final drive remain the same as well.
Super Happy Terrific! If we're giving you the impression we do not like the CR, then we have failed. It is double-throwdown happiness — maybe triple. Driving it makes us feel like Ayrton Senna, the living version. And we're prepared to say that it carries the finest, most satisfying shifter we have ever used.
But all of those things are true of the standard S2000, too. The changes to turn a standard car into a CR are most evident on the racetrack. In fact, we would challenge anyone to pick up the differences in public road driving behavior between the two in a blind taste test.
The biggest changes are to the front and rear double-wishbone suspensions. The CR's spring rates are up 38 percent up front and 17 percent out back, compared to the standard '08 S2000 (which in turn has a slightly stiffer suspension overall than the previous year's car). Honda seriously tamps down body motions by increasing the monotube shocks' damping rates by 50 percent front and 32 percent rear compared, again, to the standard '08 S2000. The CR's tubular antiroll bars are of a larger diameter front and rear, although the wall thickness of the front bar is 19 percent thinner. The rear suspension benefits from a structural brace mounted where the soft top would stow on a standard car.
The effect in ride quality is, remarkably, not really very noticeable. How can this be? Well, Honda credits the CR's Bridgestone Potenza RE070 tires. The standard S2000 uses RE050. The CR's rear tires are also 10 millimeters (about a third of an inch) wider than the standard car's (255 vs. 245), but the aspect ratios and diameter remain the same.
Even the CR's quicker steering ratio (13.8:1 compared to 14.9:1) is tough to pick up on because both ratios result in systems with less than three turns lock to lock.
Looks That Kill Honda says the aforementioned rear wing and lowered and bulging chin significantly reduce high-speed aerodynamic lift (by something like 70 percent). We say those pieces reduce the car's overall visual appeal by 79 percent. The roll bar cowlings (those humps behind the seats) look merely silly.
The one successful visual change on the CR regards its wheels. They're the same size and design as the wheels used on the standard car, although the CR's are painted a sassy dark silver color.
Other than the dummy panels in place of where the stereo and A/C controls would be, the interior of the CR is pretty much standard S2000. The seats, though, are covered in a yellowish meshlike fabric trimmed with yellow stitching, and the shift knob is spherical instead of barrel-shaped.
Mid OH!-hio It's not until we were scaring ourselves on the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course that the differences between the standard S2000 and the CR became evident.
First, we used the rearview mirror less so we almost forgot about that hideous rear wing, but the CR also feels more at home on a challenging racetrack than the standard car. We're not sure if it was the quickness of the steering gear or the increased authority given steering commands by the stiffer suspension and grippier tires, but the CR turns in more quickly and with certainty.
By the end of the long back straight, both the standard car and the CR top out at about 120 mph, but the CR is as stable as a church elder at that speed, while the standard car felt a little light and spooky. Maybe the wing and deeper front spoiler are functional after all. The brakes are identical to the standard car, and failed to fail after four hard laps.
Even the shifter feels better out on the track. We hadn't really noticed a difference on the road, but the CR's shorter stem reduces the shift stroke by a couple of millimeters and increases the force required to complete the shift. On the track, where shifts are more deliberate, shorter and stiffer felt better.
We're not sure if our lap times were any quicker in the CR compared to the standard car, but we certainly enjoyed the experience more.
And the Point? It's possible that the CR version of the S2000 could be used to homologate certain things for use by amateur S2000 racers. The aerodynamic bits would certainly be something a racer might like the option to fool around with. But in terms of the suspension, well, the classes in, for example, SCCA racing that allow the S2000 to run also allow for modification of suspension components, so we're not sure what benefit the CR's settings would be.
The CR goes on sale on September 17 for "well under $40,000." We interpret this to mean about $37,000. Honda will build 1,500 CRs for '08. Frankly, we wouldn't be willing to give up the retractable soft top and clean, unadorned body of the standard car for the improvements the CR brings. Maybe we'll just slap some RE070s on a standard car and stop eating so many Coney dogs.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.