Market Spotlight

20 years on, Honda's S2000 leads the pack

by Eric Weiner
2 August 2023 6 min read
Chris Stark

Roadster lovers were spoiled for choice in the early 2000s. Following the surprise, smash success of the original Miata a decade earlier, automakers rushed to feed a growing hunger for dedicated, two-seat open-air sports cars. These days, the Honda S2000 is among the most beloved (and highest-valued) of these successors. In fact, for more than five years, pre- and post-refresh S2000s have sat atop the 2000s-era roadster market. So what’s Honda’s secret sauce?

The front-mid-engine, rear-drive, six-speed-manual-only S2000 reached showrooms for the 2000 model year, which made it fashionably late to this topless party. The Germans were first to the jump, with the BMW Z3, Mercedes-Benz SLK, Porsche Boxster, and Audi TT all arriving by 1998. Each car had its merits—the Z3’s smooth straight-six, the SLK’s luxury appointments, the Boxster’s expert chassis balance, and the TT’s cutting-edge Bauhaus design. Leave it to Honda, however, to take the Miata’s formula of sports car purity and add a dose of high-revving thrill.

Chris Stark
Both the AP1 (2000–03) and AP2 (2004–09) versions of the S2000 outpace all contemporary rivals. Only the second-generation Boxster S, whose sticker price was more than 50% higher, comes close. AP2s made their most dramatic price leap in late 2022, with #2-condition cars topping out at $46,800 on average.

Based on the Honda Sport Study Model concept for the 1995 Tokyo motor show, and drawing influence from classic Honda roadsters like the S500 and S800, the S2000 prioritized light weight, balance, and responsiveness. The SSM concept drew inspiration from Honda’s Formula 1-winning race cars of the mid-1960s, which won acclaim for their compact and lightweight V-12 engines.

The S2000 does not pack a V-12, but its F20C naturally aspirated four-cylinder was nonetheless remarkable for its time. The aluminum-alloy, dual-overhead-cam engine featured Honda’s signature VTEC variable valve timing, along with a screaming 8800-rpm redline that yielded 240 hp and 153 lb-ft of torque from just 2.0 liters of displacement. Those numbers amounted to the highest specific output (power per liter of displacement) of any production engine in the world at the time.

Chris Stark

Honda’s “high X-bone frame” and monocoque body allowed for the engine to be positioned as far toward the center of the car as possible, helping the S2000 achieve an enviable 50:50 weight distribution. Sixteen-inch wheels wrapped around 11-inch disc brakes, hiding double wishbone suspension all around. Known for its fantastic manual transmissions, Honda developed an all-new six-speed for the S2000 that included close-ratio gears, a short and direct-feeling linkage, and lightweight flywheel. A Torsen limited-slip differential came standard.

The car was an undeniable success, touted by media and owners alike for its unfiltered, unfettered sports car experience. Its $32,000 starting price was considerable at the turn of the millennium, when the Accord cost half that much. The S2000 was, however, about six grand cheaper than a comparable Z3, and roughly fifteen grand cheaper than a base-model Boxster. In typical Honda fashion, it was a car that overperformed for its price point and won legions of followers. More than 113,000 S2000s were sold globally until it went out of production after the 2009 model year, with U.S. customers accounting for 66,000 cars—more than half of the total run.

Rarity, then, is not a factor driving the S2000’s value and desirability. Instead, we’d argue, the motivating forces here are twofold: a carefully distilled driving experience and its uniqueness in the pantheon of Honda sports cars.

An S2000 at full blast is a singular experience. Even the 2007 AP2 car we drove at Michigan’s GingerMan Raceway, with its slightly tamer personality compared the earlier AP1, offers delightful sensations that the great-driving Boxster can’t match. The engine is the star—lively and fearsomely responsive to your right foot. Between 6000 rpm and its peak at 8000 rpm, the updated “F22C1” 2.2-liter produces a gorgeous, eager hum. AP1 cars take that sensation further with their higher redline, albeit at the expense of mid-range oomph and tractability on ordinary driving.

Jonathan Wong

We were able to tackle most of the track in third gear alone. During our first passes on the front and back straight at GingerMan, however, we accidentally short-shifted a few hundred rpm shy of the limiter, trusting our ear instead of the F1-style digital tachometer. The shifter is picture-perfect, with short, deliberate throws and a more mechanical feel with each gear engagement than in a Z3 or Boxster.

The chassis, too, feels distinctive. You notice this mostly through the car’s balance, which remains consistent and predictable even at high speed and under heavy inputs. (AP2 cars are known to be more forgiving in this regard, following suspension changes to the original AP1 that in some customer hands resulted in unexpected oversteer.) Body roll is minimal. The S2000 changes direction seemingly the moment you command it to, dancing through a succession of tighter, faster corners with delightful disregard for inertia. Steering is electrically assisted but sniper-precise and mighty quick. Feedback via the Boxster’s and Miata’s steering wheel is perhaps more nuanced, but only the S2000 makes you feel like you’re wearing it rather than driving it.

Chris Stark

Interior designers took a minimalist approach to the S2000s interior. It’s snug rather than cramped, but for longer road trips something like a Nissan 350Z would be more comfortable. Everything is arranged with the driver in mind. The tidy suite of climate controls are stacked next to the steering wheel. There is no typical center console, and even the radio is hidden behind a small plastic door. The steering wheel itself is small without feeling dainty, with thin yet still substantial-feeling rim. Leather trim on the seats and doors offers a slightly more premium experience than your typical 2000s Honda, which helped justify the S2000’s position above the Miata in the marketplace.

Looking at #2-condition (Excellent) cars, AP2 S2000 values surpassed the earlier AP1 in early 2022. One possible explanation for this phenomenon is that they’re newer and lower-mileage, as well as a bit more usable in daily driving thanks to the improvement in low- and mid-range torque.

No S2000 commands more dollars in the market than the Club Racer, however. This limited-run, special-edition S2000 was specially tuned for track work. Offered solely for the 2008 and 2009 model years, the CR represented a subtle but comprehensive overhaul of the entire S2000 package. At launch, American Honda executive vice president John Mendel called the CR “the closest thing you can get to a Honda-built racecar with license plate holders and a horn.” Changes included revised exterior aerodynamics, structural bracing and stiffening, a standard aluminum hardtop replacing the ordinary soft top, a quicker steering ratio, stiffer dampers and anti-roll bars, wider wheels (still measuring 17-inches in diameter), and a cloth interior with yellow stitching. Total weight savings amounted to 90 pounds.

In the CR’s case, rarity certainly plays a role in its appeal. Honda built fewer than 700 examples when production was cut short mid-2009, ostensibly in light of slowing sales following the global financial crisis.

An S2000 CR in Excellent condition now commands $108,000, an increase of 21.5 percent over the last year. For context, that’s the exact same price for a 1992 Acura NSX. A base AP2 S2000 over that same time frame has gained just 5.3 percent, costing $44,000 on average. This massive price leap for the CR exceeds even what we’ve seen from the Porsche Boxster Spyder and Cayman R, as well as the BMW Z3 M Roadster.

Jonathan Wong owns the white S2000 featured here. He’s had a blue 2008 CR in his stable since 2011, a car he’s casually and regularly tracked throughout his ownership. Wong picked up the white car a couple years ago after driving a friend’s modified S2000, eager to dive into a higher-mileage car that he’d feel comfortable tweaking as he saw fit.

Chris Stark

“I knew there was a possibility that if I went down the modification hole, I may end up going farther than I originally intended to. Was I going to do those things to my still clean, low-mileage CR? I thought about it for a second, but I stuck with the promise I made to myself when I originally bought the car 12 years ago that it would remain stock.”

So far the only changes he’s made to his white 2007 are braided brake lines with high-performance fluid and pads, but he’s eyeing a set of Öhlins suspension to swap on when time allows.

For normal road driving, he already much prefers the standard S2000 to the CR: “My white S2000 is certainly more compliant compared to the CR,” he says. “There’s more give in the suspension, which is very appreciated while bumming around town and taking drives across the state. In the CR, after a driving a couple hours to and from GingerMan from metro Detroit for an open track day, I’d feel wrecked. That’s not the case in the white car, which is not itself a luxurious ride, but the difference is noticeable.”

Chris Stark

Naturally, the CR has the edge on track. “The CR feels a touch more buttoned-up—crisper and more rapid to respond at turn-in. Weight transitions are quicker side to side and under braking. All of that stiffening and bracing don’t represent a gigantic leap over the stock car, but they sharpen an already sharp knife. The base car is still hugely enthralling to drive on a track, though, more so even today’s Mazda Miata with its high dose of body roll before the car takes a set.”

Regardless of which S2000 enthralls you most, all signs point to Honda’s roadster remaining a healthy collectible for the foreseeable future. Maintenance is not Civic-cheap, but it’s certainly more palatable than a Boxster or Z3, and the clean, frill-free styling has aged well since the car’s debut more than two decades ago. And for Honda die-hards in the U.S. especially, the S2000 represents an anomaly—the brand’s only rear-drive sports car on these shores, shy of the Acura-badged NSX supercar. It’s a dedicated roadster on a specialized platform, a consequence of several driving-obsessed Honda engineers scrambling into a room and locking the door before the marketing wonks could claw their way inside. A Honda with the S2000’s particular combination of power, agility, and classic sports-car design has not happened since.


  • Zmega says:

    Great car, but only for short drivers.

  • Anthony Wilson says:

    I am not short. I bought a yellow API one new back in 2002. Yes nice car and well sorted and planted on dry roads. In the wet, it fish tails . I have crashed it once in the wet.

  • Woodrow says:

    Truly outstanding car, but the thing that stands-out most to me about the S2000 was its pre-launch marketing campaign. In the days before the Interwebs came to dominate advertising, Honda’s ad agency created a sophisticated direct mail piece with an embedded chip that played a digital recording of the S2000 engine heading towards redline (essentially the automotive equivalent of those fancy electronic greeting cards that play “Happy Birthday” when opened”). Very cool idea that instantly let you know exactly what the S2000 was all about.

  • JoJo says:

    At last! A wonderful article about the S2000! I am the second owner of my 2000 S2000, having owned her since 2004. She still get admiring looks and compliments and questions…most of them from young males, which makes them especially gratifying! People can’t believe she’s 23 years old! She’s completely worthless on an icy road, though, so she gets a nice hiberation time in the garage during the winter, under her blankey. Every late fall?…sadness. Every spring?…joy!!! I’ll keep her until I can’t get in or out anymore.

  • David says:

    At 6’4″ I had to use care when entering my S-2000. Once inside there was more room than I needed. Took it to Mid-Ohio and ran hell out of the club racers in school Acuras. It is one of the most fun cars I have driven. 61,000 miles now it’s a garage Queen, taken out in better wx. Still a great drive!

  • Gary Bechtold says:

    Great car for spirited driving on twisty roads or a track. Quite boring to drive around town as all the power is when the VTEC kicks in (yo). The most fun Honda badged car we got.

  • Kay And Frank Home says:

    Love my 2005, will keep til I tip over and return to my son. Only issue is I wish it had a little more room to push seat back

  • Calvin says:

    Why no mention of the Fiat Spider? The Honda was too small for my 6-foot body so I purchased a Fiat Spider which I found to be more comfortable. I love just about everything about my Spider Lusso.

  • BG95PreludeSRV says:

    A word of caution to Jonathan Wong: don’t leave the Optima battery in that white S2000 without checking frequently for leakage. Every Optima I’ve had has leaked, one damaged my prized ‘95 Prelude SRV. That made me switch away from Optima for good.

  • Mark says:

    Beware the purchase of a set of Ohlins. I bought my set of four for my 2009 AP2 from a west coast tuner shop (about $3500) and the fronts worked fine, the rears are horrendous. With spring preload per instructions, there is no damping setting that works. It’s either bouncing like an old Oldsmobile, or rock hard. I’ll send them to the Ohlins rebuild shop this winter and see what they can do.

    I also went with a square wheel/tire setup. Jury is still out. A bit twitchy on crowned back roads, but tracks great on any twisty road. Pilot Sport 4’s are great.

    I’m 6’2″ (32″ inseam) and find I’m maxed out for leg room.

    At 100,500 miles car runs great. It’s been cared for carefully since new and amazingly shows no corrosion underneath or in the engine compartment. At this mileage these are very affordable cars. And like my 285,000 mile Odyssey, pretty bulletproof; mileage doesn’t matter as to performance or reliability.

  • paul s murray says:

    It’s a Honda…and I say that with all due respect. In my neck of the woods these cars were largely overlooked except by serious drivers who appreciate them for what they are. Mostly others considered them to be just a response to Mazda. A friend of a friend bought one and only got ho-hum responses when he did. This car does lack that ‘ew-ah’ factor styling wise and you have to wonder if it had more of an Integra GS-R or ( and Acura badge ) if they might be priced even higher. While I didn’t wring it out, following the ” you break it you bought it ” rule , I found myself going faster than I thought in short order and confident in doing so . These cars do rev quite nicely even when you’re short shifting. That’s not surprising. And they feel solid. Much like, I think you can really define the history of motorcycles between the before and after Honda 750 Four era. He didn’t keep the S2000 for long but he was that way. He also replaced the ( slightly used) oval piston NR 750 he got somehow with a Bimota ( DB-1 or 2 ?) The Duck got more attention but which one would you rather have? Honda isn’t developing the engines for Red Bull any more, but they are still building them. It’ll be interesting how working with Aston Martin in 2026 turns out and if that inspires them to build another sport. It might very well turn out to be – “Follow the leader. He’s on a Honda.”

  • Anonymous Anonymous says:

    We have the AP2 S2000, ND2 Miata, and NB Miata. Even though the ND2 is the faster car, the S2000 has a screaming vtec engine that is just so special and exhilarating. I will also have to disagree that the S2000 has better steering feel than the Miata.

  • Ronald Santilli says:

    Great article, terse while extremely informative. A comprehensive review of Honda’s apex automobile.

  • Chris Saunders says:

    Very happy. Bought my ‘04 AP2 new @ sticker price of $30k. I’ve put 65k miles on it so far and plan to keep it until I die.

    Driving my S2k is an unmatched pleasure ….every damned time I get behind the wheel. Love it!

  • Brett says:

    When the S2000 was first released the local dealership could only get one. I stopped by the dealership twice a week until it finally showed up. They had no choice on color and ended up with Suzuka blue. It was all roped off and no test drives unless you got the financing first. As a new father of two I couldn’t afford but just had to window shop. In 2006 I purchased a Silverstone AP1 with just 16,000 miles on it. Fast forward… life. Sold it to my brother and regretted it… Bought a 2008 AP2 a year later because I had to have one.
    About a month ago I went to a neighborhood BBQ and a group of people were admiring it. The first question they asked was: “What kind of car is this? Ferrari?” I laughed and said: “Nope, Honda” They were all amazed and some said ‘No way” I really blew their mind when I told them how old it is. I would consider it a timeless classic

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