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ABOVE AND BEYOND

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Wed, Oct 5, 2005

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

ABOVE AND BEYOND

By JOHN GRAFMAN

Normally, I take a quick walk around any of the cars in our press pool without too much fanfare or dismay. My fellow LA Car staff writer, upon passing the reigns of the 2005 Honda S2000 over to me, mentions the tire wear. I'm thinking of the normal culprits: balance is off, alignment is out of whack, or excessively low tire pressure are at fault. If these are the reason, then maybe two of the tires have the problem - but not all four. After I discover that all of the corners are missing rubber, I have to wonder what other forces are at work here.

As I squish myself into the tight interior, I am expecting something's amiss. Something is amiss all right. In spite of the tires that look as if they are scrubbed down to nubs (like a gum erasure after mid semester of elementary school), this car is handling perfection.

Being about the size of a Mini, the S2000 is still only just a rung or two up the evolutionary ladder from a go-kart. The suspension does a perfect job of dampening down any road imperfections large enough to be violent and still allow the driver to be informed what is underneath the floorboard. As speeds build, the steering provides just the right dosage to keep the driver out of the brush. I'm finding the tail starting to get really light, but it's relatively easy to keep the car in check. Of course, the fault with the happy tail lies with traveling at speeds most car owners wouldn't dare consider acceptable. Mind you, we are talking about most cars - not the S2000.

Being exposed late to the game, I didn't have a good grasp of what this little car can do. At a fraction of the size and price of some well-known sports cars, the Honda is a giant killer. While much of Honda's reputation in engineering is devoted to maximizing mileage, this follows in the footsteps of the NSX. Top down, wind whipping by, and precision handling are only a few heartbeats and wheels apart from a motorcycle. Honda has plenty of two-wheel background to draw from. This is where Honda has an ace up its sleeve.

The S2000 has a motor that puts a few cars to absolute shame. How many cars can pull up to an insane 8,000 redline? It seems this doesn't faze the Honda; perhaps this is devolution at its best. Honda's evolved from two wheels to four, and now the technology that serves to power the two-wheeled versions is bringing the automobiles back to Honda's roots. This engine is wired like a Starbucks espresso junkie! The engine really never settles down into the low rev range in normal driving. I feel I should be upshifting a good 2,500 rpm before I actually have to. This is merely a reflex action. The Honda doesn't just seem to be fine with the revs in the upper stratosphere, it really seems that it prefers it this way. Who am I to argue?

Even in the normally boring streets of my 'burb, the S2000 extracts new entertainment from roads that I long thought had gone dry of any fun ages ago. This featherweight of a car flies so easy. By shedding the car of additional pounds really keeps this car lively. The diminutive dimension proves to be a perfect combo of reduced frontal area and curb weight. The dimensions also force a cockpit that is far too confining. Fortunately, as the top is down nine times out of ten, the passenger area is spared from being labeled as claustrophobic. Every time I move my left arm I bump the door (god forbid anyone risks sitting in the passenger seat and deal with the wrath of my constant shifting).

The shifting is accomplished with the same level of purpose as the suspension. I can come off looking real amazing with this six-speed manual. The short throw shifter goes into the right gear time and again whether I am working the gears up or down. The speed at which I can move the stick through the box is blazingly quick. This might not be an expensive super car, but it sure feels like it. In downshifting, I can match the revs up almost effortlessly to produce ultra smooth downshifting. This car makes me look good!

As I blow past 6,000 rpm, the tone ripping from the exhaust turns into a banshee. The overt tone Honda has tuned is in line with the personality of the car without becoming whining. The supernatural outer limit of the rev range is still melodic, but it does begin to alert the driver that there is a point at which this motor might not be so happy.

After just a short period of time, I begin to fish around for the DMV registration. I figure I might want to make sure that the paper work is in order, as it is only a matter of time before I have a run in with the law. Luck is on my side as I dodge any and all infractions, but I do stumble on one of the down sides of the S2000. This interior has no glove box! I can live without that so long as I don't have anything of value that needs to be enclosed inside the car. The designated storage between the seats is limited to an ill-fitting cup holder/storage bin, and the minimal spot allocated vertically between the seats is good for little more than CD cases. I do give Honda credit for providing hooks for hanging garments behind the seats, which is a bonus. The trunk is just enough to get a few groceries home, but that's about it.

The interior is also unique in the Honda line with various materials all combined in one big color mismatch. It seems the parts of various plastics, rubber, vinyl, leather, or whatever it is being scattered about in the interior, are just as annoying as wearing plaids and stripes together. So long as the traffic doesn't slow down, I won't notice the visual blunder. Besides, how often does the traffic ever slow down that much on our streets and freeways?

In the compact confines of the interior Honda has done a remarkable job of placing all basic functions within fingertip range of the steering wheel. It isn't necessary to take a hand off the wheel to adjust audio functions or climate controls. While this is ultra convenient, it's also adding to a confining feeling. The simple, clean layout does look the part of being something other than cheap. Now what I am looking for is material that will also do the same.

I overlook the deficiencies like a horse with blinders on. How can I do this? When a car drives like this, it is easy to be forgiving. I take to this car like a duck to water. Although there is some quirkiness (like the gas release lever on the interior side panel behind the seat that is obscured by the seat belt), I still crave more time driving this car. While the practicality of the S2000 is on the low side of the scale, the fun factor is at the other end of the scale.

After countless hours in various machines, it's always nice to be in one that offers a passionate driving experience at a reasonable expense. As far as the tires go, they do add up after a while, but think of them as an offering to the performance gods. Besides, how angry can anyone really be forking out more dough for tires yet smiling all the while?

SIDEBAR COMMENT

You have to respect this car and respect Honda for building it. The Honda S2000 is about as one-dimensional as you can get in a modern automobile. While the S2000 might not be everyone's cup-of-tea in the two-seat roadster segment, for those intrigued by its absolute dedication to the task of four-wheeled driving entertainment, it's the perfect tool.

While other manufacturers might design their two-seat roadsters to fit a broader spectrum of the market segment, Honda has tailored their little road-rocket to the task of tearing up sinuous mountain roads and wicked racetracks. Comfort takes a secondary priority in the S2000, as my 5-foot 9-inch frame barely fits behind the steering wheel. Anyone taller than I will feel quite confined by the non-adjustable steering wheel and the two-way (only) manually adjustable leather seats. A 10-hour freeway cruise will be insane torture in this car. What you soon realize, however, is that the driving position is actually quite suitable for putting this roadster through the workout that Honda designed it to excel at (as long as that workout doesn't last more than a few hours at a time.)

The six-speed shifter is about as high in quality as you'll find in a modern automobile, with a light but decisive shift action - and one of the shorter throws in the business. This shifter is also stirring the horses of an energetic 2.2-liter four-cylinder powerplant that is quite tractable in traffic but turns into a screaming monster as the digital tachometer slides past 6,200 rpm. Referring back to the S2000's one-dimensional character, this little monster feels ordinary around town - and trips to the mall or a quiet cruise down PCH don't begin to hint at the absolute talent this car exhibits when driven in a far more aggressive manner.

If you're looking for a serene highway cruiser, then look elsewhere. If, however, you want the automobile industry's four-wheeled version of a high-powered "crotch-rocket," nothing beats this little screamin' demon from Honda. - Christopher Huddleston

SUMMARY JUDGMENT

A thrill ride beyond expectation, big on fun, but real tight on room.

For more information please go to www.honda.com

SPECIFICATIONS

Price: Base $33,150

Engine Type:2.2-liter, 16-valve, DOHC, all-aluminum, four-cylinder engine, with VTEC technology, multi-point fuel injection, silent-chain primary drive, gear-driven secondary drive, super-light forged-alloy pistons, and fiber-reinforced metal (FRM) cylinder liners.

Horsepower:240 @ 7,800 rpm

Torque:162 @ 6,500 rpm

Drive Configuration:Front-engine/Rear-wheel drive

Transmission:Six-speed manual transmission with short-throw shifter and carbon synchronizers

Suspension:Four-wheel independent, In-Wheel Double-Wishbone with coil springs. High X-Bone monocoque frame.

Tires and Wheels:Front - Bridgestone Potenza RE050 P215/45R-17; 17 X 7.0 inches Rear - Bridgestone Potenza RE050 P245/40R-17; 17 X 8.5 inches

Brakes:Front - Power-assisted, ventilated discs with brake assist and anti-lock control; 11.8 inches Rear - Power-assisted, solid discs with brake assist and anti-lock control; 11.1 inches

Vehicle Stability-Assist (VSA) with Traction Control, Electric Power-Assisted Rack-and-Pinion Steering

Dimensions:Length: 162.2 inches Width: 68.9 inchesHeight: 50.0 inches Curb Weight: 2,855 lbs

EPA mileage estimates City/Highway:20/25 mpg

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