From the outside, the 2006 Honda S2000 makes a clear statement that its primary purpose in life is to go fast. A gaping air dam in the front fascia; a long hood; sleek, angry headlights; and low sills down the length of both sides all combine to make it look like a caricature of a sports car plucked straight out of a Manga comic book. Once installed in the cockpit--it is more like a cockpit than a cabin--the race-car suspicions are confirmed. A red circular Start button cries out to be pushed, and the S2000's aluminum-capped six-speed shifter invites quick throws and quick acceleration. Like its 2005 predecessor, the '06 S2000 comes with Honda's 2.2-liter 16-valve four-cylinder VTEC multiport fuel-injection power plant, which manufactures a blistering 237 horsepower: for comparison purposes, that's more power than the six-cylinder Lexus RX 330 SUV.
The bad news for those who don't live near a racetrack is that this peak power can be attained only at an alarming 7,800rpm--way past the point that many gearboxes give up the ghost. At the low end of the rpm scale, the S2000 doesn't feel much different from other, more sedate roadsters, such as the Mazda Miata or the even the Pontiac Solstice--it gets going quickly enough to ruffle your hair with the top down, but it gives no indication of its Boxter-baiting credentials.
In the interests of thorough automotive journalism, we did take the S2000 up to its optimum rpm territory, sending the luminous orange tach cresting over to the right-hand side of the instrument panel. However, in anything more than second gear, this kind of maneuver is likely to result in flashing lights in the rearview mirror when performed on public roads. Mercifully, the S2000's optimum torque of 162 pound-feet comes in at 6,800rpm (still on the high side), and we managed to get plenty of welly out of the engine when driving at anything over 5K. To maintain these high rev counts, we found ourselves frequently downshifting for the hell of it: a 50mph cruise in fifth gear can be transformed into whirlwind rocket ride by skipping fourth and snicking the close-ratio gear box into third.
The 2006 Honda S2000 features some admirable performance technology to ensure the car stays on the road during this kind of spirited driving including: gas-pressurized progressive-valve shock absorbers, four-wheel double wishbone suspension, front and rear stabilizer bars, and a limited slip differential.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of the S2000 is its consummate handling. Its low center of gravity, superstiff chassis, and variable0assist rack-and-pinion power steering ensure that the car tracks twisting mountain bends like a rat in a drainpipe. The steering is so responsive, in fact, that we noticed very little variation in the variable-assist system at higher speeds. The 2006 model year S2000 is the first to feature drive-by-wire technology and variable stability control. Purists may balk at these big-brotherly additions to a car that has been a firm favorite without fancy tech amendments for the past six years: we suggest they just turn the VSA off. As for the drive-by-wire feature, we found that out only after driving the car for a week, and we wouldn't have noticed any difference if we hadn't read the manual.
To top it all off, all the fun of the S2000 can be had for a relatively economical price. The EPA rates the 2006 model as a Tier-2 Bin-5 LEV2 vehicle and gives it a mileage rating of 20mpg in the city and 26mpg on the highway.Punching above its weight in the safety standings
The S2000 may be small, lightweight, and lacking in any luxury cabin tech, but its crash-safety credentials are impressive. With a four-star frontal- and five-star side-impact NHTSA safety rating, as well as a five star rollover rating, it is built tougher than it looks. Active safety systems include ABS, brake assist, and electronic brake-force distribution to keep the 237 horses under control. Both passengers get SRS frontal airbags, although they will have to rely on side-impact door beams--rather than additional airbags--for lateral protection.
Like every new Honda, the S2000 is covered by a comprehensive three-year/36,000-mile warranty. It also comes with a five-year/60,000-mile drive train warranty, and five-year/unlimited-mile rust protection as standard.