The 2006 Honda S2000 roadster was designed with one thing in mind: performance. Honda took a punchy engine, dropped it into a great-looking, lightweight wrapper, then tried to make all the other gubbins fit around it. The S2000 has changed little since its introduction in 1999, and, as advances in in-car entertainment and information have raged around it, Honda's racy roadster has maintained its focus on pure drivability. Accordingly, most of the tech in the 2006 Honda S2000 is to be found under the hood, in the drive train, or in other parts of the performance infrastructure. While the S2000's spec sheet screams performance--its power-to-weight ratio is among the highest in its class--its maximum horsepower and torque are achieved only north of 6,000rpm, which is approaching extralegal territory on most roads. The car's few interior tech features and controls are bizarrely designed and in need of a 21st-century overhaul. Nevertheless, the S2000's nimble VTEC power plant coupled with its balanced design, precise steering, and flawless handling add up to a car that will put a smile on the face of all who drive it.
Cabin comfort (or lack of it)
While we usually spend the first section of our reviews talking about Bluetooth or GPS navigation, it doesn't really apply in the case of the S2000. The car was lucky to get a radio, which seems to have been added as an afterthought and hidden behind a drop-down panel that, when opened, jams into the knees of any driver over 6 feet tall. The S2000's standard AM/FM/CD player is an unremarkable single-DIN, single-disc unit set awkwardly low into the central stack. It boasts neither MP3- nor WMA-disc playback functionality, although it is prewired for XM Satellite Radio. Six hard-button preset keys along the front of bezel are flanked by a push/twist control knob on either side for controlling power and EQ settings. Audio output through the S2000's eight speakers (including one in each headrest) is unsurprisingly immersive, although it skews toward being muffled and bass-heavy at the expense of midrange refinement.
The 2006 Honda S2000 comes with a basic single-DIN stereo buried low on the stack.
The most distinctive features of S2000's cabin tech are the remote controls for the stereo and HVAC systems situated to the left and right of the steering column respectively. While these are much easier to reach than the buried head unit, they present a curious appearance to the first-time S2000 driver, who will very probably have never seen anything like them. It seems that finding themselves in need of some extra buttons, engineers in the Honda factory in Suzuka, Japan, decided to employ some cost-saving measures by rounding up the nearest raw materials to hand and repurposing them. In the upper left of the cluster above the car's bright-red Engine Start button (a feature that we really like), a large circular Audio Control knob can be pushed to change the audio mode (AM, FM, or CD). We would have wagered a significant sum that this was a multifunction knob with dial control for volume, were it not for the presence of a T-shaped slider switch to the right of the Start button labeled expressly for the purpose. Two oblong toggle switches above this volume switch can be used to mute the audio output and to change the radio channel, respectively. These controls are mirrored in all their random lack of uniformity on the right of the steering column, where a similar arrangement is used for the HVAC controls.
A curious arrangement of rocker-, slider-, and push-button switches is used for remote stereo and HVAC control.
So far, so unconventional. And the unconventionality continues in the instrument panel. The 2006 Honda S2000 is a car that was designed to be revved all the way to its stratospheric 8,000rpm redline and driven at license-threatening speeds. To help the driver remember this, the car features digital instrumentation in the form of a parabolic orange-on-black virtual tachometer display, and a Back-to-the-Future-ist digital speedometer, which displays a blur of scrolling digits when the S2000 is goaded into acceleration. (We can attest to the fact that the car does not enter a time warp at 88mph, although the remote radio and HVAC controls did make us wonder whether we had slipped back into the 1980s).
The S2000 instrument panel features a luminous digital tachometer.
Other comfort features on the S2000 don't get much further than its two supportive leather-trimmed seats, its adequate air-conditioning system with air filtration, and a 12-volt power supply. Dropping the top involves a simple procedure of unhooking the canopy from the A-pillars and holding a rocker switch mounted in the center column. It took us a while to realize that the roof hooks need to be snapped back into place after being released from the body to prevent them rattling against the body with the top down.
Goes fast, even when standing still
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.
Its 2.2-liter four-cylinder VTEC engine gives the S2000 awesome high-end performance.
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 shifter for the six-speed close-ratio manual transmission is the closest thing to cabin entertainment that the S2000 offers.
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.