It's a total lie. Honda says the second-generation S2000 is a kinder, gentler car. Bullshit. Don't believe it. The S2000 is still the real deal, a sports car stripped to a core of dynamic purity. That said, Honda has made a long list of changes to the S2000 for 2004, including an increase of engine displacement, meant to make the car friendlier on the street. And the changes do make the two-seater a bit easier to live with, but to say the roadster has cast aside its hyperactive ways is like saying Barry Bonds no longer hits for power.
To improve torque output, Honda engineers have stroked the all-aluminum four-cylinder 6.7mm to deliver another 160cc of displacement and a slightly undersquare configuration. By Honda's measurement, there's still 240 hp at your command, only it arrives at 7800 rpm, some 500 rpm lower than previously delivered. This is because the increase in piston speed from the long-stroke layout would stress the internals to the breaking point at a higher rpm. It's one of those physics things. The engine's redline has also been lowered 700 rpm to 8000 rpm.
It worked. The new engine shows an increase in output of between four and 10 percent across the powerband, and Honda's dyno curve shows a big improvement in torque at 3500 rpm, where the engine really starts to pull. Our chassis dyno backed up those claims. The 2.2-liter made 210 hp at 8000 rpm at the rear wheels, compared to the 203 hp at 8500 rpm that the old 2.0-liter delivered, and 146 lb-ft of torque at 6400 rpm, compared to 136 lb-ft at 6300 rpm. Sure, peak power remains the name of the game here, but there's obviously more power than Honda is telling us, and the improved midrange is nice around town.
As before, the power is tough to access at the dragstrip, because the clutch starts to fade into lifelessness after just a couple of high-rpm launches. And, just as before, you either have to drop the clutch and live with the inevitable wheelspin, or start with a modest number of rpm and wait for the VTEC to pull you out of the hole.
Fortunately, the S2000 now accelerates quicker. It pulls to 100 mph in 15.10 seconds, which is 0.2 seconds quicker than before. And there's also an improvement in roll-on acceleration, the kind of performance you feel on the street, because it accelerates 0.18 seconds quicker to 70 mph from 50 mph. Before the clutch went, we also measured a 0-to-60-mph time of 6.4 seconds and a quarter-mile run of 14.4 seconds at 97.2 mph, which are also quicker.
While everybody is talking about the engine tweaks, it's really the chassis that has been changed the most. Honda has dramatically changed the handling balance of the S2000 to give it a more fail-safe personality on the street. We circled the skidpad with the '04 S2000 and registered 0.89 g, down from the 0.92 g the previous car achieved. The car also understeered every yard of the way, no matter what we did to get the rear end to step out. You might be tempted to look for an explanation in the '04 car's new 17-inch Bridgestone RE 050 tires, but there's far more to it than that.
To start with, the front springs are 6.7 percent stiffer, and the shocks are tuned to suit. The rear springs are 10.0 percent softer, and the rear anti-roll bar is softer as well. Once you add rear tires that are 30mm wider than the fronts (instead of just 20mm as before), it's clear that the rear of the car is going to hang on until after the front tires give up.
We can hear howls of protest from the self-styled handling experts, especially once they learn that the '04 car's steering is also fractionally slower than before. It's no wonder the S2000 now understeers on the skidpad, they'll say. But when you take a look at our slalom test, a measurement of the S2000's ability to change direction without a loss of control, the car's speed improves by 1.2 mph to 71.0 mph, which is what you'd predict from the hardware changes. So far we think this new balance is for the better.
We also like the revised tachometer with closer numbers, and the car's mild facelift.
Still, the S2000 takes a big breath of commitment before you climb behind the wheel and hit the highway. Even though it has acquired another cupholder (for a total of two) for '04, this two-seater is still as close to a superbike as you can get on four wheels. No matter what Honda says, there isn't a shred of civilized insulation from its hyper-aggressive personality and as great as this car is on the right road, the awful, unmusical thrashing from the engine will tire you out, its cramped interior and the stiff-legged ride will wear you down. A Mitsubishi Lancer EVO VIII is a poster child for practicality in comparison.