Ten years ago, Honda launched the S2000, a surprisingly traditional sports car from an untraditional company. The S2000 was rear-wheel drive, had a high-revving little engine and came only with a manual transmission. It was built in the image of the great old European sports cars, but it started every day and didn't leak oil.
Ten years before that, Mazda used that same philosophy for the Miata and still does. Honda figured there was a niche to be filled just up from the Miata. The S2000 was seven inches longer, two inches taller, more powerful and more expensive.
While the Miata survives, the 2009 model year is the last for the Honda S2000. Sales - never robust, but Honda never intended the S2000 to be a volume car - have tapered off to the point where the company figures it just wasn't worth building it anymore, and the fact that Honda sold only 68 of them in the U.S. in July supports that theory.
Even so, the S2000 remains one of the most invigorating, fun-to-drive cars you can buy at any price. The six-speed manual transmission is simply the best there is. Handling is taut, braking is strong and linear, and even though the 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine is rated at just 237 horsepower, it feels like a hundred more.
From the outside, the 2009 S2000 looks remarkably like that original 2000 model, and inside, changes have been similarly minor. The cockpit is snug but not cramped, though the seat doesn't go back far enough to suit drivers who are much more than 6 feet tall. Trunk space is shallow but adequate.
The original S2000's 2.0-liter engine revved to a motorcycle-like 9,000 rpm, which made in-town driving seem a little frantic. Several years ago Honda increased engine size to 2.2 liters, and while they actually trimmed the horsepower by three, it increased the torque, which is the measure of pulling power. Bottom line: You don't have to rev the engine as much to get going.
Fuel mileage, EPA-rated at 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway, isn't bad for a car that is as much as home on a race track as it is on the road. But be aware that this is a genuine two-seater - if it won't fit in the trunk, it isn't going with you.
Base price of the S2000 is $34,995, but that's with every major feature offered except for a removable hard top, which adds $3,569 if you want one. I don't. This is a car to be driven with the top down, stereo off, preferably on twisty back roads that require a lot of shifting.
Fun? We don't talk about that so much anymore, but the S2000 delivers. For a little while longer, at least.
2009 Honda S2000
Base price: $34,995
Price as tested: $36,112
EPA rating: 18 miles per gallon city driving, 25 mpg highway
Details: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive sports car with a 2.2-liter, 237-horsepower four-cylinder engine and a six-speed manual transmission.