EXPERT REVIEW

chicagotribune.com's view

The Honda S2000 bandwagon has passed.

We opted not to hop on.

Honda has teased the public with a high-performance, open-top, two-seat roadster concept for a couple of years, hinting it would be sold through Honda or its luxury Acura division.

The market has a number of roadsters competing for consumer attention from BMW, Porsche, Mazda and Mercedes-Benz, along with a targa-top Chevrolet Corvette.

In the auto industry, if you are last out with a new entry, you are forgiven, providing you are the best–or close to it.

Not the Honda S2000.

Small and cute to be sure.

But no pain, no gain? No way.

The motorist who once accepted getting bumped and bruised for the pleasure of being seen in a performance machine still demands spirited acceleration and road-hugging handling, but in a vehicle that doesn’t slap you silly while doing so.

Easy to see why this car carries a Honda nameplate. Too crude to be an Acura.

Honda boasts that the little 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine that propels the S2000 boasts an incredible 240 horsepower. But in the time we spent behind the wheel, we kept asking, “Where’s the beef?”

When a 2-seater claims to have so much muscle, you’d expect, when taking off from a standing start, that the torque would slam you back into the leather seat with such force you’d have to pick cowhide out of your flesh.

Not the S2000.

There were other disappointments as well, such as a 6-speed manual (no automatic) with such a short throw that when speed shifting from first to second the lever stopped abruptly but our arm kept moving backward.

On the road, the suspension is more than a little stiff. Firm is fine when shocks and springs are adjusted properly to help keep the vehicle glued to the road in corners and turns, but the S2000 has too much spring, too much bounce in the straightaways.

Lateral movement is good when changing lanes or traveling into or out of twists in the road, thanks to the 16-inch performance radial tires, but when the pavement is straight, expect to be jostled.

There is one cute feature: Inspired by high-tech racing machines, the S2000 features push-button start. Slip the key in the slot, turn to on, then push the button and the engine rolls over.

And we can’t fault the power top. Unfasten the latches along the header, pu sh the button and the top motors down–and back up. Open-air cruising, the best kind there is. With the top down, functional rollbars behind each seat come into view.

Actually, the power top helps solve one of the S2000’s other problems: limited room to slip your head easily into the cabin and limited vision because the top wraps well along the sides to obstruct your view. Backing out of a parking space is an adventure.

Another problem is that the S2000 is in high demand yet low supply. There have been reports of some dealers adding a second sticker to the window to increase profits.

The S2000 starts at $32,000. Our test car came with one option: dealer-installed floormats for $62.

A reader reported spotting an S2000 in a showroom with only one dealer-installed option as well, floormats, but the dealer was demanding $7,000 for them. Must have had S2000 embossed on those mats, in gold, don’t you think?

Standard equipment includes four -wheel antilock brakes, remote keyless entry, AM/FM/CD stereo, air conditioning with micron cabin filter, cruise control, power windows and locks, 12-volt accessory socket, body-colored mirrors, dual exhaust and Xenon high-intensity discharge headlamps.

Only 6,000 S2000s will be shipped to Honda’s 1,000 dealers here for the 2000 model year. The allotment will be based on dealer sales volume. The higher the monthly sales, the better the chance of getting more S2000s.

Rather than pay $39,000 by being charged $7,000 over sticker for an S2000, we’d take the $39,000 and grab a targa top ‘Vette with superior ride, handling, performance and power, not to mention room and comfort.

If you have to pick cowhide from your hide, might as well do it in style.

>> 2000 Honda S2000 Wheelbase: 94.5 inchesLength: 162.2 inchesEngine: 2-liter, 240-h.p. 4-cylinderTransmission: 6-speed manualFuel economy: 20 m.p.g. city/26 m.p.g. highwayBase price: $32,000Price as tested: $32,062. Includes $62 for dealer-installed floor mats. Add $415 for freight.Pluses: Cute styling. Power top. Novel push-button starting.Minuses: Some dealers adding second window sticker to take advantage of limited supply and high demand. Only 6-speed manual. Only 6,000 cars to be sold. Not all that potent. Bouncy ride. Cramped cabin.>>

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