Engine: 2.0-litre four cylinder petrol
Performance: 150mph, 0-60 mph in 6.2 seconds, 28.2mpg, 237bhp at 8,300rpm, 153lb/ft at 7,500rpm
Worth considering: Mazda RX8, BMW Z4, Nissan 350Z
It used to be said of a certain Italian motor manufacturer that when you purchased one of its products, you bought the engine and the rest of the car was thrown in for free.
I suppose this well-worn cliché was a comment both on the glorious engines to be found under the bonnets of Italian cars in the Sixties and Seventies, and the somewhat ephemeral nature of their bodywork.
Nowadays, Italian cars are more rounded, their engines a little less special but their construction standards much improved. It therefore falls to another great car-making nation, Japan, to provide us with a vehicle, the remarkable engine of which alone might justify its purchase price. This week, our readers test that car, the Honda S2000.
It's difficult to convey to anyone who hasn't directly experienced it quite what the S2000's engine is like. If you drive a diesel, the red zone on your rev counter will start at, say, 4,000rpm. With petrol-powered cars it tends to be something like 6,000. At those engine speeds the S2000 is barely getting into its stride; it comes into its own above about 7,000rpm and is red-lined at 9,000. Among affordable cars, only the rotary-engined Mazda RX8 soars so high. The results – a 150mph top speed and the ability to sprint to 60 in just over six seconds – speak for themselves.
Those are the numbers; what about the quality of the S2000's performance? It doesn't quite provide the aural excitement that, say a Porsche flat six or a good V8 can deliver, but it has a truly wonderful unburstable quality, never feeling remotely strained or harsh. A powerful top-end and modest mid-range torque do, though, translate into short gearing, even in the highest of the S2000's six gears, which can make motorway driving wearing.
Does the rest of the S2000 live up to its engine? To be honest, I scarcely noticed. With this car, what's under the bonnet is everything. But one thing's for certain: if you buy the S2000 for its engine alone, at least you can probably rely on your free Japanese bodywork to last.
John Mayer, 53
IT project manager, Lytham
Usual car: BMW 530I
"Top banana" was my initial thought when handed the keys to the bright yellow S2000. The car's handling was excellent through the winding roads of Lytham and the bright colour and sweet throb from the engine was a real head turner. The cockpit was snug: ideally positioned gearstick with a neat, tight gearbox. The instrument panel was clearly visible through the spokes of the steering wheel, but personally I would have preferred retro-look dials rather than the digital display on offer. A trip on the motorway confirmed its excellent performance, a true stress-busting, adrenalin-pumping, weekend plaything. This car could be described as the Barry McGuigan of motors: it packs a mean punch but it's not that good to look at.
Chris Robertshaw, 53
Management consultant, Wilmslow
Usual cars: Golf Mk V, Mk IV Cabrio
From what I'd read about the S2000, I was expecting its performance would be virtually unusable on today's roads, given its maximum power is developed so high up the rev range. But I soon realised that this power is easily exploited, helped by well-matched gear ratios, a precise change and an engine that's eager to rev right up to the red line at 9,000rpm. Well-balanced handling, responsive steering and high levels of grip made it particularly enjoyable on twisty A and B roads. I like the timeless styling and the understated interior, with clear digital instruments and red "start" button. Even the ride was good and the seats comfortable. I'd certainly seriously consider it if I were in the market for this type of car.
James Dean, 41
Company director, Chester
Usual cars: Mercedes CLS, Ferrari 550 Maranello
What a fabulous, honest piece of kit: well done Honda for your clarity of vision! The S2000 is a pure unadulterated sports car and, in entertainment terms, is the best I have driven. The areas that really matter – steering, brakes, gearbox, suspension and engine – work in harmony and are simply magnificent. Styling is purposeful and yet still fresh. While the snug interior is rather bland, it's remarkably comfortable given the focus of the car. There are plenty of faster cars, but, I would guess, few that offer more fun. It accelerates and handles like a rocket-propelled Jack Russell. This is one for the true enthusiast; a hoot to drive and you won't feel like a hairdresser. Poseurs should probably look elsewhere.
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