Why Mr Miao feels like the cat that got the cream

DSCN1256_493961ffaafb5-lightboxTo celebrate their 50th birthday Honda gave themselves a present, packed with state-of-the-art technology and designed for pure driving pleasure the front engine, rear drive, open roadster S2000. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one. Unfortunately for me I could only dream of ownership as I was still at college and wasn’t moving up the performance car ladder very quickly. For now I would have to settle with my VW Polo pack horse.

I was soon to own a 1.5 litre Honda Civic Coupe, it looked quite sporty and even had a rear wing, what’s more it was a Honda, VTEC here I come! There is an urban myth about no VTEC having ever failed, but my Civic Lsi Coupe was soon to disintegrate under my right foot due to a combination of spirited driving and forgetting to put oil in the engine. The local garage suggested I should buy a car with a bigger engine, something that could handle some abuse and compliment my driving style. Still, making mistakes is the best way to learn; I now knew what a head gasket was and why I should check the oil level frequently. They don’t teach you this stuff on the Playstation.

A few years passed and much research was done trying to decide on my next purchase. How I yearned to buy something I really wanted. Oh wait what’s this, the new Honda Civic Type-R! Perusal of the glossy brochure of a Nighthawk black version with tinted windows and the tantalizing technical spec was very tempting but there was something about this car that was putting me off. A trip to the local Honda dealer should put aside my indecision.

I got into the square looking Civic Type-R which seemed much bigger and box-like in the flesh, sat in the fake Recaros, gripped the budget Momo leather steering wheel and looked down at the gear stick protruding from where the stereo should be and my indecision about this car was over there and then, I didn’t even want to take it for a test drive. It wasn’t the Type-R’s fault; I blame it on the Porsche Boxster which had fallen into my hands the week before. I had stupidly agreed to look after “Black Beauty” while my friend was on holiday, little did I realise that the experience of open top country blasts with full chat surround sound and the smell of engine oil mixing with the atmosphere had really left an impression on me.

I promptly jumped out of the Civic and was greeted by a sight for my sore eyes, my jaw dropped, heart stopped and I felt the pull towards the Dark side! Sat quietly on the forecourt was a Berlina Black S2000 which looked broodily menacing; its long arrowhead nose and angular squat stance gave it a shark like presence, the five spoke alloys looked like blades waiting to slice up small animals should they wander into its path and the body hugging red leather Recaros were not stitched in the same factory as the Civics that’s for sure! I instantly felt like a Stealth Fighter pilot as I dropped into the cockpit, the controls perfectly positioned at your fingertips without having to take your hands off the wheel. The start button caught my eye and I wanted to push it. My heart was now in control of my wallet and after much procrastination and number crunching I convinced myself to buy the S2000.

To be honest I couldn’t find anything to match the S2000 GT spec, there seemed to be a gap in the market. The luxuries of air con and powered soft top, low maintenance and everyday drivability were must for me.

One long test drive later and I was under Honda hypnosis, the violent VTEC from 6,000RPM onwards was rather addictive. At first I wondered what was going on as I shook in the cockpit, trying to concentrate on going forwards while glancing at the digital rev counter and wondering when the arcade lights were going to flash red and tell me I’d hit the jackpot. All previous cars I had owned made terrible noises when hitting the redline, this one just screams on through until you’ve realised that the digital numbers flashing before your eyes are not the high score tables saved in this Japanese arcade game but MPH! Don’t let the flashing red rainbow shaped rev counter pulse more than once though as you’re likely to head butt the windscreen when you hit the limiter.

Driving back to the dealers I tried to take in the experience, the steering felt very precise as I watched the nose dart left and right, the cockpit was very snug giving the feeling of sitting in the car rather than on top of it. I soon realised that I would have to learn how to drive all over again. Rear wheel drive was new to me and it didn’t feel anything like the Porsche I had tried the week before, this high revving agile car felt very frantic and on edge yet responded so well to the slightest driver inputs. Changing gear was pure pleasure, each change a precise snick into place. The engine noise scared pedestrians very well too as I explored 1st gear VTEC which will take you over 40mph in a blink of an eye, was that noise legal? I was in for lots of fun learning to drive the S.

I purchased one of the first S2000’s that had arrived in the UK, only one previous owner and in mint condition except for the rusty looking brake discs which I was told could be polished up and sorted.

About a month later I was astonished to find out that the tyres which had been fitted were completely inappropriate for the car! The S2000 OEM tyre is the Bridgestone ES02JZ, sizes should be 205/55 R16 89W for the fronts and 225/50 R16 92W for the rears. If you’re fitting any other brand of tyre the general consensus from other S2000 owners are to fit slightly wider rears of size 245/45/R16 to keep the same rolling radius but increasing the contact patch. No wonder I was going round corners sideways with the wrong sized Michelin Sports that were fitted. As soon as I had swapped to Goodyear Eagle F1’s with 245 at the rear, the cars characteristics changed dramatically. The car felt more planted to the road and all the skittishness had gone, well almost.

Tyre pressure is another detail that should be paid close attention too; I’ve never known a car to react so much to the slightest change in tyre pressure. Too little and the car feels sluggish, too much and you’re driving on marbles into a hedge.

As ownership of the S continued so did the little niggles. The fantastic folding roof which goes up or down in a few seconds soon starts to rattle from the two front catches, closer inspection reveals that the striker plates are worn and the latches attached to the top of the windscreen have come loose.

Watching the oil levels on this car is must, keep it filled to the top marker on the stick or you could be in serious trouble. When changing gear at 9000rpm you can smell the oil burning away. Don’t ask which oil to put in the F20C engine and even some dealers get it wrong; my advice would be to sign up to the S2000 forum www.s2ki.co.uk or call Honda UK themselves.

So, after a year of relearning how to drive, taking it easier on the accelerator and smoothing my steering inputs I was finally feeling more confident with the S2000. I’d had my scare on a greasy slip road with a nasty hump which momentarily lifted the back end off the ground, as the rear came back down the tail whipped out to the right, I over-compensated with the opposite lock and was soon pirouetting in the opposite direction… There are many tales of the dreaded greasy roads and B road bumps which throw S2000 drivers into hedges backwards and I find myself concentrating hard when driving the S; it’s not a car to drive one handed while checking your hair in the mirror (unlike the Boxster…)

Drive smoothly and carefully and you will be rewarded. On the flipside, drive it like you stole it and it also seems to pay you back in bucket loads. In other words it’s a proper driver’s car and demands you treat it as such. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

 

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William Miao