If some are surprised that Honda, universally known for sturdy, dependable and uncontroversial sedans, is a little on the wild side -- make that a lot on the wild side -- it's probably because they haven't really looked. Honda's engines are unparalleled for performance in a small package. Its powerhouse motorcycles are legends. And its spiffy S2000 roadster is becoming one.
Like a haughty, cool-demeanored Nicole Kidman who surprises with lusty movie performances when let loose from the confines of expectation, Honda surges forward to the front of the pack in the sports car run with the champions. This is one chariot of fire that's on fire. Any rear-drive sports car, a scant five inches above ground, riding a high revving, 2.2-Liter, 240-HP four banger with a short-throw six-speed manual as the only trans option ought to tell something about performance from the get-go.
A long snout and short rear anchor the S2000's typical roadster look, with little room for much beyond driver and passenger tucked inside. (Winding mountain roadways with steep drop-offs and ocean views aren't typical shortcuts for those traveling with lots of baggage.) Headlamps (a vehicle's "eyes") have undergone a stretched, catlike transformation that bares high intensity beams more attuned to '05 model year tastes. Not an eyes wide shut strip down, but exotically streamlined.
S2000 was aptly named to commemorate the Japanese motorcycle-turned-auto-company's 50th Anniversary in 2000 with a high performance statement about heritage. We assume "S" means "Sport." A major overhaul a year ago brought some suspension and engine adjustments and traction boost. And Honda fine-tuned its precision performance while yielding toward consumer comfort with revised leather-trimmed interior, dealer-installed XM satellite radio, headrest-mounted speakers, available aluminum hardtop and a tad smoother ride.
In French Riviera manner for topless warm weather days, of course, the soft top retracts electrically. Larger, 17-inch alloy wheels anchor the aggressive stance. A hybrid "high X-bone frame" adds performance enhancing body rigidity while electronic steering and in-wheel double wishbone suspension, fore and aft, add smoothness and cornering control on the road. Intact are the famed red "start" button and Formula 1 racer-style cockpit that make competitive juices flow just thinking about track time.
For one who can't resist a limited edition S2000, plan to cough up about $35K for the privilege. For those who can blithely pass it up, we suggest that a hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy might be a better trip to plan.