Friday, September 18, 2009

2004 Honda S2000 -- thoughts and review

After all the drama involving my first couple German cars, I decided that it was time for me to find something that's dependable, reliable, and reasonably priced.  I also had always felt I sold my M Roadster too soon and always wished I have kept that car longer.  Short wheelbase cars are very fun to drive.

The combination of these factors resulted in my third vehicle purchase -- the 2004 Honda S2000!  This car turned out to be the most dependable, cheapest maintenance, and most unlucky car I have owned (more on that later).  I test drove one of these cars right out of college and always loved how high the engine revs.  It's a Honda, so it's got to be reliable!

By this time there were a lot of other entrants into this market.  Both the 350Z/G35 coupe and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution were introduced to the market a year before.  Why then would I choose an underpowered car relative to the competition?  Simple, the way the car was designed and built.  The Honda frame was build specifically for the S2000 and was not shared across different platforms.  In contrast, the Nissan FM platform is shared across both Infiniti and Nissan with the G35 sedan/coupe, 350Z, and even their SUVs (FX and Murano).  Because of this, the FM platform was a lot heavier than it's competitors.  The Lancer Evolution platform was shared with the econo Lancer -- enough said.  There is a good reason why manufacturers want to share platform as much as possible.  A lot of R&D is required to design a platform, and sharing the platform across many different vehicles defer the cost and allows the individual car to be cheaper.

The 2004 S2000 also just went through a complete refresh.  The front and rear bumpers were redesigned to be more aggressive, in addition the light assembly were also refreshed to make the vehicle (been around since 1999) more modern.  Most importantly, the engine displacement was enlarged to 2.2L from 2.0L, resulting in more torque and horsepower.

The car is very well built (I heard it's build in the same factory that produces the legendary Acura NSX) and the clutch is very light.  The manual transmission almost feels telepathic, as the shifter has VERY short throws and you can engage each gear easily with a flick of your wrist.  Of all the cars I've owned, this is the only car where I felt like I was sitting in the cockpit of a F1 racer -- meaning the interior is very snug borderline uncomfortably tight.  Everything was placed where it should be and within easy reach.  There is a truck, but not much could fit in it.  WARNING: don't put a bike rack on the trunk, the trunk is aluminum and will dent.

The convertible top is lacking as there is no insulation, so it was just a piece of vinyl cloth between you and the elements.  On the bright side, the rear window was glass, and with the addition of a defroster it was a very welcome change verses the plastic window that came before. 

Positives.  High revving engine.  The car is very docile below 4,000 RPM, but comes alive and screams all the way from 4,000 to red-line.  Maintenance is a simple, regular oil changes ever 5,000 miles -- no need for synthetic, regular old is fine.    Ever 15,000 miles maintenance cost is only a couple hundred dollars out of pocket.  Only downside is since you are taking your car to a Honda dealership, don't expect special treatment and/or a loaner car.  When keeping the revs high, you can be going 40 mph and feel like you're going over 100 mph.

Negatives.  The 2004 model did not come with drive-by-wire electronic throttle, which also means there was no stability or traction control.  This really was a driver's car.  If you screw up, you're likely to go into a wall.  No big brother is watching out for you.  During hard driving you can feel that the front frame flexing.  This is because of that big gaping hole where the engine sits.  To counteract that I bought a White Brothers frame brace (from Australia) that eliminated all frame flex from the front.  You can be going 40 mph and feel like you're going over 100 mph.

Price paid. $29,000 USD + license and taxes.
Price sold. $24,000 USD

Tenure. 1.5 years

Now back to why this has to be the most unlucky car I have owned.  As you may have noticed, I chose red for the color of my S2000.  The reasoning was because it's such a small car, I wanted to make sure the soccer mom in SUVs and the tractor trailers can see me and not run me over.

Now I'm not sure if this theory applies to animals, but my S2000 had a Dr. Doolittle/ animal whisperer quality.  6 month into ownership, while I was driving in the wine country, a pigeon decided to cross the highway I was on, change its mind, and then run directly into my windshield.  Although there was no damage to my car (I'm pretty certain the pigeon is dead after hitting it going 70 mph), that was a sign of things to come.  Almost a year later, coming home from a friends house one evening, a doe, a deer, a female deer, decided to jump the fence and T-bone my car right before a stop sign.  I don't even know how I could have calculated the odds of that happening.  My driver's side door was severely damaged and the car required significant bodywork.  My alignment on my Electric Power Steering ("EPS") was also knocked out of alignment and never really felt the same.  Shortly after I got the car from the shop, I ran into a coyote while driving back from San Diego going about 80mph.

This ended the life of the most reliable, cheapest to maintain, yet most unlucky car I have owned.

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