Friday, February 21, 2014

Drawing Board: Honda S2000 sucessor

The rumored S1500
Image courtesy of GTChannel
Since its introduction in 1999, the Honda S2000 has been considered one of the best sports cars ever produced, with its high revving four cylinder engine, track ready suspension, and classic looks. The last S2000 rolled off of Honda's Tochigi, Japan factory in 2009, and enthusiasts have been wondering what Honda has in store for the S2000's successor. Current rumors swirling about point to an "S1500" being the successor, with a 1.5 liter four cylinder engine (some rumors indicate it will be a naturally aspirated 1.5 liter, while others say turbocharged 1.5 liter), a weight lighter than the S2000, and sized smaller than the current MX-5 Miata. As the S2000's successor is still in the rumored phase, here is what we think the S2000's successor should be like.

West Brother

HPD's J37 equipped "S3700"
Image Courtesy of VTEC.net

Being an S2000 owner myself, I would actually be pretty disappointed if the rumored specs for the "S1500" were true. I certainly do not mind the car being lighter, but the S2000's quarters are quite cramped as it is, and making a successor with less power and a smaller engine seems counter intuitive (current generation Acura MDX notwithstanding). My idea for a true S2000 successor would maintain similar weight and dimensions to the current S2000, have the same, if not better handling dynamics as the refreshed AP2 S2000, and come available as a coupe or a soft top convertible. The most important addition though, would be a more powerful engine. I would like to see Honda develop a new, high revving 3.0 liter V6. Basically, it should be like the first generation NSX V6, but with modern enhancements like direct injection and the latest iteration of Honda's VTEC variable valve timing technology. Horsepower should be somewhere between 280 and 300 with torque in the neighborhood of 230 lb./ft. With a 3.0 liter V6, the car would effectively be called an S3000!

As much as I would like my "S3000" to be manual transmission only, this car probably would not sell very well if it was. Honda currently has an eight-speed dual clutch transmission in the works for the Acura TLX sedan making its debut later this year. I would hope that this would be the "automatic" option for this car. Of course, it would not be a true S car without a manual transmission, and the S2000's Aisin sourced six-speed is easily one of the best six-speed manual transmissions on the market. I would hope that Honda will continue to offer the next S car with a manual transmission. It does not have to be the same one sourced from Aisin, as Honda's own in-house built manual transmissions are largely considered the best in the industry. I just hope the option will still be there.

The "S3000" should be a car that should be able to readily compete against the Nissan 370Z, Porsche Cayman S and Boxster S, BMW Z4, and even the V6 version of the Jaguar F-Type. When the S2000 first debuted in 1999 as a 2000 model year car, its performance was on par with the Porsche Boxster S of the same year and could easily out run and out handle a BMW Z4 of the same year. However, as time progressed, both the Boxster and Z4 continued to evolve. Throughout its ten year cycle, the S2000 remained largely the same. While there were suspension geometry updates for the 2002 and 2004 models, and an engine update for the 2004 model (equipping the car with the 2.2 liter engine), by the end of its production run in 2009, the S2000 could barely even keep up with the base model of the Porsche Boxster. With the "S3000," my hope is that Honda will update the car incrementally throughout its production life rather than perform one major upgrade and let the car remain the same throughout its life span. 

East Brother

When it comes to sports cars, I am squarely in the camp that smaller and lighter is better. I believe that the S2000 is an excellent driver's car, but I would love to see something even more tightly packaged, although not significantly physically smaller, since the S2000 is pretty tight already. Perhaps a greater use of aluminum and magnesium components in strategic places to both lighten the car another hundred or so pounds and bring the center of gravity even lower. The lower weight would mean no need to switch to a larger engine and allow the car to retain its urgent character.

Speaking of the engine, just because we do not go up in displacement does not mean we cannot make some improvements. Taking the existing engine and adding direct injection would allow for not only more torque, but also potentially a few more horsepower. The redline still needs to remain sky high as that is one of the most exciting aspects of the car. A naturally aspirated engine producing 260 hp and about 200 lb-ft of torque with an 8000 rpm redline seems not only attainable, but would be a natural evolution of the F22C1 that powered the 2nd generation car.

In addition to the minor adjustments to the motor, it would be nice for the stock exhaust to be more sonorous, producing a more exciting soundtrack for the car. Mated to this motor should still be a 6-speed manual transmission with a limited slip differential, but in order to increase the car's appeal to a broader audience, an 8-speed dual clutch transmission might need to be added as an option. Suspension should continue to provide sharp handling, but perhaps a tiny bit softer tuning at the rear to help improve rear grip and make the car a bit more predictable and controllable to even novice drivers.

I feel like these minor changes would offer improved performance and, with the reliance on parts that may be more readily available to the company, create a quicker, tighter, meaner S2000 successor without breaking the bank. It is more a matter of Honda having the will to create such a dedicated sports car that can not only meet the rather high expectations of enthusiasts, but show that Honda has not entirely lost its performance soul in the pursuit of sales in the American market. Even better would be to take the platform and homologate it across an additional product line or two - perhaps a RWD sedan or a new dedicated Acura sports coupe for instance!

Tags: automotive, convertibleHonda, S2000, sports car