Price When New: $34,995-$37,995
Expect to Pay: ~$15,000-$30,000
Model Years: 1999-2009
Powertrain: 2.0-Liter / 2.2-Liter inline-four; six-speed manual; rear-wheel-drive
Weight: 2,809 lbs
After England and Italy all but gave up on two-seater sports cars, Japan swooped in and took up the reins. And, arguably, did a better job at it. The Nissan Z cars have enjoyed a long legacy, the Supra just made a comeback and the list starts and ends with the Mazda MX-5. Still, overall, the relatively short-lived Honda S2000 is the pick of the litter. Its high-revving engine, lightweight and low chassis and relative affordability make iconic, classic Japanese performance accessible.
When it was brand new, the S2000 boasted facts and figures that still widen a few eyes compared to today’s sports cars. For instance, the inline-four engine was mounted entirely behind the front suspension to provide a perfect 50-50 front-rear balance. That configuration is considered front-mid-engined — something you’ll find more common in cars named Corvette or Ferrari. The little 2.0-Liter powerplant also revved up to a screaming 9,000 rpm redline and with 247 horsepower on tap (in the Japanese market) it claimed the title for the highest output per liter of any car in the world at the time. What’s more, with only 2,809 pounds to push around the S2000 was in a class of its own — it was almost as light as the Mazda MX-5 but had twice the power.
Unfortunately, the S2000 was one of those stars that burned hot and bright, living only for ten years before Honda called it quits in 2009. It came along at the tail end of as era wherein Japan was absolutely dominating the affordable sports car market. And so, it’s easy to see why it gained such a cult status — it punched way above its weight and for a fraction of what its rivals cost. The same can easily be said for the older Supras, but where those are commanding high five-figure price tags and in some cases six-figures, the S2000 remains humble. The two-seater was one of those cars that was dragged into tuner culture, resulting in many being flogged to hell and back and/or tuned within an inch of their lives.
Find an S2000 of any vintage in good condition, though, and you’ll only spend between $15,000-$30,000. Since production only lasted from 1999-2009, low-mileage examples are still out there, too, and not hard to find. Between price and the performance, it’s the easiest way to experience legendary Japanese performance without crushing your accountant’s soul.