The Honda S2000 was one of the most revered sports cars during its time and has developed quite the cult following since it was discontinued in 2009. However, the Mazda MX-5 has soldiered on and was even redesigned for the 2016 model year, picking up a hardtop along the way in the form of the MX-5 RF. I am currently testing the Mazda MX-5 RF for the week and I also own an S2000, so I wondered if the MX-5 could actually serve as a good S2000 replacement for anyone in the market for a newer two-seat convertible.
If you’re not familiar with the Honda S2000, here is a brief rundown. The S2000 was a rear-drive, two-seat convertible roadster made by Honda from 2000 to 2009. Its claim to fame lied underneath its hood in the form of a 2.0-liter, naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine that produced 240 hp and 153 lb-ft of torque and could rev up to a stratospheric 9,000 rpm. It was practically a motorcycle with four wheels and two seats and while it was a blast to drive, Honda decided to throw in a few revisions along the way.
For the 2004 model year, the S2000 received some updates in the form of increased displacement, some suspension tweaks to make it more daily driver friendly, and a minor facelift. The engine was pumped up to 2.2-liters via a longer stroke, which resulted in a higher torque rating of 162, but the horsepower figure remained the same. Overall, the Honda S2000 was a formidable competitor in the two-convertible segment and bested the Mazda Miata in almost every way, at least on paper.
Mazda MX-5 Miata
The Mazda Miata has been in the market since 1990 and has gone through four generation changes in the past 30 years. With each generation, the Miata grew in size – both body and engine wise – and received more aggressive styling cues, but it never lost its fun-to-drive nature thanks to its rear-drive setup and point-and-shoot handling characteristics. Now in its fourth generation, the MX-5 Miata carries the most aggressive look that it’s hard thus far along with some tech-savvy features that include a retractable hardtop.
While driving the 2020 Mazda MX-5 RF, it’s been really hard for me not to compare it to the S2000. Not just because they have the same front-engine, rear-drive configuration and actually look pretty similar, but the overall driving feel between the two cars is similar as well. At the risk of sounding cliché, I’ve always felt that the Honda S2000 had a unique “sense of soul” to it, in that while driving it, you feel like the car is an extension of you. The car responds so well to every steering and throttle input and hearing the VTEC changeover when getting the car to the redline is sublime. It’s an experience for almost all of the senses.
As for the Miata, I’ve driven the previous-gen NC Miata quite extensively in the past and honestly, I never came away impressed by it. It was fun to drive, but the engine didn’t feel that refined and the suspension was a little too soft for my liking. However, this new fourth-generation MX-5 is far more fun. The updated engine – which now puts out 181 hp – is smooth; the suspension feels tighter than I expected, yet it’s still compliant enough for the street, and the cockpit actually feels lavish compared to Miatas of the past and even the S2000.
In fact, with all of the tech-savvy features like the heated seats, 7-inch touchscreen, and the retractable hardtop, I can’t help but wonder if this is kind of what the S2000 would have evolved in to had Honda kept it around. As for its driving dynamics, I feel like they are just as responsive as the S2000’s, however, the 2.0-liter engine isn’t quite as rev-happy.
But I can forgive that because the MX-5 RF seems to check all of the other boxes that the S2000 did and I especially like the quieter hardtop option. Would I ever buy one? No, but I don’t blame anyone that does since the prices of used S2000s are currently on the rise and this generation of the Miata could actually be a good substitute for anyone looking for a newer two-seat roadster. As weird as it is for me to say, the 2020 MX-5 does fill the void that the S2000 left. That is, until a newer S2000 comes out.