Four years ago, visitors to the Tokyo Motor Show were among the first to witness the S2000, albeit under concept clothes and wearing the SSM badge. And although the engine configuration or the power output was never disclosed - never mind the actual go-ahead from Honda - those privileged enough to have driven the NSX with its 270bhp 2.0-litre V6 knew its potential.
But, at £70,000, it was a supercar for the super-rich. In response, Honda decided to implant some of this race-bred magic further down the food chain and devised the Type-R formula: Japanese build integrity, reliability and refinement that's synonymous with the Honda name but with the kind of looks and power that most mainstream manufacturers could only dream of.
But in the open-top sports car sector where the BMW Z3 and Porsche Boxster head the field, the S2000 is an even greater revelation. Gone are the sexy, cute lines which lend more of a pose value than performance edge, and the S2000's short front and rear overhangs, slanted headlights and gently flared wheelarches just look more purposeful than its competitors. Even the bootlid brake light which has softened the second generation MX-5's haunches, seems more masculine.
So if this is a real racer for the road, where's all the clever technology? First, Honda had to get the chassis right and there was only ever going to be one choice - front engine/rear wheel drive. But to spice things up, Honda developed an all-new double wishbone suspension and, by moving the lightweight engine behind the front axle, plus the long wheelbase and wide track, the S2000 displays a classic mid-engined 50:50 weight distribution with a high torsional rigidity giving immense agility and precise turn-in during cornering.
To make use of all this, the S2000 needed a special engine. Honda could easily have shoe-horned the NSX's V6, but that would have been too easy. Instead, under the S2000's bonnet lies a two-litre four-cylinder, double overhead camshaft, 16-valve engine that develops its 240bhp at a buzzy 8,300rpm and has 153lb-ft of torque at 7,500rpm. The secret to such a prodigious power output is Honda's VTEC variable valve timing system. At low revs, the engine is as refined as your average four-cylinder four-door, but climb up the rev range and, in the S2000's case, it wails like a banshee until it hits the 9,000rpm red line.
Bare figures do little justice to the S2000's stunning performance. Turn the key, hit the red starter button and at first the sound is disappointing. In fact, drive either Integra or Accord Type-R (fitted with equally high-revving VTECs) and at idle these also sound rather 'weedy' with a distinct four-pot rattle. Don't be fooled. Rev the S2000 towards 6,000rpm and, like its Type-R siblings, the S2000's raw, unfettered exhaust note quickly changes and the power just keeps coming and coming.
The only fault is the poorly-spaced gear ratios which are too long because you need to be hell-bent on reaching the red line to enjoy the awesome VTEC power. Third gear provides ample power to reach the VTEC zone (0-60mph takes 6.2secs and top speed is 150mph) and rocket through it all the way to 9,000rpm. Which begs the question: what are the other gears for? Cruising, really. With closer ratios, the power would be more accessible. But there's no faulting the gear change: the ratios in the lightweight six-speed 'box are so closely stacked and the change so precise that you barely have to move your hand a couple of inches to change gear.
True to its racing pedigree, there's no fancy electronic traction control, just a torque-sensing limited slip differential which increases traction by transferring power to the wheels with the most grip. Handling is further enhanced by the electric power steering which, at just 2.25 turns lock to lock is wonderfully direct. Standard anti-lock brakes providing ample stopping power.
Inside, the Honda is as futuristic as the engine configuration. It claims to have produced a 'pure sports feel' and with the digital instruments (the rev counter reads from 0-10,000rpm), push-button start, non-adjustable steering wheel or height-adjustable sports seat, titanium-finished gear knob and drilled aluminium pedals, the whole effect works well. Standard equipment includes full leather, air conditioning, driver and passenger airbag, roll-over bars, electric roof, ABS plus electric windows and mirrors. At £27,995 the Honda S2000 isn't cheap, but against key rivals such as the BMW Z3 2.8 (£28,120) or the Porsche Boxster at £33,950, its power and fun factor makes the S2000 a real banzai bargain.