For 10,000 baht less than 4 million, you can have the sun on
your scalp (we’re all getting older) and unfiltered exhaust gases up your
nostrils, driving the Honda S2000. And while it seems crazy to contemplate
spending that amount of money for sunburn and smog, there is an appeal in
topless motoring that no other forms of transport can give.
I bought my first sports car in 1963, and have almost always
had a ragtop in the stable since then. Our Down-under correspondent John
Weinthal also had his first sports car around that time - a Triumph TR2, and he
still enjoys the wind in the hair. So here are the Words from Weinthal on
Honda’s offering in the open top stakes.
“The first open Honda I drove had an all alloy 600cc, four
cylinder engine which ran out of puff at about 11,000 revs. Among its many
unusual features was that it was chain driven. That was the early ’60s S600.
It was followed by a more conventionally driven Honda S800, using the same
ultra-compact convertible body as the S600. Now we have the S2000 which is every
bit as impressive a piece of technology today as were the ’60s originals in
aggressively styled strict two seater is as true a sports car as they come with
most of the comfort features we expect on today’s better quality new cars,
certainly those at around its AUD 70,000 price (in Australia just under 2
“About all that’s missing is cruise control, a better
than just adequate sound system and a glovebox; no great penalty, apart perhaps
from the disappointing noise boxes - radio, six-stack CD and tape. But the
system almost makes up for this with the most practical driver’s right hand
controls I’ve seen, in addition to the usual control panel behind a
“Standard gear includes ABS brakes, two air bags, sturdy
roll over bars and an aluminium bonnet. It has perfect 50/50 front and rear
weight distribution, limited slip diff, air conditioning, electric windows and
mirrors, alloy wheels, low profile tyres, and remote locking with an
“While clearly the engineers and sports departments at
Honda had the majority say in designing the S2000, it was also driven by real
world folk who won’t put up with any inconveniences just because its primary
allure is so different from everyday cars.
“The normally aspirated 2 litre engine is the world’s
most powerful in terms of kW per litre - a whopping 176kW in a 1260 kg
lightweight. The S2000 has a terrific short throw six-speed gearbox, and at the
9000 rpm redline in any gear the exhaust note is quite awesome.
“The car can hit 100 from rest in 6.2 seconds, which I’m
sure it did many times during my week in it. Top sped is 240 kph. Even these
impressive numbers miss the point. This car handles, stops and steers with great
accuracy and driver communication. It never rattles or squeaks, even over some
of the most challenging dirt tracks I know in far north eastern NSW. I know no
more solid feeling convertible.
“What really makes this the most ownable of convertibles is
the hood operation. Two simple clips to unfold, a button to press and you’re
fully open or closed in a remarkable six seconds. This makes it a true
no-compromise everyday car, with none of the hang-ups of all other dropheads in
my experience. It’s simply stunning.
The magazines have raved and for once they are right. What
they haven’t said is that it’s probably the one convertible this side of a
Porsche which could really stand the punishment of everyday country road
driving, including dirt.”
(Thank you John, it is good to see that you have not
forgotten how much fun driving a soft-top can be - or even how much fun you can
have, in a soft-top. Dr. Iain)
On the local front in Thailand, Honda had a target of 70,000
units for 2003 and is expecting this to go to 80,000 this year. They are pinning
much of their hopes on the market acceptance of the Honda Jazz 1.5 litre five
door hatchback. This is built on the same platform as the Honda City and slots
into the 542,000-664,000 bracket. Honda do not feel that the new jazzy little
Jazz will take sales from their own City or the Stream, but will be aiming for
the Toyota Vios customers with an alternative to the City.
John Weinthal had a week with a Jazz in Australia during 2003
and here are further Words from Weinthal on the Honda Jazz Auto - though he does
begin by saying “I’d opt for the manual”.
“The Honda Jazz is one of at least four highly competitive
and distinctive new smaller cars which have been launched over the past few
months. The Jazz finds itself up against (in Australia) the likes of the Citroen
C3, the Mazda2 and the more conventional but extremely competitively priced
Honda, the Jazz - or Honda Fit as it is know in its homeland - was Japan’s
top-selling car last year with more than 250,000 sales - some 25,000 more than
the larger and more powerful Toyota Corolla. Its Japanese and subsequent
international success has made the Jazz the most popular new model Honda ever.
“In Australia, the Jazz is offered here in three
specification levels. The base 1.3 litre 73kW GLi Jazz costs from AUD 17,000.
The VTi starts at AUD 19,990 and the range-topping VTi-S is yours for AUD 22,490
(630,000 baht). Continuously variable auto transmission adds AUD 2000 to the GLi
which has ABS anti-lock brakes. The VTi and VTi-S have slightly larger 1.5 litre
engines which produce an adequate 81kW.
performance is barely sporting, economy for the auto, top of the range VTi-S
test car was amazingly good. It returned 600 km from its 45 litre tank without
effort in a range of city driving, a run up Mt Tamborine with five people aboard
and touring through the Tweed Valley and Gold Coast. In truth performance is OK
most of the time but using the air-con in hilly country certainly drags the Jazz
back a bit.
“Beyond the novelty of the seven speed CVT auto, the Jazz
is pretty much line-ball with other modern Japanese small cars in its
presentation. It is another of the short and tall variety, which means good head
and leg room with much more luggage space than a glance at the five door hatch
would suggest. This layout can result in rather strange looks but it more than
works in terms of everyday comfort and practicality.
“Frankly the main point of interest of the Honda Jazz is
the continuously variable auto with its selectable seven speed sequential
function which is optional on the two upper models. The sequential mode is
entered by pressing a button on the right side of the steering wheel. From there
on virtually instant and ultra-smooth up and down changes are made by pressing
plus and minus buttons on the left or right hand side of the steering wheel. It
is effective and occasionally it might be more useful than just novel, although
after a few practice plays I rarely bothered to exercise the sequential
function. That leaves us with a relatively normal auto with a useful and simply
activated hold on the mid-range for extra braking or to overcome the auto’s
natural urge to up and down change rather too willingly. At times I even found
myself slipping the auto into neutral because it was too keen to hold a lower
ratio for longer than I felt was comfortable or necessary.
“Overall it is easy to understand the Jazz’s popularity -
although prices are hardly bargain basement (in Australia). Honda, like the
upper-class Germans, tends to trade somewhat on its carefully nurtured, and
mostly deserved, reputation for innovative engineering and build quality.
“The test car ran out at AUD 24,790 (694,000 baht) before
the unavoidable government and delivery charges or insurance. For this you get a
car nicely kitted out with power windows, mirrors and remote locking, air-con,
ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, alloy wheels, halogen
headlamps and fog lamps, two air bags, lots of useful storage spaces, split
folding rear seat, driver’s seat height adjustment and a rather tarty body
dress-up kit. There’s a vehicle immobiliser system and five three-point
lap-sash seat-belts. Hondas in Australia are covered by an industry standard
three-year 100,000 km warranty.
“The Jazz is already a runaway sales success and
multi-award winner. I’d try the five-speed manual gearbox before buying and I
suspect I would then opt to save AUD 2300. The manual gear change would deliver
more useful performance and possibly even better than the auto’s outstanding
(Thank you John, Jazz is appearing in larger numbers every day, and its
effect on the local market will certainly be monitored by Toyota. Dr. Iain.)