Sometimes a recipe is just too good to fail. As long as you’re keeping things simple with the bake, a sponge cake made of high-quality ingredients is always going to taste superb.
It’s the same with a sports car like the old Honda S2000, a replacement for which is rumoured to be in the works. As long as the maker doesn’t mess about too much with its execution, over-stiffening the springs to fulfil some misguided marketing brief about lap times, or replacing time-tested convenience and infotainment solutions that work with new-age thinking that doesn’t, then you’ll be left with something that drives really well.
Of course, everything needs a context. The second-gen Suzuki Swift Sport was an absolute hoot, blending light weight, fast throttle response and grippy, well-balanced handling to create one of the most entertaining and engaging real-world cars that I’ve ever driven. Put that engine in a Porsche, though, and suddenly the package is missing something. A 21st century Porsche needs at least six cylinders, and not even extra torque or a class-leading chassis can fully overcome a contextually lacklustre engine.
A Toyota Supra needs balance, poise, road presence and a highly tunable engine. This is the recipe from the revered A80 and it’s a mix the A90 replicates admirably well. While it doesn’t fully set our socks on fire as standard in a group test, it does still mix it with the coupe crowd impressively well while delivering a potential-rich package that tempts you to tinker if you want to, just as the A80 did. If anything, though, Toyota perhaps underestimated the public objection to just how much BMW DNA there’d be in the A90.
That’s where the – admittedly only a prototype – Nissan Z-Proto comes in. At least it hopefully will, because as a fully in-house Nissan project with clear Z-car heritage and a spec sheet that screams of performance and tuning potential, it rekindles our hope for a final decade of new ICE cars we can buy into, both emotionally and literally.
The Honda ‘S2000’ hopefully due in 2024 is another such car. Designed and built wholly by the people who built the last one, they know what it needs to be. They also know what it can’t be: a 9000rpm rev-monster with a flimsy regard for carbon emissions. I can speak from experience: I used to own an original S2000; a 1999 example with red leather and Silverstone metallic grey paint.
It was a wonderfully anachronistic way to go about your business, trying to keep the revs between 6000 and 9000 where conditions allowed, feeding your addiction for that feeling when VTEC kicked in (yo) and then how the engine stepped the game up every additional 1000rpm until the mercilessly hard rev limiter. It also reminded you how good four-cylinder engines could sound under the right circumstances. It was absorbing, peaky, challenging, frustrating and intoxicating. To love it was to understand it and to understand it was to love it.
The new car can’t and won’t be so emotionally complex. It’s likely to use the mighty but comparatively blunt turbocharged four-pot from the Civic Type R. As engines go, it’s a sledgehammer to the original’s whippy rapier, but you can bet it’ll get the job done. It’ll also be pricey, designed for the middle-aged and successful. As a result it may end up being more of a bruiser designed to flatter the inexperienced than a light and sharp tool targeted at skilled extremities and country roads, as per the masterful Porsche Boxster.
But this is Honda, and it’s in good form right now. Plenty of its standard cars driver very nicely and the current Type R is an absolute beast. Building a new rear-wheel drive sports convertible is an eye-opener in itself in a year when we found out that we in Blighty have only got nine more years of being able to buy brand new internal combustion-driven cars. We trust Honda to know what’s at stake and to do a proper job.
Honda can now combine its own know-how with the bittersweet lessons learned by Toyota and the helpful hints laid down by the general press response to the Nissan Z-Proto. It has all the ingredients it needs to win the automotive Bake-Off. Now Honda just needs to keep it simple and serve up a masterpiece.