Are the Honda S2000 and Toyota GT86 blood brothers?

1999 Honda S2000 (silver) and 2016 Toyota GT86 Primo (red)
1999 Honda S2000 (silver) and 2016 Toyota GT86 Primo (red)
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The Honda S2000 never got the credit it deserved while it was being built. It lasted ten years before it was finally withdrawn in the face of tightening emissions regulations and a mountain of cheap digs from motoring hacks who should have known better.

An instant hit when it launched in the UK towards the end of 1999, it sold well but always seemed to suffer in magazine tests. Too little torque, they said. Too expensive, they said.

It did like revs though, reaching a frankly ludicrous 9,000rpm and not fully waking up until after 6,000rpm. Some of the eco-minded petrol engines we have today barely get past 5,000rpm at the redline. But the S2000 was a sports car, over-engineered in finest 90s Japanese fashion. It revved like a sports car, had the engine and driven wheels in the right places and it went like a scalded cat. A 0-62mph time of 6.2 seconds is quick now, let alone pre-millennium.

To the man on the street, it seemed like only a certain Mr Clarkson of a poky BBC2 motoring show was a fan. Until recently. Since they stopped making them, struggling to push the last few unwanted examples off forecourts in 2009 for a heartbreaking £7,000 less than list price, enthusiasts have realised what they’ve lost: a modern classic and a legendary piece of engineering.

Not only is it happy with 9,000rpm, but as long as its glorious 2.0-litre F20C engine is maintained properly it’s completely solid. The 1999 car here has 94,000 miles on it, but the engine feels like new. It held the record for the highest specific output of any normally-aspirated engine in the world for almost ten years, until the Ferrari 458 pipped it just as the S2000 was going out of production. The F20C is still second in that league and is never likely to be beaten again.

The funny thing is, once it had gone, the magazines started complaining about the lack of reasonably affordable driver’s cars out there. Face? Meet palm.

History has a depressing way of repeating itself. Here we are, living in times that have given us the Toyota GT86 and its sister car, the Subaru BRZ, and you’ll regularly read the same underwhelming press. Not fast enough and too expensive, say the magazines. Sales have been good, but perhaps not what Toyota was hoping. The 86 is teetering on a knife edge, and it might go the way of the magnificent old 
Honda.

They have more in common than you’d think. Almost identical weight, similar dimensions, same driver-focused ethos. The folding soft-top on the Honda is a plus or a minus, depending on your taste. The GT86 seats four, sort of, which the S2000 doesn’t, but future history could link them as kindred spirits that fell victim to the same fickle market.

Both of these cars are completely wonderful to drive and own. The Toyota here is the base model, the 16-inch wheeled entry point and without doubt the sweetest-driving GT86 there is. Get behind the wheel and you’ll fall in love with the light, accurate steering, precise gear shift and compact feel around you, as though it’s a power suit and you’re Tony Stark.

The S2000 is faster and more thrilling, an other-worldly induction howl taking the sensory climax to a different level. But heavier and duller steering means you build confidence and cornering speed slower than in the 86, which you can chuck around from minute one. Gear shifts are arguably even better in the Honda, despite the nearly 17 years gone by, but make no mistake: it’s tricky to drive fast. Completely mesmeric, but harder to master.

After a hyper-focused blast in the S, the GT86 feels like a weight off your shoulders. For all its light-footed brilliance along a twisty road it’s just so easy to enjoy to its fullest. It’s also the more refined everyday drive.

These two cars may be separated by more than a decade, their roofs and seat count, but they have plenty more in common. The S2000 was a sore loss, and prices are now going up. The GT86 could end up going the same way.

Honda S2000

Price: £25,995 (1999)

Engine: 2.0-litre petrol producing 237bhp and 153lb/ft

Transmission: Six-speed manual driving the rear wheels

Performance: Top speed 167mph, 0-62mph in 6.2 seconds

Fuel economy: 28mpg

Emissions: 236g/km

2016 Toyota GT86 Primo

Price: £22,495

Engine: 2.0-litre petrol producing 197bhp and 151lb/ft

Transmission: Six-speed manual driving the rear wheels

Performance: Top speed 140mph, 0-62mph in 7.7 seconds

Fuel economy: 36.2mpg

Emissions: 180g/km