Despite the fact that horsepower is usually the first thing to get the average gearhead salivating, it's handling that often provides the most enjoyment at legal (or at least safe) speeds on the street. With that in mind, Sport Compact Car presents four straightforward methods of improving a car's behavior.
The first step is simple - get better tires, and hang them on lighter wheels. While the compromise is usually reduced tread life and durability (especially here in the potholed Midwest), there's often no better way to improve a vehicle's performance across the board. Obviously, some common sense is required, as hanging a set of V700s on some Forgelines is not going to make a highway commute any more enjoyable - instead, it'll just be more expensive. But replacing the crap that OEMs often try to pass off as "performance tires" can make a world of difference. Just don't go overboard with the sizing, as mounting a set of heavy wheels with the wrong offset and huge tires can be just as detrimental as tying a few boat anchors to each corner of the car.
Next, many cars will respond well to modifications that reduce body motion (the second step in this plan). Stiffer springs, dampers, and anti-roll bars can benefit most cars, and often the result is nothing less than jaw-dropping. It's at this time where we can also play around with the balance of the vehicle (a great third step), and attempt to remove some of the understeer that's built into nearly vehicle (although this is not necessarily a great idea if you sit in front of your car's engine), and maybe go so far as to reduce weight transfer by lowering the vehicle (the fourth step). It's important not to go too far in this quest, as eliminating the suspension's compliance and/or travel often results in a large step backwards in real-world performance, and that bit of oversteer that's so fun at lower speeds can get seriously spooky if it rears its head at triple digits. If in doubt, err on the side of compliance and understeer - but make no mistake, a responsive well-balanced car can make just about any drive more fun.
All of these modifications need to be done with knowledge of general handling principles and your vehicle's specific suspension geometry, so if in doubt, leave it stock or consult with those that have more experience with the model in question. For those with little experience with these types of modifications, it may be better to go with a complete suspension package that's installed by professionals, while those with more familiarity can custom-tailor the performance of their rides by selecting the right individual components. For those with mechanical aptitude and good attention to detail, this type of work is often easily performed in one's own garage with a minimal number of specialty tools - just remember to treat every step as if your life depended on it, because it does.
Once you've gone through the effort of these modifications, it'd be a shame not to push your car to the limit to determine the effectiveness, but it's important to do so in a safe manner. The best way to do this is to join up with a local car club for an open-track day or track school, or find your local SCCA chapter and run an Solo II autocross event.
[Source: Sport Compact Car]