The aftermarket put some more heat in Suzuki's hot hatch

2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack by RoadRace Motorsports front view2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack by RoadRace Motorsports rear view

The interior of the SX4 SportBack is by no means luxurious, but provides a no-nonsense environment with a refreshingly simple design. There are hard plastics on the dash and doors, but they don't feel offensive to the touch and manage to still appear fairly attractive. The seats are made of soft cloth and are comfortable, offering nice back support, while the thick steering wheel is comfortable to grip and houses only the most necessary buttons (volume, cruise, etc.). The center stack is laid out in the traditional and intuitive way, with the CD/AM/FM/XM controls above and climate controls below. A no-cost pop-up nav system rises from the top of the dash, and while it doesn't look as fancy as in-dash units, it gets the job done with a simple touchscreen. There are also some nice touches that make the cockpit feel a little more upscale, specifically the aluminum pedals with the Suzuki logo and handsome black gauges with white lettering and red and blue accents.

We expect quite a bit of convenience from a modern hot hatch, and the SX4 SportBack didn't disappoint. There's decent leg room for rear seat passengers, although anyone north of six feet tall probably wouldn't want to commit to a road trip in the back seat. The rear cargo area also offers a good amount of storage space, and the rear seats can fold 60/40 to make room for larger items.

2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack by RoadRace Motorsports interior2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack by RoadRace Motorsports gauges2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack by RoadRace Motorsports pedals2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack by RoadRace Motorsports hatch

The 2010 SX4 SportBack powers the front wheels with an updated version of its 16-valve DOHC 2.0-liter inline-four producing 150 horsepower and 140 pound-feet torque, up from 143 hp and 136 lb-ft the previous year. It's not a huge increase, but at such modest levels, every little bit helps. Our specially equipped car also came with an open-element air intake ($199), ECU upgrade ($399) and a freer-flowing exhaust, so we're guessing it had a slightly higher output than stock. The majority of the time, the peppy four-pot provided enough motivation to get going in a reasonably quick manner, especially in low speeds around town. The motor builds towards redline without a fall-off in power, although it lacks gusto even on slight inclines, especially below 3,000 rpm.

Also new for 2010 is a six-speed transmission and the option of a CVT with both a console-mounted gear selector and paddle shifters. The extra gear helps improve fuel economy, and the SportBack is rated at 22/30 for the manual and 23/30 for the CVT. Thankfully, our tester was equipped with the standard transmission, which provided nice, accurate shifts, with just the slightest hint of notchiness. Over our time with the car, we found that the SX4 responded better to aggressive shifting, and we actually enjoyed banging from one gear to the next. The only issue we ran into was an overly touchy throttle that made it quite difficult to get the car going smoothly from first gear.

2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack by RoadRace Motorsports engine

The Sportback comes equipped with a MacPherson suspension in front with a rear torsion beam out back, and RoadRace Motorsports first order of business was to fit a sport suspension ($499) and a set of ultra-sticky Dunlop Direzza Sport Z1 215/45R17 tires ($528). The result: boatloads of grip. The spunky front-wheel-drive hatch continually surprised us with its ability to tackle even the most challenging corners with ease. Body roll is nearly absent, and a flick of the steering wheel directed the wheels with precision.

The modified suspension did come with a downside – a big one. The suspension is so stiff that it almost made the SX4 undrivable on even slightly rough roads. Going over bumps would often cause un-elicited grunts and groans, and at one point, the dash-mounted navigation system sprung open over a particularly rough section of road. While we had fun with the car driving up and down the canyons, it made day-to-day tasks nearly unlivable, all of which made us question how well RoadRace balanced the "Road" and the "Race" missions in the SX4.

2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack by RoadRace Motorsports rear 3/4 view2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack by RoadRace Motorsports front detail2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack by RoadRace Motorsports tire2010 Suzuki SX4 SportBack by RoadRace Motorsports decal

Putting performance parts on a budget hatch like the SX4 SportBack might have worked in the early '00s, but as tuners and compacts have gotten more refined, drivers are expecting a better balance. Couple that with a base price tag of $17,999 (plus $795 in destination charges) and it's obvious the SX4 will mainly appeal to budget-minded buyers looking for convenience and a dose of sport in their daily driver. The modified suspension on our tester made it impractical as a daily driver, and yet, it's far from a dedicated track toy.

That said, we can see plenty of buyers picking up a stock SX4 for its endearing qualities that comes straight from the factory. The 2.0-liter engine is spunky if not sporty, and the new transmissions now provide respectable fuel economy. In all honesty, we'd probably suggest buying the SX4 Crossover model instead, as not only does it present a more capable – and unique – ownership proposition with all-wheel drive, it's also inexplicably and substantially cheaper at $15,899. That said, Suzuki has packaged the SportBack with an eye-catching exterior and attractive interior that makes it something of a bargain on appearance alone. But when it comes to modifications, we'd advise swapping on some new rubber and leaving the wrenches tucked away in the drawer.

Photos copyright ©2010 Drew Phillips / AOL

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