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2008 Suzuki SX4t

Transforming the SX4 from an econobox to a brazen road racer wasn't much of a stretch for Suzuki. After all, a highly modified SX4 competes in the World Rally Championship. But this vehicle wasn't built for a WRC forest stage. The SX4t concept simply illustrates what buyers could expect should Suzuki officially offer a high-performance version of its subcompact.

Partnering with Road Race Motorsports (RRM) for the SX4t project, Suzuki gave its thrifty crossover an intercooled turbocharger, stiffer springs, seventeen-inch wheels, performance brakes, a carbon-fiber hood, a billet-aluminum shift knob and pedals, bolstered seats, and a steering wheel from the Euro-market Suzuki Swift. To accentuate the newfound performance, Suzuki also added an aftermarket exhaust, painted the greenhouse black, and tossed out the regular SX4's factory body cladding and roof rack.

What good is all that go-fast gear on an econocar that starts at $15,895? Suzuki says (perhaps optimistically) that the SX4t's 2.0-liter turbocharged engine now produces a generous 221 hp and 208 lb-ft of torque, compared with the standard car's 143 hp and 136 lb-ft. Although these increases cause some turbo lag, the engine's power is linear above 3000 rpm, pulling nicely to its 6300-rpm redline. The combination of turbo whoosh, a loud blow-off valve, and the crackling exhaust is quite entertaining as well. Still, with all of its chassis upgrades, the SX4t constantly reminds you of its basic-transportation roots by skipping over pavement cracks - better tuned dampers could help here. Steering remains dead on-center, and the SX4t's standard all-wheel-drive system doesn't seem to be up to the task of handling the extra power, as evidenced by excessive front wheel spin.

Despite its shortcomings, the SX4t tuner project holds promise for budget-minded enthusiasts as a cut-price alternative to the Subaru Impreza WRX.