Making a SportBack

What automakers do to create Sport models ranges from adding fancy body pieces all the way to giving it a new engine, suspension, functional ground effects and fancy gearbox. The SX4 SportBack lands somewhere in the middle, with suspension modifications, more supportive seats, different transmissions and some unique body pieces rounding out its transformation. It's noticeably different from its siblings.

Here's what the SX4 SportBack has: unique six-speed manual transmission (or a continuously variable automatic transmission), lower ride height than regular SX4 Crossover models (and about the same ride height as a SX4 Sport), a sport-tuned suspension and alloy pedals. Our test model also came with some aftermarket add-ons, including a cold-air intake and less-restrictive exhaust from Road Race Motorsports, and the track-specific Dunlop tires that our test car had improved its roadholding abilities.

The 2.0-liter, inline-four-cylinder engine makes 150 horsepower and 140 pounds-feet of torque. That's compared to 143 hp and 136 pounds-feet of torque for the Sport (sedan) and Crossover models. While the crossover-like SX4 hatchback has all-wheel drive, SportBacks are front-wheel drive.

Our test model came with the six-speed manual. Don't expect to pass anybody in 6th gear, and maybe not in 5th. On highway drives, you'll need to shift down to 4th for a quick pass at highway speed. There's just not enough grunt to make a quick move in 5th.

On the outside, the SX4 SportBack drops the regular SX4 hatchback's roof rack, and it gets a slightly different grille and front bumper, plus a chin spoiler, side skirts and a small roof-mounted rear spoiler.

It's kind of an — interesting — looking car. It's got a large, upright windshield; big side windows; and a very tall "greenhouse" (to use an auto-critic word) sitting on top of a disproportionally small body. I built several cars like this out of my Lego bricks when I was a kid. They weren't ugly, but they weren't like anything that was driving on the road. Neither is the SportBack.

Two nice things stand out about the SX4: outward visibility and supportive seats. Here's where that big greenhouse comes into play, providing excellent sightlines. Small windows in the A-pillar really help with this, and that's something both the SportBack and regular SX4 feature. Also, the SX4 is blessed with very large mirrors. Those mirrors may not be your thing in terms of style, but I laud their utility.

The SportBack's seats feel more strongly bolstered and hold you in place better than the regular seats, and they weren't uncomfortable after a three-hour highway drive. In short, they're pretty much exactly what you'll want.

It's worth noting that the six-speed manual moves between gears better than the gearshift on any other SX4 I've driven, despite having been used by a bunch of automotive journalists at a racetrack event shortly before it came to us. Where the SX4 Crossover has a rubbery, not-good-feeling gearshift lever, the SportBack's gearshift is more firm and precise. It doesn't, however, match the precision of the Mini or MX-5 shifters.

Interior quality is good compared to others in this segment. Make no mistake, the SportBack has a hard plastic dashboard and center console, which drives some folks up the wall, and the turn-signal stalk feels cheap. However, the faux-metal trim is of good quality, and the steering wheel had a nice size and feel to it. The upgraded alloy pedals provided good grip. The gauges were easy to read. All in all, it feels well-executed for the price.

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