Portland, Oregon's International Product Development (ipd) has been importing and developing hop-up parts for Volvos since 1963, and recently gave us the keys to their modified Volvo S40. Built on the same platform that underpins the Mazda3 and Euro-spec Ford Focus, the S40's drum-tight chassis and turbocharged five-cylinder engine make it an odd alternative, but also a great candidate for tuning.
Butched-up styling means it is also one of the more attractive Volvos in recent years, although ipd's additon of big wheels and a nose-to-tail silver stripe ruin the car's potential as a Swedish sleeper. Though it certainly could be. Ipd claims that its mods bump horsepower from 218 at 5000rpm to 265 at 5600rpm, while torque leaps 52 lb-ft to 288. There's a drop of almost a second in the zero-to-60mph time, from 6.3 seconds in stock form to a repeatable average of 5.4.
A standard array of bolt-ons account for the extra speed. Naturally an exhaust, downpipe, and cold air intake are in the mix, as well as an ipd/MTE ECU upgrade. The oddball is the Aquamist 1S water/methanol injection system, which sends a mixture of summer blend windshield wiper fluid into the combustion chamber, reducing cylinder temperatures for a more powerful burn.
But is it really worth the hassle? After all, ipd recommends checking, if not refilling, the windshield washer fluid reservoir before each and every drive. This means a large bottle of the blue stuff sloshing around in the trunk or back seat everywhere you go, lest the system run dry to catastrophic consequence. Given the $895 price and modest power gains, it doesn't make a strong case for itself.
The same might be said for the brakes. Taken from European police-edition Volvos, the front brakes exhibit an odd behavior with every pedal depression. Since the 12-inch rotors are dimpled (drilled only halfway through), the brake pads compress air in these little pits as they spin around. This makes for a muted, whirring noise under braking, just loud enough to permeate the S40's well-insulated cabin. They work well though, with excellent pedal feel and modulation, and the noise is far more acceptable than the squeaks and squeals often associated with aftermarket upgrades.
Underdamped and oversprung, the KW suspension tends to crash over bumps and wallow in the turns, a feeling amplified by the Volvo's already numb steering and light driver inputs. Though fine for cruising roads smooth and straight, the soft clutch action and rubbery shifter mean hustling through corners elicits furrowed brows more often than toothy grins.
Inside, ipd completes its $7000 package of options ($10,000 if bought separately) with tasteful upgrades like pedal pads, a boost gauge, and trick tire pressure monitoring system. Still, the car doesn't feel dressed for the right job-like a baller who forgot his Air Jordans and settles for playing in his wing-tips. Set up for neither daily driving (did you remember to check the reservoir again?) nor the track, the ipd S40 is good car that just needs some idiosyncrasies worked out.