If we had to give a Most Improved award to a car maker, Volvo would certainly be in the running. One only need look at european car's own 122 S (yes, that white sled is ours) and see how the 40-some years have transformed the farm implement into something far sexier.

Strangely enough, the trio on these pages is closer to ec than one would think. The S40 was a project vehicle with nebulous ownership: it belonged either to sister mag, Sport Compact Car, or us. We never really knew whose it was and it languished for many months in an offsite garage. It was out of sight and subsequently out of mind.

The V70 served as art director Platt's inspiration to get his own Volvo and he has since purchased a pristine example for him and his 19-year-old son fight over. The 122 was the result of an aquavit-fueled frenzy, a chemically enhanced evening in which we were certain a vintage car would be "the coolest thing in the world." Twelve hundred bucks later, we were holding its keys-although the car would start fine without them.

We might revisit the 122 later. In the meanwhile, let's close the books on this younger pair.

* ipd S40 T5
Both sporty and compact, the S40 fit SCC's description well. Its $28k base price included a generous list of options and a robust, 218-hp turbocharged five-cylinder engine. Rowing through its six-speed manual, reaching 60 mph took an average of 5.3 seconds with Volvo's R-line sport-tuned suspension Not bad for a four-door.

Yes, the S40 fit the sport compact mold, but it was a bit of a stretch convincing a readership weaned on lightweight Japanese imports. Their loss, our gain. ipd picked the car up and quickly revamped its underpinnings to include KW coilovers and ipd's own adjustable anti-roll and strut tower braces. Whereas a stock S40 is comfortable, aggressive driving quickly shows up the suspension's limits. The ipd system picks up where the factory left off and does a good job taming hard corners while retaining streetwise civility. Interestingly, the spring and shock rates feel fairly soft on this set-up; the ipd bars do the lion's share of the chassis straightening work. Ultimately, the ipd S40 feels like something a secret branch of Volvo Motorsport might produce: firm but not harsh.

Running gear includes bigger VST Type-R alloys shod with P Zero rubber. Visible between the elegant spokes are 13-inch multi-piston brakes, the same kind the Scandinavian cops use on their Volvos. Rather than drilled or slotted, these cop-rotors are dimpled for additional surface area. Dipping deep into the go-fast bin, ipd assembled an engine considerably more powerful than stock. ECU software was upgraded with a custom program designed by ipd and MTE. Its more aggressive boost, fuel and timing maps are augmented with a Typhoon intake GP Moto relief valve and Ferrita exhaust system.

An Aquamist water/methanol injection system provides much-needed cooling to the charge air and its effect is noticeable, primarily when the car is really hot. Water/methanol injection was used in WWII fighter aircraft to great effect. Think of it as a poor man's intercooler.

With the exception of the prominent ipd livery, the S40 looks largely stock, and that's a good thing. The car wears a Heico front spoiler, featuring a carbon fiber splitter that appears to be part of a Volvo 'sport edition' program. In other words, it looks good.

Too bad we let this car go; it's a nice piece of work, especially in its enhanced form. Step on it and those Pirellis start yelling, not stopping for lack of torque. ipd measured an impressive 288 lb-ft of twist (up from 236) and 265 hp at 5600 rpm (up from 218 hp at 5000 rpm). Driving it is a unique experience. Fast but not urgent, the S40 tackles corners with poise. If you wanted to feel safe while driving like a maniac, the ipd S40 will do just fine.

2006 VOLVO S40 T5
*Layout
Transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

*Engine
2.5-liter in-line five, dohc, 40-valve, ipd software, K&N intake, GP Moto blow-off valve, Ferrita downpipe and exhaust, Aquamist water injection system

*Transmission
Six-speed manual

*Suspension
KW coilovers, ipd strut tower brace (f), ipd anti-roll bar and end-links (r)

*Brakes
Euro-spec 13-inch rotors (f)

*Wheels and Tires
VST Type-R, 8.5x18
Pirelli P Zero, 225/40

*Exterior
Heico front spoiler and carbon splitter

*Interior
ipd door lock pins, Heico pedal pads and shift knob, 20/20 rearview mirror, Tire Spy pressure monitoring system

*Performance
Peak Power: 265 hp @ 5600 rpm
Peak Torque: 288 lb-ft @ 1500 rpm

*ipd V70 T5 Sportwagon
We've been fans of Volvo wagons since the PV445. We're not alone. Word has it Colin Powell drives a restored 122S wagon and pre-eminent car photographer, Jeff Zwart, has been spotted jetting about in a modded V70.

So we've established that Volvo wagons are cool. ipd can ensure they stay that way. The older V70 here includes a high-pressure turbo system, sport suspension, 17-inch alloys and optimized aerodynamics-all part of the T5 performance package. Not bad for a family hauler.

ipd calls this program the T5+ treatment and it touches virtually every system on the car. Or it can simply focus on one aspect, say power (and there's lots to get), but this is the way we'd do it. A balanced car is a sexy car.

Like the S40, the V70 features adjustable KW coilover suspension, ipd anti-roll bars with trick HD end links and upgraded Derlin bushings. The front brakes are culled from Porsche stock and feature big red four-piston front calipers and 13-inch rotors. The rears are Volvo's own binders based on its R-line, comprised of larger calipers and 13-inch rotors. The wagon rolls on 18-inch Heico Volution wheels and Pirelli P Zero rubber.

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