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Our C30 garnered a lot of praise from onlookers in stock form, but we couldn’t leave well enough alone ï¿½ after installing the body kit, lowering the car, and swapping out the original wheels for a set of swank Heicos, the C30 was certainly a looker. But it wasn’t, to borrow a phrase from Monty Python, a goer. All US-bound C30s use Volvo’s five-cylinder T5 turbo engine, and while its 227 horsepower is definitely adequate for blasting onto highways and zipping away from traffic, the last time that 227 horsepower was sufficient for a sporty car was 1990. We needed to do something to give our baby brick a little extra oomph.
Unlike naturally-aspirated engines, which need expensive exhaust and intake systems to make power, the C30’s turbocharged powerplant can be upgraded with a simple bit of chip-tuning. Chip-tuning, as the name implies, involves reprogramming the car’s engine computer to allow things like a more aggressive timing curve, extra fuel enrichment, and higher boost from the turbocharger. There’s a remarkable amount of potential in the Volvo’s engine that’s untapped, since factory engineers needed to strike a balance between power, performance and fuel economy all while leaving an enormous margin of safety to make sure the cars would run forever in the hands of the general public.
Thats all well and good. Were not the general public. Confident in that state of being, we turned to Volvo performance house IPD for their software upgrades, and to try out their latest SL2 Flashloader, which would give us the ability to reprogram ï¿½ or “flash” ï¿½ the C30’s ECU through its on-board diagnostic port. Even better, the SL2 package from IPD offers scan tool diagnostics software and data logging software should you need it ï¿½ nice to have for trouble shooting and more.
In the past, tuning required physically removing the car’s ECU and mailing it off to have a different chip soldered to the mainboard itself ï¿½ a process that played a game of Red Rover right across the boundaries of Volvo’s warranty and introduced new and untold points of failure where non-original electrical parts were added.
The process of flash-loading the Volvo’s ECU is incredibly simple. IPD supplies a hardware adapter that plugs into the USB port of any Windows PC (Macintosh versions are not available) and connects the computer to the car’s diagnostic port. There’s a video on the supplied CD-ROM that steps even novices through the process of getting the setup installed and running.
Once you have the hardware and its drivers installed, there’s a short procedure to copy the IPD Softloader software onto your computer. The Softloader software is what actually reprograms your car’s ECU, and upgraded versions can act as diagnostic tools or even data-loggers, reading the data stream of the engine’s sensors and reporting any stored diagnostic codes.
No two cars are alike however, even two rolling down the assembly line one-after-another, so modern engine computers adapt their fuel and timing curves to each specific car, making gradual adjustments over time. This also means that no two cars would respond the same to the same chip-tuning program, so IPD custom-builds a unique calibration for each customer’s car.
The first time you fire up the IPD Softloader software, you need to retrieve the stored identification information from your car’s computer. But before it does that, the software gives you the opportunity to select several options for your reprogramming, such as whether or not you want the Stage I (for mostly stock cars) or Stage II (for modified) upgrade, and whether or not you want torque limiting ï¿½ a trick Volvo uses to help reduce torque steer off the line ï¿½ disabled.
With your laptop plugged into a wall socket and the car on a battery charger (power interruptions during the procedure can cause damage to the ECU’s programming), the IPD software will read your car’s computer and save the output in a text file, which you then email to IPD. Within 48 hours, IPD will send a return email with your custom-written ECU code. Our identificaton email was sent off on a Friday afternoon and was waiting for us first thing Monday morning.
Reflashing the ECU is nearly as simple as reading the identification , although it takes significantly longer. With the laptop plugged in and the car on a charger again, the software will begin flashing the ECU. Expect the process to take anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes, so be sure to set your laptop’s energy management setting so it won’t shut the computer down in that time ï¿½ it is absolutely critical that the process not be interrupted. You’ll notice at various points during the procedure that the gauges, radio, and warning lights will randomly flicker and flash. This is normal, as parts of the ECU wink on and offline during the reprogramming. When the procedure is done, turn the key off and disconnect your laptop. Your car is now “chipped.”
The results on our C30 were immediate and noticeable. The Volvo now pulls hard through second and third gears, our wallets and our licenses preventing us from pushing the car further. On our Dynapak chassis dynamometer, the C30 went from producing 198 hp and 228 lb-ft of torque at the wheels to 218 hp and 266 lb-ft. Not only that, but the area under the entire curve has been increased, meaning that more of that increased power is available across a broader range of speeds than before.
As mentioned, we went for the top-of-the-line SL2 package, offering the Softloader hardware with ECU upgrade program, scan tool diagnostics software and data logging software which goes for $1,295 from IPD. The price wasn’t the cheapest out there, but a comparison is really apples and oranges. First, this includes the hardware and the additional programming and second, we’ve had good experience with IPD’s sourced MTE programming and knowledge of their work with OEMs. That in mind, the investment seemed well worth any perceived premium from our perspective.
As good of a solution as chiptuning is, there are yet more avenues for increasing the Volvo’s power that we’re willing to explore. As with everything we’re doing to our Volvo, the theme is functional daily performance, so stay tuned to see what we have in store that will make Project C30 not only look better but uncork its potential.
IPD SL2 Softloader and Software Packages - $1295 ea.
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