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ECU Tuning Guide - How To Properly Flash Boosted Builds

The latest in software flashes for turbocharged cars

Peter Wu
Dec 16, 2014

To meet tougher consumption and emissions regulations, manufacturers are moving toward turbocharged engines - even more reason to get up to speed on software flash and ecu tuning techniques. Compared with turbo engines of the past, when words like "lag" and "heat" and "thirst" were part of the lexicon, they've come a long way. The new wave, often 2.0-liter units, features smaller turbos that spool up quickly for low-end torque, instead of coming on later as older turbo engines used to.

For enthusiasts, perhaps the best thing about turbocharged engines is how easy it is to make significant gains with a re-map of the ECU, which shows that OEMs leave a lot on the table. We asked a few tuners about their latest offerings for some recent engines: VAG's third-generation EA888, BMW's N20/26 and S55 (the latter propels the new M3 and M4), plus Porsche's 3.8-liter twin-turbo in the 991 Turbo and Turbo S. Below you will find a helpful ECU tuning guide for popular European car powerplants.

ECU tuning guide mkVII VW GTI 05 Photo 2/14   |   ECU Tuning Guide Mkvii VW GTI 05

VW EA888
We could arguably credit VAG for starting the trend toward small-displacement, small-turbo engines with the 1.8T from the mid-'90s. The company's latest 2.0-liter turbo is an update of the EA888 found in the MkVII GTI and newest Audi A3. In the GTI, it's rated at 235 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque; the A3 is rated at 220 hp/258 lb-ft. The 1.8-liter version develops at 170 and 184 lb-ft in VWs and 170 hp/200 lb-ft in the A3, but APR's baseline for that engine is 189 hp and 204 lb-ft at the crank.

ECU tuning guide VW EA888 engine 06 Photo 3/14   |   ECU Tuning Guide - How To Properly Flash Boosted Builds

In APR's 2.0 version, the company claims an impressive 316 hp, 81 hp above stock—plus a massive 381 lb-ft of torque, 111 lb-ft more than stock. For the 1.8, APR's Stage One tune measures 245 hp, which is 36 hp above stock, and 290 lb-ft, a gain of 86 lb-ft.

ECU tuning guide APR dynograph 02 Photo 4/14   |   ECU Tuning Guide APR Dynograph 02
ECU tuning guide APR dynograph 03 Photo 5/14   |   ECU Tuning Guide APR Dynograph 03

Neuspeed's Power Module (which the company says can be installed and removed without detection) is a plug-and-play system that intercepts at the MAP and boost sensors. Electronics are housed in a billet aluminum case, and there's also a two-position switch to select 91- or 100-octane gas. The company sent us a dyno graph showing gains of 40 hp and 40 lb-ft made on a Generation 2.5 EA888 in the 2014 Jetta GLI. Both the baseline figures and Power Module figures were made while the engine was fitted with Neuspeed's discharge and charge pipes.

ECU tuning guide neuspeed dynograph 04 Photo 6/14   |   ECU Tuning Guide Neuspeed Dynograph 04
2008 BMW Z4 M coupe rays 57 motorsport GO7EX wheels 09 Photo 7/14   |   ECU Tuning Guide - How To Properly Flash Boosted Builds

BMW N20/26
First seen in the United States in the Z4 and then later in the F10 528i, X3 and F30 328i, BMW's N20 is a 2.0-liter four that deploys a twin-scroll turbo for a quick spool-up. It's rated at 241 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, but the N20/26 has been consistently showing around 240 wheel horsepower in independent dyno tests. The N20 became the N26 after BMW switched the rubber fuel lines to metal ones and added a valve to the fuel tank venting system so it could qualify as a SULEV (Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle).

ECU tuning guide dynograph 07 Photo 8/14   |   ECU Tuning Guide Dynograph 07

Burger Motorsports of Southern California offers several levels of tune for the N20/26, but these tunes are not currently CARB-exempt and therefore not legal for road use in the Golden State. A Stage One piggyback module attaches to the factory DME and pushes power from the 235 hp baseline to 270 and from 266 lb-ft of torque to 318 lb-ft at the wheels.

Burger's JB4 Juicebox is also a piggyback module but features CANbus functionality, allowing for multiple maps (that can be changed in-dash), plus built-in diagnostics, code reading/deleting, downpipe support, ethanol support and free software updates.

According to Burger Motorsports, a JB4 Juicebox running the most aggressive map on a completely stock engine and exhaust system produces 304 hp and 348 lb-ft at the wheels, drinking a 70/30 mix of 91-octane and E85 fuel. We reviewed Evolution Racewerks' 328i using the JB4 with ER's intake, downpipe, intercooler, charge pipe and exhaust system in the June 2014 issue. It measured 312 hp and 355 lb-ft on 91 octane.

ESS Tuning's Roman Zepeda said the company is close to finalizing tunes. He estimates an increase of 40 to 70 hp.

BMW M4 stage Photo 9/14   |   BMW M4 Stage

Burger Motorsports' tunes for the S55, found in the M3/M4, are currently beta-spec and, like its N20 tunes, are not CARB-exempt. According to Terry Burger, owner of Burger Motorsports, it's "based on the Juicebox 4 system and includes Stage One, Two and Three maps, along with programming based on user needs. The higher the stage, the more harness connections are used. Stage One is a 15-minute install job. The full Stage Three is about an hour-long process. It's fully reversible and can be enabled/disabled on the fly using steering wheel controls. For more advanced users, it offers a laptop/iPhone/Android interface allowing a full suite of data-logging, map-changing and custom-tuning options. The tuning supports all fuel types."

ECU tuning guide BMW S55 engine 08 Photo 10/14   |   ECU Tuning Guide Engine 08

Early tests of the Stage One tune have shown a jump of 52 hp (477 hp) and 55 lb-ft (485 lb-ft) from the stock engine's 427 hp and 430 lb-ft. Like the N20, BMW understates the S55's output; 427 to the wheels works out to roughly 491 at the crank when corrected for drivetrain loss. Burger's most aggressive tune, using 70 percent 91 octane and 30 percent E85 cranked out an impressive 509 hp and 523 lb-ft.

ESS Tuning said early tests on an S55 tune have shown an extra 50 to 80 hp.

ECU tuning guide dynograph 09 Photo 11/14   |   ECU Tuning Guide Dynograph 09
ECU tuning guide porsche 991 turbo six 10 Photo 12/14   |   ECU Tuning Guide - How To Properly Flash Boosted Builds

Porsche 991 Turbo Six
We've found two companies that have managed to squeeze out more power from the 3.8-liter twin-turbo in the 991 Turbo and Turbo S.

GIAC claims to be first in offering an OBD-II port flash for the 991 Turbo S. The company's dyno graph shows increases of 37 hp and 68 lb-ft on 93 octane (measured at the crank). A flash for the Turbo also shows significant gains. With a baseline of 513 hp and 457 lb-ft, this program hikes power to 576 hp and 512 lb-ft on 91 octane with a GMG exhaust system. Fill up with 100 octane and the engine can make 635 hp and 534 lb-ft.

ECU tuning guide dynograph 11 Photo 13/14   |   ECU Tuning Guide Dynograph 11

Evolution Motorsports (EVOMS) has just finalized a 650hp/650-lb-ft package for the Turbo and Turbo S. Todd Zuccone, owner of Evolution Motorsports, explained that instead of just flashing the ECU with a new map, this includes upgraded components in other areas to extract maximum power safely—such as a more efficient intercooler, freer-flowing exhaust system and a pair of exhaust manifolds that features EVOMS-patented flow divider technology to help scavenging and increase exhaust velocity. Through the ECU, boost is increased to 19.1 psi (from 17.4 psi in the Turbo S) in regular mode and 21.3 psi (19.6 psi/Turbo S) in overboost mode.

ECU tuning guide dynograph 12 Photo 14/14   |   ECU Tuning Guide Dynograph 12
By Peter Wu
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