Like many of you I am building my car on a budget. As much as I would love to do forced induction right now convincing the wife to drop 5 grand in the car with a baby on the way is, well, challenging. So for the foreseeable future my car will be staying NA.
So far to date I have done your basic bolt on mods. From front to rear the car has a Takeda Stage-2 PRO 5R Intake System, MXP Unequal Length Headers, Motiv Concepts Catless Test Pipe and a MXP Stainless Steel Catback Exhaust with Titanium Tips.
Those mods are all fine and good but they don’t really do much until you unlock their potential with a tune. There are only a few options out there right now as far as tuning goes on the 86 platform, I will compare the options in a later post.
Personally I decided to go with a custom tune from the 86 master, James (not me lol) at HRI Tuning.
James has been working on cars since he was a child. He grew up around cars. His grandpa and uncle both owned shops and he has always been interested in cars, it’s been pretty much bred into him. He learned to tune motorcycles at a Dynojet school back in the early 2000’s and did that for a while up north before eventually getting into software engineering.
So how did James end up becoming an 86 Ecutek specialist?
James was a very lucky man and his FR-S was used to develop the very first Revworks Turbo kit. After the kit was all done and it came time to get it tuned he struggled to find someone to get it running properly.
So, with his prior tuning experience and background in software engineering he figured he might as well just do it himself. James went and became a licensed tuner for Ecutek and immersed himself in the world of the 86.
After getting his car running perfectly and making over 420 horsepower he decided he to turn his attention to helping the other 86 owners struggling to find a good tuner and HRI tuning was born.
Why did I choose HRI Tuning?
Referrals, plain and simple. The most important thing when looking for a tuner, shop or even parts is to get real reviews and referrals from customers and preferably friends. I take website reviews and testimonials with a huge grain of salt, like one the size of Mount Rushmore. Thankfully I have some personal friends who have used HRI Tuning for their 86’s and swear by him so that was all I needed.
What about the tune?
Since my car is NA James recommended a street tune instead of a dyno tune. My car ran “pretty good”, or so I thought, when I brought it in but the car did have some little issues. Every once and a while the car would do that “rpm hunt” thing and it also stalled out a few times on a slow roll away.
James told me that most people think about “big numbers” when tuning when in fact the most enjoyable part for most people would actually be the driveability improvements. His point was how often are you blasting it at wide open throttle vs just cruising around?
The first step was to flash a stock tune with the license onto my car. This would enable him to do some data logging on how the car was stock so we can have a baseline to compare to. From there we went off to his “tuning spot”. We were using a virtual dyno to keep track of the results.
According to James the virtual dyno is not really for getting a real max horsepower number. Instead it is used to measure the gains from run to run as long as you kept the same parameters, road, weight of passengers, starting spot and rpm you can measure the differences pretty accurately.
After our first run we had a baseline of 164 hp. His first question to me what gas I used and I told him I used Costco supreme. The reason he asked was because he noticed that my car was pulling quite a bit of timing, 3-4 degrees, vs other 86 he had tuned using better gas, 1-2 degrees max.
He recommended using Chevron, Shell or Mobil because in his experience they provide better knock resistance which allows him to add more timing which makes more power. I will be switching my gas and going back for a touch up tune and see if it really does mater.
On an NA car each degree of timing could range from 1 to 5 horsepower by his estimation. He felt he could add another 1-2 degrees to the car with the better gas, so that could be as much as 10 horsepower.
Another thing he noticed about the car was that it was actually running lean on the stock tune. He said that this was mainly due to the intake. The intake was causing my MAF reading to be way off. So not only was my car not making the power it could it was actually not as safe as it should be.
Then the magic started happening. Run after run tweak after tweak the car began to be transformed. Using his trusty laptop he reviewed charts and data and then adjusted parameters.
First he worked on the Air Fuel Ratio. He started by making it rich and then leaning it out to see where it makes power without being dangerous.
Once he had the AFR where he wanted it he moved on to the timing, dialing it in for power and safety. This took some time. I think we made a total of 8-10 runs over about a 3 hour time frame.
One of the main sections he worked on was the infamous “torque dip” that the 86 suffers from. If you have an 86 you know what I am talking about. From about 3,500 to 4,500 RPM the car just has no torque. After James had worked his magic the car now had more of a “torque bump”.
According to the virtual dyno the torque is a damn near straight line, and boy can you feel the difference. After everything was said and done the virtual dyno read an impressive 16 horsepower gain.
One of the other big advantages that Ecutek has over the others is RaceROM. RaceROM is a suite of features that can be added to cars with a “drive by wire” system, like the 86. With RaceROM you get Launch Control, Per Gear Rev Limits, Flat Foot Shifting, Auto Blip Down Shifting and Switchable Maps. I got all of these in my stage 2 tune.
Lets start with Launch Control. This is not just a basic 2 step where it sets the rpm and you go. First you need to be stationary and then simply step on the clutch and floor it. The car will then start bouncing off the rev limiter at 4,000 rpms. If you want the rpms to be higher or lower you just have to toggle the cruise control lever up or down. Then drop the clutch and the car rockets off. From there the launch control does all kinds of cool stuff to maximize your launch all the way up until it is time to shift.
Speaking of shifting, with RaceROM you get Flat Foot Shifting. This feature simply lets you keep your foot of the floor when shifting. When you press the clutch in the ECU automatically keeps the car from redlining and blowing the crap out of your motor.
The other features are pretty simple. Per gear rev limits is just what it sounds like. My first and second gears are now 8,100 rpm vs 7,600. Auto blip downshifts mimics heal toe downshifting and switchable maps are just that, you can have multiple maps to select from.
We set my car up with 3 maps. Map one has no RaceROM features. Map 2 is basically “drag race” mode. It has launch control, per gear rev limits and flat foot shifting. Map 3 is the full suite of features. Selecting the maps is as easy as pulling back on the cruise control lever then moving it up and down which makes the needle on the tach point to 1, 2 or 3. Once you have the map you want just pull back again and you are good to go. Oh, you can do this while driving too. If you have an aftermarket wheel this can be programmed to be done with the rear defogger switch I think.
Thoughts and Impressions.
As far as driveability goes it is amazing. The car no longer does the idle hunt, stalls or throws random check engine lights.
But that isn’t what anyone really wants to hear is it? You want to know about how it performs, can you feel a difference? Hell yeah there is a difference. The power delivery is so much smoother and more linear. Also there is no torque dip anymore, the car just pulls all the way to redline. You can feel the extra grunt no matter what gear or speed you are going. I love it. I do plan on getting the car on a dyno just for the hell of it to get a number.
So what does it all cost?
It is $300 for the Ecutek license which each car has to have. If you want to do etuning or data logging on your own you would need a Ecutek cable which is around $350. If you are just getting a tuner from HRI Tuning direct then you don’t need a cable. Also HRI Tuning does not charge a cable rental fee as some other tuners I found did. Then it is $300 for NA tune and $400 for FI tune.
NA Tune Total Cost: $600
FI Tune Total Cost: $700
If you are looking for a tune for your 86 don’t just go to any Ecutek tuner. The 86 is a totally different beast than the Subaru motors of the past. Just because someone does a great job tuning WRXs does not mean they will do a great job on your 86. Do yourself a favor and go see James at HRI Tuning and get the most out of your car.
If 10 minutes talking to him about the car and tuning doesn’t convince you then you don’t need a tune in the first place.
507 Spinnaker Dr., Orlando, Florida 32835