Note: At Unitronic®, we pride ourselves on being a resource for the latest, greatest equipment as well as having the expertise to use it. While we love covering industry news and product releases, we also want to reach drivers who are just beginning to learn about performance, ECU tuning, and getting the most out of their vehicles. This piece is part of a series looking at the larger world of cars, performance, and technology.
THE BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO PERFORMANCE TECHNOLOGY - PART 3
Performance ECU Tuning: Before You Open the Hood, Plug In
Imagine your garage. It is clean, the floor spotless, the bench free of scattered tools. In fact, your tool box is still locked, all of the drawers closed. Instead, sitting on the bench is your laptop. It is open, and a cord is coiled next to it.
You are about to take your Audi® to the next performance level without ever opening the hood. Because before you change the exhaust or the intake, before you make any mechanical changes, you can increase your horsepower substantially.
It’s a feature of German muscle that has people talking. You start with a car that is already powerful, and you make it better with a few simple keystrokes and between 10 and 30 minutes.
Performance ECU Tuning
Performance ECU tuning is as old as the Engine Control Unit, or ECU, itself: almost as soon as fuel injection replaced carburetion, there was a need for digital control. The first sets of computers and sensors were crude to say the least, but even then computer programmers started to create chips that performed better than those that came from the factory.
Dr. Diesel gained fame from tuning all kinds of diesel motors, GM® chips were replaced regularly, and Japanese compacts were turned into finely tuned street racing machines. Still, nothing beat the straight up horsepower and agility of a German sportscar; Porsche®, Audi® and Volkswagen® left Honda® and Mitsubishi® in the dust even when they were stock, due in part to superior engineering and engine design.
This didn’t mean you couldn’t do ECU tuning on German cars as well. Many purists wanted their Audi®, Volkswagen®, and Porsche®s to rip off the line faster, have a higher top speed, and corner and shift better.
A VW® or Audi® ECU can be programmed or “flashed” through the car’s OBD II port, and various performance maps can be loaded to either enhance performance, enhance drivability, or attempt to find the best balance of both that works for your driving style.
This simple upgrade can increase horsepower and torque by impressive margins, all without ever opening the hood.
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Transmission Control Units
Engines are not the only thing electronically controlled. Automatic transmissions, often shunned by racers, are now more advanced. The Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG®) offered by both Volkswagen® and Audi® is at heart a manual transmission, but it is electronically controlled, so it can be used either like an automatic or manually using paddle shifters or other driver input.
The way the DSG® transmission works is that one shaft of the transmission controls the odd gears, the other shaft controls the even one. A unit that combines electronics and mechanical processes, called a mechatronic unit, controls the flow of fluid to a pair of multi-plate wet clutches, and can lock either the inner or outer clutch.
This means that the transmission can anticipate, from driver behavior, what gear will be selected next, and lock in that gear ahead of time, so when a driver actually shifts, there is almost no loss of torque. This makes the shift faster than almost any driver.
This mechatronic DSG® software unit can be programmed, or flashed, through the OBD II port in your vehicle to optimize responsiveness and drivability, and even to increase the factory rev limiter.
Dealer vs. Home Tuning
It used to be to get this kind of performance upgrade, you had to take your car to a performance garage, where they would tune it for you. The interface and software you needed was not available at a reasonable price to a home mechanic.
However, thanks to the power of home computing, software is now available to let you take full advantage of these innovations at home. The Uniconnect+ is one example. This simple program allows you to do some amazing things in the comfort of your own garage.
● Change software mapping for both ECU and DSG® TCU programming.
● Run diagnostics
● Reset the software to factory settings if need be.
This technology, which is available for almost all Audi®, Volkswagen®, and Porsche® vehicles will save you a trip to a performance shop.
German cars have long been known for their superior engineering and innovative designs. The ability to upgrade their performance through ECU tuning and Audi®/Volkswagen® DSG® TCU tuning makes these cars even more desirable and fun to own and drive.
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