Tune or not to Tune?
How do I use launch control again? For the 5th time, my step-son Trust, says: dynamic mode on, traction control off completely, brake pedal to the floor, gas to the floor, both hands on steering wheel, release the brakes (and hold on for dear life). Another 0 to 100km time noted. We’re on our way to visit Unitronic in Montreal for a tune and gathering this information seems important.
I recently bought a 2012 S4, well maintained with 150,000 km (93,000 miles). I’ve had similar Audis before and am familiar with tuning. The S4 was waiting for the weather to improve for its tune – but this was the first one I was going to do myself, in the driveway. With Unitronic’s UniCONNECT+ cable it’s very simple. All you need is a Windows-based laptop, a stable internet connection and the cable. That was plan A, but we‘re going with plan B.
Unitronic is an Audi Club NA Pro member here and we’d met John Staffi, Technical Director at Unitronic, at our season opener at Blainville Audi January 18th. (Middle of winter and a snow storm. Hey, that’s how we do season openers in Canada). Unitronic had a state-of-the-art 4-wheel dyno and John invited us to drop by when we could. Had this beast lost any oomph since new? My butt dyno said no. We decided, for scientific reasons, a road trip was warranted. Spouses were justifiably skeptical of the 14+ hour round trip drive.
Unitronic chooses to keep their operations lean, focusing on technical quality, customer satisfaction, and building products that make a real difference. While we were there, they had just fabricated a 3” straight pipe and installed it on one of their development streetcars to determine the impact of what they had hypothesized was a restrictive OEM exhaust. They discovered at the level of performance they were currently at with the engine, the OEM exhaust was not a restrictive. All were a bit surprised but pleased that their customers wouldn’t “need” to change the exhaust to achieve the HP target – saving the customer’s money while delivering driving enjoyment.
It has not been a smooth drive. Montreal highways in March are not friendly for lowered cars, expensive rubber, or delicate rims. The GPS guides us to Laval and an unassuming industrial building. So, this is where the magic happens. Time to take a peek behind the curtain.
We get a quick tour. Mostly what you’d expect, engine dyno, 4-wheel chassis dyno, couple race and test cars, racks of engines and parts, service bays. A few surprises: a photo studio, 3-screen racing simulator, a large new 3D printer, and an impressive airflow tester. And some things they’d rather I didn’t mention.
The 3D printer is unbelievable. A brilliant way to bring products from a concept to life – in a day. Want to try a new intake design? Just print it. Want to try a small change? Print it again. We were told of a part they had recently made that didn’t fit a right-hand drive car as nicely as they strive for. They printed a modified part and couriered it to Australia. Revision sorted out in no time.
The dyno bay door rolls up and the scientific research begins. After a few pulls, the numbers are consistent: 346.2 hp and 440.5 Nm (324Ftlbs) of torque. Michal Zielinski., President of Unitronic, comes by and comments he would have expected a drop from factory numbers with that mileage but is not surprised: apparently Audi understates factory HP on a regular basis. Just what I like, a company that under promises and over-delivers. Michael stays on to watch the fun.
Time for the tune. John gets his laptop. Connect the USB cable to OBD-2 port under the steering wheel. Go to Unitronic site. Flashes the software. Disconnect. About ten minutes start to finish. Ten! (Gordon, my navigator is waiting for the hood to be opened and “something” to be done there – he’s old school.) I’m asked to leave the area - Gordon doesn’t want me to know the new numbers until after I have a chance to drive it (get the seat-of-the-pants dyno results).
Several of the Unitronic staff have heard of this little game and arrive to watch me squirm. And I do. Doesn’t help that people are looking in the re-enforced dyno windows, smiling, and whispering to one another.
We wrap things up with Unitronic and head for the nearby hotel (read that as no decent lengths of roadway). Leaving the parking lot, things are different. The car feels just a bit peppier, like it was sleepy before and now…isn't. The throttle is more responsive. Acceleration is more noticeable. I can only imagine what stage 2 or 3 would be.
Next morning, time to head for home. I still haven’t been told the new numbers. Sadly, it's’ raining. Full seat-of-the-pants dyno testing will be another day. On the highway, we unexpectedly come upon Stephen, one of the chapter leaders, for the Montreal area, in his TT. After a quick wave of acknowledgement, we pass a Mercedes AMG together.
Finally, Gordon finally reveals the results: 419 Bhp and 494.5 Nm (364.7 ft-lbs) of torque. I was surprised. For Stage 1, in a 6-year old car, I had hoped for a high 390’s. The numbers explain what I have been feeling through the seat and the steering wheel. Happy? Yes! Very happy indeed!......for now.
And in the name of science:
HP before: 345hp, after: 419 hp
Fuel economy before – not relevant we don’t drive these cars for fuel economy.
Mods Before: none, After Unitronic Stage 1 ECU Performance Software
Sound Before: normal S4, After normal S4
Fuel grade: Before 91 octane, After 91 octane
The seat of the pants Before: very good, After: great (still spouse driveable)
Driveability Before: normal for a quick car, After: similar but with certainly improved passing ability
Time to tune: about ten minutes
Cost: $1,100 CDN MSLP
So, to tune or not to tune. Hell yes! (Post story update: Gordon discreetly got me a supercharger pulley while we were there. Almost 500hp here I come…. Another story for another day.)