REVIEW: Flash tuning - ESS + Evotech (my first two tries) / Alpina_B3_Lux
Hello fellow Bimmerboost members,
A few of you may know me from "the other forum" and it has been some time since I've been on this one here as well. As I'm not much in favour of the policy (the word comes from "police" I guess...) of E90post and more precisely at its way of handling conflicts (mostly by inflicting bans on members who have posted lots of useful information), I have also decided some time ago to join Bimmerboost.
Some of you may know the reviews I've written so far, and I would like to make them available to Bimmerboost as well - together with some new ones and updates to the existing reviews. The present article is therefor one among several threads that I will be posting individually (to make them easier to find without having to wade through many posts in one thread).
Almost all of these are performance oriented, and I will therefor post most of them in the N54 sub-section. @Sticky: If you think one or the other is better placed elsewhere, just move it there please.
But enough of the preamble, here we go.
Flash tuning - first try: ESS
I believe I do not really need to explain why I wanted to have more power under the hood – and the removal of the speed limiter was a must-have as I have always hated it when others wanted to tell me what I could or could not do. As stated above, a simple tweaking with some parameters of a forced induction engine can yield a substantial increase in horsepower and torque, and that even more so on a biturbo engine. I also wanted a car that was substantially faster than my last ALPINA B3 E46, and in stock form the 335i was not much faster (although with a better power delivery due to the higher torque).
The next question is then: why flash tuning and not a piggyback? Well, first of all it should be said that piggybacks are not very common in Europe, contrary to the US, and I did not have any particular experience or knowledge of the Juicebox or Vishnu’s PROcede at that time. That said, I also believed that the DME of the current BMW cars is so far advanced and takes so many parameters into account that I believed it to be safer to have directly reprogrammed some of the parameters only, in order to ensure that any in-built safety catches remain intact and do not receive simulated parameters from an external chip. I also did not really see (for me personally) the necessity for user programming and map-switching that was offered by the two above mentioned solutions, I just wanted a once-in-then-forget solution. Now, I do not want to start a discussion on flashes-against-piggybacks here, and I’m also certain that both the JB and the PROcede are excellent products; they just did not fit my needs, and I’d like to leave it at that.
Now, which flash to choose? I heard very good user feedbacks on the tune from Noelle Motors as well as Evotech, which are in fact one and the same, due to a group buy done on this in 2008. The flash exists in two stages, 360 and 400 hp (crank) / 520 and 550 Nm torque (crank), the stage 2 flash coming with modified downpipes. However, they are rather expensive – catalogue price for both was around 2600 EUR at that time. I know, hard to imagine for you US guys, but these were the times back in 2009! Nowadays you can get the same flash for about half that price, which is still quite expensive compared to what is on the market in the US.
Therefore I did some research on less expensive flashes and came across the norwegian company ESSTuning that offered a similar flash in three stages (355/380/400 hp) for only 750 USD. ESS are very well known in Europe for their supercharger kits (they just finished developing one for the current M3, by the way) and have a good reputation in general, being also endorsed by one of the vendors here on the forum (ar design). The main disadvantage of that option was that I had to send my DME all the way to Norway, which meant some downtime for my car during this period. However, in the end I decided to go with ESS as they reacted very promptly and courteously on various e-mails that I sent them with lots of questions on their tune. In view of the fact that I already had an intercooler installed at the time (more on that later on), I chose their stage 3 flash that was specifically designed for cars with improved intercoolers and was supposed to yield 400hp (crank).
As I’m a mechanical noob myself, I had the DME removed at a garage near where I lived (they didn’t mind that I left my car with them for some days) and sent it to Norway. I got it back from ESS 12 days later, which was longer than I had expected but was caused by the slowness of the postal service, in particular as Norway is not part of the EU. The turnaround at ESS was very quick, and they updated me at once with the status of the shipment.
• Problems / disadvantages?
First test drive - big disappointment: When pressing down the throttle a little to see how the car now accelerates, it went into a limp mode right away with oscillating revs between 1000 and 2000 rpm and no response at all to throttle commands, and a whole lot of warnings on the dash. Stopping the car, switching it off and then on again made the warnings disappear and the car roll normally again, but every time I went WOT or even 3/4 WOT the car went into the same limp mode. Which was quite dangerous at times, as it happened on highway ramps or on motorways without any distress lane! Several e-mail exhanges and phone calls with ESS later as well as research done in this forum revealed that the problem apparently stems from a certain version of the BMW software sold in Europe and Canada and which ESS was unable to properly modify (which was unknown to them at the time they received my DME). You can imagine I was quite annoyed, to put it lightly, to not have been able to drive my car for 10 days and then get back an inoperable DME! As it was not clear whether ESS would be able to rectify these problems and I was not really interested in sending them my DME again, I told them I wanted a refund and went to BMW to flash my car back to stock. ESS paid both the refund and the cost for the reflash to stock without any arguing.
I do not doubt that since then ESS have come a long way and have certainly resolved the problems I had at the time back in 2009. I believe they even offer a flash-at-home solution (comparable to COBB) which is an excellent development. However, at the time they were a major disappointment to me.
I do not want to conceal that the above mentioned problem only appeared in gear 1-4, and not in 5 or 6. I was therefore able to at least get an impression of the added power at high speeds, which was quite awe-inspiring as the car felt completely transformed and accelerated impressively from 180 km/h onwards, as if there was no tomorrow. This way I however also discovered that the speed limiter had not been removed, as no acceleration beyond 270 km/h on the speedo was possible, although there clearly was enough power to go faster.
Flash tuning - second try: Evotech
Well, I must admit that at the time I was really fed up with sending in my DME and having no guarantee that the next tuner would be able to overcome the problem I experienced. I therefore decided to go the safe, but more expensive route with the Evotech flash - the installation would be in Germany not far from where I lived, so that I could drive the car there and have any glitches worked out right away, instead of having my DME go sightseeing around the globe. I chose their "stage 3" map that was also said to yield 400hp (crank) and was adapted for aftermarket downpipes (which I already had installed at the time - still catted ones which were later changed for catless ones).
A Saturday morning not much later I therefore drove to Ludwigsburg, which is a medium-sized town in the southern part of Germany in order to have my car flashed at Evotech on site. I had participated in an ongoing group buy for that flash in a German car forum, so that I was able to get it at a somewhat more reasonable price of 1600 EUR. The flashing procedure itself took around 2 hours, and the contact to the chief programmer Kai Neumann was really nice, one could talk shop and he answered my questions patiently and - as far as I can judge that as a layman - quite competently. They also have a very modern MaHa 3000 dyno on which they do their research and which is to my knowledge one of the most accurate dynos on the market. They made a dyno run before the flash (which showed almost exactly the 306 hp (crank) that BMW claims for the 335i, and another one right after the flash. The latter yielded 389 hp and 560 Nm torque; another run done on the same dyno several weeks later (when the DME had adapted and my exhaust system was broken in) revealed an increase to 399 hp, which is a delta of almost 100 hp (crank - with ar design catted dps and Bastuck exhaust plus intercooler, see below). Here's the diagram for the second dyno run:
Right after that dyno run I did a test drive together with Kai Neumann that already revealed a considerable increase in power. On the drive back (around 400 km) I dared to push the car more and more, which was at the beginning an almost scary experience as I had the impression to drive a completely different car! Acceleration without almost any lag and indifferently of the gear chosen, the car just kept on pulling like there was no tomorrow. I noticed that in the first two gears I had severe problems to get the power on the ground, and the DSC kept on flashing like a christmas tree, even on a straight and dry road, if I accelerated using high rpms. I was also amazed at the pull under high speeds - if I floored it at, say, 210 km/h in 6th gear you could observe the speedo needle rise without any hesitation and A LOT more quickly than before the flash. It's almost as if there was no aerodynamic resistance any more. Under the following link I have tried to record some acceleration runs from 100 to 200 km/h (speedo, no GPS speeds) in order to give a more realistic impression on the power that the tune can actually put on the road:
The car was MUCH more fun to drive, there was so much more power at your disposal at the least push of the throttle, compared to the stock car. In particular the increase in torque was very noticeable, which made accelerations and overtaking other cars much more exhilarating. The speed limiter has also been removed, and I had been able to accelerate until slightly above 300 km/h on an unlimited portion of a German Autobahn before running out of straight road. There was still a bit of a margin left, so I would assume I could attain around 310 km/h on the speedo (around 295 km/h real speed). But that's more of a theoretical figure, on public roads you can almost never make use of the top speed anyway - and the acceleration is much more fun!
• Problems / disadvantages?
Well, the first disadvantage is that you've got now so much power that you find yourself using it a lot, because it's so much fun. Why do I say disadvantage? Because it leads to an increased wear of the rubber on the tires, fuel consumption goes up as well, naturally, and as all other cars are now rather obstacles than traffic participants you have to use your brakes more often. Fuel consumption depends a lot on your driving style - I achieved a minimum of 8,4 l on 100 km/h (around 28 mpg), a maximum of 15 l (around 16 mpg) and an average of 12,5 (around 19 mpg) by driving not aggressively but still quite dynamically.
There's also a slight turbo lag if you accelerate from only minimally open throttle to WOT in low revs, which is obviously due to the increase in boost which has almost doubled. If you're however already rolling over 2000 rpm or throttle is already wide open, I can't notice any turbo lag at all and the car surges forward without any hesitation.
Power delivery is less linear than under stock conditions, you feel the maximum torque at around 2800 rpm quite clearly, even though acceleration is already excellent from revs below this. I also noticed a slightly "wavy" power delivery which can be observed on the dyno sheet and can also be felt at hard runs - there are two power spikes in the rev band that make the power delivery slightly irregular, not as smooth as with the stock car. That is one of the reasons why I've switched to the GIAC stage 2 flash at a later point in time.
Another problem is traction - as long as the road is dry and straight or you're driving at speeds in excess of 100 km/h it's more or less alright, but as soon as you want to accelerate out of turns or on a wet road, the DSC starts its light show and the electronic differential (what a misnomer!) cuts off your power on a regular basis, which leads to a sort of "hickup" effect when you drive the car hard. A real torsen differential is needed here - which had installed later on (early 2010). What good is power if you can't use it properly?
• Still up to date?
As mentioned above, I've since switched to GIAC stage 2 and, since the installation of my RB turbos in early 2012 I'm running with a bespoke ProTune map from ProTuningFreaks, based on the COBB Access Port.
How did the Evotech flash compare to the GIAC stage 2? Well, the GIAC map was significantly more powerful - less so in hp (the difference was only about 40hp at the crank), but more so in torque (more than 100Nm more at the crank). That was immediately noticeable, in particular at higher speeds when I floored it in 5th or 6th gear.
Current: R8 V10 2013 S-Tronic, daytona grey, carbon side blades, MTM tune, Michelin PSS tires
Gone: R8 V10 2010 manual, ice silver, grey side blades, MTM tune, MTM air filters, Michelin PSS tires
Gone: BMW 335i Individual (Öhlins, PFC brakes, RB turbos etc.)
Gone: Alpina B3 E46 3,3