Upgrading a 1998-2002 Saab 9-3: part 4 (ECU and final words)

This 4-part series was originally posted at Trollhattan Saab in January 2009. I’ve reprinted here to make up part of the SU Tuning Guide, which I’ll put a link to in the sidebar.
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In earlier instalments we covered the following:
Part 1 – the 9-3 and some of it’s deficiencies, and the Viggen Rescue Kit
Part 2 – suspension mods so you can control the power
Part 3 – intake and exhaust
Now, in this final instalment, I’ll look at getting the big power boost via ECU.
I’ve also included a number of links to the various tuning and parts companies that have been mentioned throughout this series.
Software = grunt!
And so we end up at the place where a lot of people start – the engine control unit, or ECU.
Saab 9-3 Viggens and Aeros use Saab’s own engine management software – Trionic7. Like all manufacturers, they set their engine software to the lowest common demoninator. They have to assume that the owner is going to follow the recommended oil change schedule rather than more frequent changes. They have to assume that the owner is going to buy a cheaper grade of fuel.
In short, the car is set up for Joe Average, but is capable of a lot more – and this is where tuning software comes in.
Tuning software does all sorts of magic tricks with fuel delivery, timing changes and all sort of other things (see, I’m technical, huh?) to get the most out of your engine hardware. It’s not uncommon to take a basic Saab turbocharged engine putting out 150hp, apply some software changes and get 50+ horsepower extra with an even bigger boost in torque.
Higher output engines don’t neccessarily such a great proportional increase, but appropriate hardware and software combined can easily result in 300hp-plus outputs (at which point you’ve got to start considering the internals of your engine).
bsrppcThe simplest software solution is without doubt the PPC software solution from BSR. The BSR unit connects with your engine management system via a cord plugged into a jack down under your steering wheel. The new tuning information is stored on the PPC unit and transfers to your vehicle’s computer, replacing the original factory tune. The original tuning information is stored on the PPC and you can revert to the factory tuning at any time – and go back and forth between tunes as you please.
BSR also post updates from time to time and these are downloadable via the web and free to PPC owners.
Other ECU tuning options are available from companies such as Nordic, Maptun, Abbott, Speedparts and others. These generally involve the owner having to swap their ECU for a tuned ECU. Getting an ECU in and out of a 9-3 isn’t a difficult process (see “Installation…”), but it’s not as convenient as the plug-n-play option like that from BSR.
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Stages
Most of these tuning houses sell tuning options in stages.
Stage One will generally be software only and it goes up from there. Stage Three will often include an exhaust system and air filter. Higher stages will include fuel pressure regulator and bigger injectors. The options are endless.
All of these assume, however, that you’ve got those suspension and handling options sorted first.
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Finally, a word of caution….
Saabs can be tuned up to be absolutely monstrous four cylinder vehicles, but it’s going to cost money, and you’ve got to make sure you do it in a balanced way. When you crank these things up you increase the stress on many components so you’ve got to be careful and be prepared for adverse consequences should they arise.
And always ensure that your engine is running well at stock configuration before you consider doing serious upgrades.
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Tuner links:
Elkparts – UK (and much appreciated site sponsor)
Abbott Racing – UK
Genuine Saab (Taliaferro) – USA
Speedparts – Sweden
Nordic – Sweden
Maptun – Sweden
Jak Stoll – USA
BSR – Sweden

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