When I visited Sweden back in September this year, I visited the guys at Maptun. They’re sponsors here at Saabs United, and they wanted me to provide a review of their new Maptuner plug-in tuner.
Being early in the Maptuner’s life, there’s not one available for my model of Saab, so I had to find a friend here in Oz with a suitable car. I tapped a bloke you know around here as PT, from Sydney. Pete and the family have a 9-3 SportCombi that was just begging for an upgrade.
Here’s Pete’s upgrade story:
The Maptuner upgrade to our 93 Linear SportCombi was easy. All we had to do was drop the engine, install a mild cam, bigger injectors and intercooler, rebuild the turbocharger, re-program the ECU and it was done. Simple enough and after all, there’s nothing like a bit of home mechanics to build the bond between man & motor.
But that’s all a fabrication, of course.
The motor didn’t move, the turbo is untouched, and yet every aspect of the engine’s performance seems altered – and all by a small black box and a length of cable that upgrades the engine to deliver the potential that Saab’s 2.0 turbo 4 contains. A blindfold test (not a good idea when driving – but you get my drift….) isn’t even necessary; the differences between the pre- and post-upgraded engine are like night and day.
The first giveaway is the sound. Start the engine after uploading the ECU re-map from the Maptuner device and you start thinking your ears are playing tricks. Is that a deeper note…. a smooth, tenor vibrato? Well, more air through the engine means more air through the exhaust and so the note becomes deeper and more purposeful. The tinny note of the 1.8t base spec engine is banished as the engine gets in touch with its inner Aero. Its no race engine but there is a nicely balanced tone with a hint of turbo whistle.
FYI, our car was a base 1.8t SportCombi with 110kW and 220nm. The upgrade has given us 164kW and 330Nm – a transformation in every sense.
Things get even better under driving conditions, prompting me to turn off the stereo and lower the rear windows during a winding test drive down a local B-road. It’s never going to upset a true 2.8T Aero but its certainly much closer to the spirit of the car. For the first few days I have to stop myself accelerating at every opportunity just to hear the engine.
Its in real world driving where the upgrade differences quickly make themselves known. Torque. Lots of torque. Torque delivered in effortless motion that delays gearshifts and pulls the car along like an invisible string. This is what gives SAABs their wonderful drivability, the effortless ease through traffic or on the freeway. Put your foot down with purpose, the exhaust growls and the car just pulls away. No fuss, no slamming gear changes. I’m reminded every day that our humble little Linear now has more grunt than the 2.0 Aero spec engines had only a couple of years ago.
I should add that the 9-3 is my wife’s car and madam was quietly cynical that anything of purpose could be done via a computer cable. First time out with the updated engine she nearly rear-ended someone when the car picked up its skirts and boogied down the road with more purpose than expected. So, driving it has been a pleasant surprise for her too: the ease of acceleration out of intersections, roundabouts or from behind trucks. Just knowing that the car could get itself out of bother quickly gives confidence and adds a reassuring cabability to what was a handy but slightly under-cooked family car.
It’s not about speeding or dragging off kids at the lights. It’s about having the capability when it’s needed. To take the other view, if you want to take sensible and socially-responsible behavior to the nth degree, there is always the speed limiter built in to the Maptuner that can be turned on. That feature alone would be a serious consideration if we had teenagers who were starting to drive.
Although the car came to us in Sport spec with the upgraded chassis, wheels & body, it was always very modest on the road. Now it feels like it has reached its potential and is the car it always should have been, thanks to a few minutes with the clever Maptuner software. To have access to this degree of performance via an upgrade process that is essentially no more complex than syncing your i-Pod is a joy.
The Maptuner device itself can be used without instructions due to the cues that it gives you (although instructions would be a welcome addition to the pack guys, just to provide some reassurance for the customer) In a nice touch, the contact with Maptun can continue past the initial purchase and updates are available from their website for up-loading to your car throughout its life.
Hard to think of any of significance. The move to 98 octane fuel perhaps? The Maptuner is based on 98 and so that’s a change from the usually 91 for us but with the extra expense of the better quality fuel comes improved economy as well as the true potential of the re-mapped ECU so it’s a trade that we’re happy to make.
If you were to have a change of heart the Maptuner stores a copy of the original tune first that can be re-installed with the same straightforward plug-n-play process. This might help if you wanted to sell the car unmodified for instance but I can’t imagine another circumstance you’d want to take the step back.
On balance though, theres’ a lot to recommend a Maptune upgrade. Particularly if you have a car like ours that is well suited and really just fulfilling its potential.
9/10 for me. The missing 1/10? Include it (along with kindred spirits Hirsch) under the Saab aftersales/warranty program.
As well as the upgraded tune and speed limiter that Pete’s mentioned, above, the Maptuner also comes with a few other features that I should mention here.
- Shift up lamp (manual transmission only) – A shift up lamp will appear whenever it is more economical to use a higher gear. It will also appear if you are approaching the rev limiter.
- Fault code reader – If your Check Engine light is lit, the MapTuner is able to read the fault code and erase it with a few key strokes.
- Wheel circumference – Different wheels have different circumference. With the MapTuner you can easily calibrate the car so that the speedometer is accurate.
Thanks to Maptun for providing PT with the Maptuner device for the purposes of this test.