Be sure to turn your speakers up for this one:
There you are sitting at a stop-light; a particularly long one at that. You experience the “joy” of watching the entire rotation of the intersection signal, where everyone (except for you) is allowed to pass through. Then finally: it is your turn. But, before you get a chance to take a stab at the throttle, the “joy” returns as you hear a rather grotesque grunt coming from someone else’s engine working on blowing its first piston. in disgust, you look up only to see a rather hideous looking contraption with two exhaust tips the size of a salad bowls protruding behind it. Then you marvel at the fact that even with all the racket, it’s going a measly 10 MPH (about 16 km/h). And no surprise: it’s heading straight for the gas station.
Let’s admit it: this is the first image that comes to your mind when you think of a “tuner car”, right? Well, at least that was my impression of what would happen when you force an engine to operate well beyond it’s design specifications just so you can impress the girls with tons of smoke, lots of noise and ok: maybe some wicked performance, if you are lucky. As this is the exact opposite of what Saab is all about, it’s only natural that most of us Saabers would resist performing any kind of engine tuning on our cars. After all, Saab is not about being a wannabe Arnold Schwarzenegger armed with a pair of machine guns, stirring up mayhem. Saab is more like a James bond, being both smooth and non-descript. And just when you think he’s ready to start a pleasant conversation, he pulls out an umbrella that launches a guided missile. Yes, Saab is all about the element of surprise: with style. As little as one month ago, I would have told you that no performance tuning would be capable of pulling off this level of brutal elegance. I was wrong.
It was just two weeks ago that I received the MapTun device from State of Nine. It’s is a rather unassuming little black box, and a hallmark of simplicity and elegance. There are a just a few buttons and data ports on the module. The ports are used for updating the software from a computer and connecting directly to your Saab’s connector just above the pedals in the cockpit. After plugging the device in and setting the key fob to the “ON” position, I am ready to roll. Note: If you have a car that is older than a 2007 MY 9-3, there are a few other steps that need to be taken, but the process is surprisingly straight-forward. First, you select “Program Vehicle” and “OK”. The Tuner will proceed to back-up the original software on your car’s ECU: nice touch. Then, after this is complete, you select the appropriate file (in my case, it was “stage 1”) and begin the upgrade. At this point, you might want to help yourself to a drink or snack as this step takes some time. As my car has the T8 software, this wasn’t too long of a process, but the 20 minute wait times for Saabs of previous model years isn’t exactly bad either. Be prepared to notice some curious behavior as the upgrade is in progress. You may see the percentage indicator disappear and have a “please wait” shown in its place, more than once. Don’t panic, this is completely normal. You will also notice some of the lights on the dashboard changing. And even some curious electrical whirring sounds. Once again: it’s expected behavior.
Now the upgrade has been completed. I stick the key fob in and notice there that the steering wheel lock didn’t do it’s usual “click”. I pull it out, and reinsert: still no click. “Hmm, must be an artifact of the software being modified”. Sure enough, the engine starts up beautifully, in fact it sounds very much the same, but with an ever-so-slightly deeper and fuller sound. I stop the engine and remove the key: “Click”! Apparently, the steering wheel lock is now reactivated. Of course, none of this really effects anything. My only advice is to not be alarmed and simply remember to start the engine and stop it before taking the key out and walking away from your car – just to be sure that the steering wheel is locked after performing the upgrade. But, let’s get back to that engine sound when I started the car: after performing the upgrade. It sounded very much like it did before, but once again, with a somewhat fuller sound.
Then I lift my foot off the brake and give it some gas: “hmm, just as smooth as before”. I give it more gas: “ok nice linear torque curve … just as before”. I give it more gas: “huh, still nice and smooth, still have some torque, just as before. I give it a bit more: “Ok, very good: nice and smooth, gaining speed and … whoa, I didn’t loose any torque!” And once again, I give it some more: “hey, look how I am continuing to build up speed, and still have plenty of torque”.
This was my first experience as I was making rounds through a corporate parking lot. Ok, the security dude must think I’m totally nuts at this point. So, I head for the freeway. Then I take a jab at the throttle and with absolutely no turbo lag (that’s right: zero turbo lag) I find a wonderful rush of smooth power thrusting the car through the rather short on-ramp. As soon as I look down at the speedometer I am stunned to see that I have just entered the freeway and I am already traveling at 70 MPH (about 113 km/h). And there you have it. My 2.0T 9-3 has been upgraded from 210 HP to 250 HP. What’s truly astounding is not only the extra power and torque but the level of refinement through which this added power is delivered. It’s impossible to overstate how natural the upgrade feels. At no point, do you feel that the engine is being pushed past it’s limits. Instead, MapTun is simply allowing, what is a truly remarkable engine, to realize its full potential. If not then, how can you explain that my average mileage went from about 24 MPG to 27 MPG, after performing the upgrade? That’s right, not only did I cause a massive increase in performance but I improved fuel economy by about three miles per gallon. Clearly, the engine actually likes the MapTun upgrade. Keep in mind that you will notice the difference at lower speeds as well as highway speeds. If you need a sudden surge of passing power, you just know that it will always be there. Gone are the days where I feel the need to drop the car down one gear before passing. An immediate jab at the throttle is more than enough to turn Das Boring into Das Auf Wiedersehen! Suddenly, you will feel the illusion that your car’s engine is actually bigger, even though it obviously isn’t. MapTun is worth every single cent, and as corny as this may sound: you will feel a renewed sense of enjoyment for your Saab. But, once again, this is not the type of tuning that folks would chuckle at or protest the large clouds of smoke. Rather, this is Tuning: The Saab way. MapTun will simply remind you why you fell in love with your Saab in the first place.