Tuning: The Saab way

Be sure to turn your speakers up for this one:

[After watching the video, read on after the jump]

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. 

38 thoughts on “Tuning: The Saab way”

  1. As the 2.0t is underpowered in a 95 anyway a step 1 is allways a good choice. Cars ad been come in this manner from factory.
    But the report is very subjective and doesn’t show anything. They could have done the conversation on a table drinking a coffee 😉

    • Agreed – I even felt my Aero 2.8T was under powered (for me). When I upgraded it with a stage 0 VTune, that’s when I felt the V6 ‘s power had been released.

    • It doesn’t look like there will ever be one. As long as there are no cars rolling off the production line it doesn’t make sense for us to develop for it. There are very few NG9-5’s on the roads, and Saab switched engine management system after the 2010 model year, so any development done for the 2011+ can’t be carried over to the 2010 NG9-5’s. We got a 9-5 Aero 2.0T Biopower (2011) a year ago with the intention of developing software for it, but our development stopped at the same time as the production line did. It’s a shame, because it’s an astonishing car and it really needs a boost in terms of power.

  2. With all these posts about tuning kits from site sponsors, I’m surprised that no coverage has ever been given to ecuproject and the Trionic Suites. That IS the Saab way of tuning, a monumental effort by the community. Nothing like that exists for other car brands.

    • It’s pretty simple, the guys working with that have never bothered to get in touch with us… its not a matter of being a sponsor of the site or not, its simply a matter of actually sending an e-mail and we’ll check it out! But we can’t go running around the web looking for stuff, we simply don’t have the time for that =(

  3. I also have a 2007 9 3 sedan, do I simply order the map tune device or would I require more Info on the car prior to ordering.

    • Stage I is an ECU tune only so no other hardware besides the Maptun “black box” is required. Stage II on up requires additional hardware (exhaust, injectors, etc).

      I took my Viggen to Stage II this fall Loved Stage I but not sure Stage II was worth the expense. I had to take the perfectly good cat back exhaust off the car and replace with a 2.5″ from Maptun. Didn’t really notice much difference – but perhaps that’s because the jump from the stock tune to Stage I was so dramatic.

  4. Great timing for this posting. I just checked the FedX website and it says my maptun order is out for delivery. So I should receive my Stage 1 upgrade today for my Turbo X sportcombi . Looking forward to judging the change in performance for myself.

  5. A question: we have all been following the warranty situation carefully. Does MapTun negate the car’s warranty (assuming you have one, or hope to have one miraculously restored)? I know Hirsch is allowed with warranties. But maybe to the exclusion of others?

      • But Hirsch-Performance is acting on a compete different level while developing a tuning kit. Hopefully after a new ownership of Saab all will be sorted out again.
        As I understood warranty issues were made over Saab but payed by Hirsch. But maybe Manfred from Hirsch can tell us.

  6. Nice video and write up on the 2.0T. There are a handful of tuners out there that do the same thing. It does improve the 2.0T I’m sure but nothing like the V6. I had a BSR tune on my ’06 SC Aero that put the hp up to about 295 and 350 lbs. of torque.
    My ’09 9-3 SS Aero XWD has the Vtuner tune which put it up to 320 hp and 400 lbs. of torque–absolutely amazing and truly transforms the car. Below is a great video. Notice the wheel spin on the FWD. The XWD doesn’t allow that and makes the car that much faster!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qoupttCzujE

    • Watch the video closely and while you see cars passing us constantly: you’ll also notice that just about every single time we want to accelerate, we are spending an inordinate amount of time changing lanes.

      That’s because on Walnut Creek freeways (where this video was recorded), traffic is an absolute travesty. Basically, you have a lethal combination of overly aggressive drivers and drivers that appear to have been shot with elephant tranquilizers, hence making it really hard to have the MapTuned 2.0T let loose.

      In hind-sight, it would have been nice to have performed the test-runs on an open back-road but since we had to choose a route near the Saab dealership (for the January 14th event), our choices were limited.

      • I think you meant January 14th event Ryan, unless you’re doing a valentines day event, which would work too. Hope you’re enjoying the MapTun even if some of your roads don’t allow you to use it

        • Yes, I did (and just fixed it :-)). Thanks for pointing that out.

          Fortunately, the roads where I live aren’t quite as nutty, so I am having no shortage of enjoyment.

    • Right now, it’s only PC compatible (yes, I checked on that too).

      It might be worth trying to see if it works over VirtualBox though (a free virtualization software package that will allow you to run Windows on a Mac).

  7. I have the same MapTun stage 1 in my MY2003 9-3ss Aero since February 2010 and the car has been performing great since then! Mileage has also been great. I consider it as the best value for money spent on the car. It’s really worth it! Besides tuning, the maptuner can easily change speed limit, read and clear error engine codes and adjust the speedometer according to the size of the wheels. It never crossed my mind to go back to stock!

    • …I forgot to mention the excellent after sales support from Maptun.
      Maptun really shines on that! They are always there standing behind their product to immediately help you and answer all your questions.
      Customer satisfaction is their top priority. And that really makes the difference. I am very impressed!

  8. TurboX install stage#1
    I was able to use an old laptop PC we had in storage to run the maptun software as all are other stuff is Apple. Installed it to the TurboX, today and took it for a spin. OH YES! it does bring the performance up.
    Just like everyone says Turbo active sooner more torque at lower end and the RPM’s to 6M real fast.
    Thanks everyone for the input about maptun.

  9. This is an excellent upgrade, which I have had in place for the last 18 months on my ’06 2.0T Aero. You have power benefits throughout the engine range, but it is between 2k and 3k rpm which I find the most fun and useful on busy roads, as you can quickly leap forward without any effort. I am no expert, but I can see from the Maptun graphs ( http://www.maptun.com/tuningGraph.php?kategori=668&produkt=1362&model=2351&listorder=73&step=1362&maximumHp=370&maximumNm=650) that 2k rpm is when you get max torque and then stays level, which would explain the better fuel economy as you don’t have to push the engine as much as you would have without the upgrade to reach the same power (if that makes sense).

    A couple of considerations:

    Depending on where you live you will need to let your insurance company know, as it may invalidate it otherwise. Also worth asking what the likely premium increase will be on the tuned car. In my case (here in the UK), because the upgrade wasn’t more than 25% (of added BHP) from the original 210, it only added about 100 Euro or so to my yearly premium. However this is with a specialist insurer, your original insurer may charge a lot more (I had to switch).

    Without wanting to turn this into a technical discussion, you should consider the impact the upgrade will have on engine components. Fortunately our cars are built to handle a wide range of tolerances, however the lifespan of wear and tear components maybe reduced on tuned engines. The clutch I believe is particularly at risk of greater wear, so at some point you may need to factor in a replacement, preferably for a higher rated / performance clutch. My own one has started slipping a little, which happens when changing gears above 4k rpm. With only 41k on the clock I wouldn’t expect clutch slippage to happen this early, but as it has to now work a lot harder with all that lovely torque, it is perhaps inevitable.

    The way I see it, as long as you are aware of these potential costs, you can plan for them, and the upgrade is so worth it!
    Infact, I am so pleased with it, I am saving up for a Stage 3 upgrade.

    On that note, It would be great to also hear experiences from those with Stage 3+ upgrades.

    • See my comment below – I have a Stage IV 2004 9-5. Amazingly enough, even with the upgrades I still get better gas mileage than my stock 2007 9-3. The full 3″ king cobra intake and 3″ exhaust provide a world of a difference for the turbo, along with the ETS intercooler and injectors/FPR… I also did the famous “bolt mod” that is listed on SaabCentral.com and run off of pure manifold pressure (instead of the solenoid on the firewall).

      For more info here is my maptun site:

      http://www.maptun.com/customers.php?cid=662

  10. I have a 2004 9-5 Arc 2.3T that I brought up to Stage IV with Maptun (315hp) and it is a world of difference from the stock configuration. I put the accessories on over a short period of time (exhaust, then intake, then intercooler, etc) and when I finally did the Maptun ECU upload and took it onto the highway, it was a “COWABUNGA!!!” feeling. In the video you talk about embarrassing BMWs… imagine what a Stage IV does.

    I also have a 2007 9-3ss 2.0T that I plan to do at least Stage I or Stage II – looking forward to feeling the difference.

  11. I have recently upgraded my MY12 diesel SC with Maptun, bought from Neo Brothers here in the UK. My upgrade took me from 160 Bhp to 210Bhp , and Neo did have to contact Maptun to tweak the software because the car was so new . But It`s just as ryan says, smoother, better acceleration and slightly better economy. I`m well pleased.

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