Applauded for its brilliantly balanced chassis and accessible, exploitable power, the Subaru BRZ is already a lot of fun. But with a little help from the brainiacs at EcuTek, the BRZ and its Toyota GT86 cousin are about to get a whole lot…er…funner!
For far too long, engine mapping and tuning has been cloaked in mystery, regarded by many as a black art mastered only by people who see streams of ones and zeros when they shut their eyes each night. Let’s dispel that myth right now: it isn’t and they don’t – that’s simply what us mere mortals tell ourselves so as not to feel intimidated by the boffins who understand it all. But engine electronics specialist EcuTek is taking a different route with its latest offerings, the ProECU programming and software kit and RaceROM upgrade, empowering Subaru BRZ and Toyota GT86 owners to add a host of new features to make the sporty coupe even more fun to drive and also providing them with future potential to push their cars to the extreme.
In short, EcuTek’s solution for the BRZ and GT86 consists of two parts – a piece of hardware and an accompanying software package – but before diving headlong into an examination of the features of EcuTek’s ProECU and RaceROM kit, it’s worth considering why the Subieyota is the perfect car on which EcuTek debuts its new system. Whether your car has a six-starred constellation or a stylised T on the bonnet, the coupe’s affordability makes it attainable for driving enthusiasts, and its beautiful balance of power and dynamic ability will have you grinning so much that you’ll step out of the car looking like a mashup of the Joker and the Cheshire Cat. It’s simply brilliant out the box, and deserving of the praise heaped upon it.
What EcuTek brings to the table is the culmination of 25 years of engine tuning know-how and the experience that comes from working as an official technical partner for manufacturers like Subaru and Mitsubishi, the likes of Prodrive and TRD in the motorsport sphere, and respected aftermarket tuners such as HKS and GReddy. Working at that level ensures that EcuTek’s tuning solution comes with OE-like levels of performance and reliability. It’s not some hacked-around, jerry-rigged electronic trickery that will end up causing you problems further down the line – it just works, as though it left the factory that way.
So, what can you expect from the ProECU programming kit hardware and ProECU BRZ software package? It’s the first step on your tuning journey, because from here in things will get better and better. EcuTek supplies a sample ROM with the ProECU BRZ software to get you going, which is uploaded to the car’s ECU using the ProECU hardware. Delivering performance on a par with the factory mapping, the sample ROM provides the perfect basis to begin tweaking (if you’re that way inclined) or utilise an open source ROM, or to make use of the ProECU’s datalogging facility and pay to have your car remotely tuned by one of EcuTek’s Master Tuners. The EcuTek hardware will log the engine data from the ECU which can then be emailed to your chosen Master Tuner who, after they’ve brought their tuning experience to bear on the supplied data, will email back an updated ROM for you to upload – as simple as that without leaving the comfort of your driveway!
Even with the sample ROM, the ProECU adds a host of features that are usually the preserve of high-end sports cars. You want to embarrass your mates away from the lights? With the ProECU’s user-customisable launch control, you’ve got it at the tip of your fingers as the function is controlled using the cruise control stalk. And snicking the short-throw gearlever between gates is faster too, for the ProECU enables flat-foot shifting which keeps engine revs up without over-revving while the clutch is disengaged and reengaged in the new gear. With that function operating, you’d need the self-control of a Buddhist monk to resist revving the boxer engine out in every single gear just for the sheer fun of it. And then as you work your way back down the gears, the engine will blip perfectly to synchronise the gears for speedy and mechanically-sympathetic downshifts.
There are a couple of other options enabled with the free ProECU BRZ software – adjustable gear-specific rev limits are of benefit if you’re looking to optimise acceleration times, and a setting to switch throttle response characteristics – but for the full all-burbling, all-dancing experience, the next step is to upgrade to EcuTek’s RaceROM software package. Ideal for the more experienced home mapper or the owner whose Toyobaru is well on the way to pushing the limits of the FA20’s potential, the RaceROM software upgrade offers whole new levels of customisation and tunability. Costing from £249, it’s also a bit of bargain when you consider what is possible.
The first thing that the RaceROM upgrade permits is up to four switchable maps. Need a conservative map to stop your other half from scaring the kids half to death on the morning school run? No problem. Want a specific set up for the occasional foray down the quarter-mile? There’s space for that. Want low-boost and high-boost maps if you’ve made the switch to forced induction? A quick flick of the cruise control stalk and the rev needle flicks around to the relevant number (which is pretty nifty in itself) to help you select the correct map for the situation.
Many owners are choosing to turbo or supercharge their BRZ/GT86, and most of the recognised aftermarket tuners have already partnered with EcuTek when tuning their force-induced demo cars; HKS, GReddy, AVO and Vortech all used the ProECU system for turbo’d and supercharged applications. For that kind of set up, the RaceROM’s speed density feature is another killer feature in the ProECU’s arsenal. In simple terms, it works out the engine load from a combination of readings instead of the MAF sensor, a system that is more accurate at high revs or high engine load. It means you can ditch the stock MAF sensor and benefit from using a larger or customised air intake, or (and this is really smart) you can run a hybrid arrangement that takes accurate readings from the MAF sensor at low engine speeds and then swaps over to a speed density system according to at a user-determined threshold.
At the top of the tree, the RaceROM software upgrade unlocks the power of custom maps. There’s no longer anywhere for the stock ECU parameters to safely hide, and we defy you not to let out a ‘muwhahaha’ evil laugh as you contemplate the power and control that you now wield. Use it skillfully and there’s very little that is beyond your grasp, as it becomes possible to tweak and adjust all manner of settings related to timing, fuelling, boost (if applicable) and so on. Sensor input and outputs can be repurposed, allowing you to add and control aftermarket sensors if your engine set up requires it. The RaceROM software can even handle ethanol-based E85 fuels with the addition of an optional flex-fuel sensor and clever use of the OE carbon purge canister pressure sensor, so if you want to chase power with an bio-fuelled, force-induced set up, EcuTek’s got your back.
What EcuTek has done with the ProECU kit and software packages is empower enthusiasts rather than bleeding them dry for every last penny, and what a refreshing approach that is in this day and age. The ProECu hardware costs £298.80, but can be used for multiple cars so the cost is easily shared between a group of owners. Each car requires an EcuTek licence (from £199) to get you underway with the sample ROMs and the ProECU BRZ software is free to download so you can be hooked up and enabling launch control and flat-foot shifting in little more time than it takes to plug into the BRZ/GT86’s OBD port and then have a second go at inserting the USB plug the right way round in your laptop. From there, it’s up to you which path you take, but rest assured that EcuTek’s network of Master Tuners is ready and waiting to help out with anything you don’t feel confident enough to tackle on your own. For what it’s worth, we’d recommend turning the fun factor up to 11 and hitting the road!