When initial development is done on a vehicle, the ECU’s memory is read out using specialized software. This ‘dump’ of the memory is then analyzed by professionals to identify the key areas relating to tuning information for the engine. Each map is then given load and rpm scaling, along with values that relate to the real world i.e. injector pulse width and degrees of ignition advance.
Once the extensive ground work is completed it is a matter of developing a new tuning file for the vehicle using a device called an emulator. This ingenious device allows our software engineers to see the information that the ECU is requesting from the memory chip in real time, and make changes to the data on the fly. After many, many hours of manipulation, the code is changed to reflect the best power and torque settings without compromising durability.
So does this mean that the manufacturer has made mistakes or has not done their research correctly?
In most cases, answer is: NO.
The producer of a given vehicle has to allow for a wide range of tolerances and differing driving styles. Some people expect to drive an engine for 300,000 + kilometers and never change the oil. Some people simply are not enthusiast drivers, and will never spend the extra on a better quality fuel, and are not interested in the sharper throttle response and improved acceleration that such fuel and tuning will deliver.
When a vehicle is produced it must be able to operate the world over, from the coldest winters to the hottest desert summers, from the lowest point of sea level to the highest mountain conditions. With all this to keep in mind, the standard tuning is normally very conservative.
There are also situations that arise where by a manufacturer has a ‘power hierarchy’ of vehicles all with the same engine configuration. This usually occurs as newer models with cosmetic differences are released, with the earlier models having a detuned version of the ECU to allow end users an upgrade path in the years to come. For the sports driving enthusiast, spending a few more cents on a decent grade of fuel and performing a regular service is not a problem, meaning that there is no reason not to enjoy the performance of the top of the line model in your class, or even the power of the next year’s model – today.