Laying Into the 2017 Honda Civic Si

Well now that I’ve changed out the clutch on our test mule 10th Gen Civic Si I’m able to lay into it and see what this baby turbo with the 1.5L motor can really do. Thank you to ClutchMasters for providing us with a very strong clutch — it held up through all the abuse I just put this car through.

I am currently using KTuner on our test vehicle as this is the only software available to me that provides me with all the necessary control to really work on the innards of this ECU and dig deep into what this motor, turbo and ECU can do. Big thank you to them for providing the software we needed to get some serious testing under way.

Shut Up and Tell Me How She Did Already?

I have to say I am very pleased with the way this car not only drives, but makes power — it’s a VERY broad power curve and this is very noticeable when driving the car. She laid down over 255whp and 320wtq, and you can see the power curve is quite “fat”. This power was still made running quite an aggressive tune — but nowhere near any ECU or software limits.

However — for the sake of longevity I dialed the car back into the ~240-245whp and ~290-300wtq area for myself as I want the car not to just “make power” — which is something people tunnel vision on — but I also want it to be reliable. This car is our test mule and we have some more plans for it.

What About These Limits You Mentioned?

This was actually quite fun — in the ECU we’ve already raised all sorts of “limits” to allow us to make power (no throttle pullback, increasing boost targets, etc). However there’s always *something* lurking when you really push things. Which is exactly what I did — I went all out on the baby turbo to see what she could do, and sure enough, I clipped a very brutal boost “limp mode” type situation in the ECU that you can see killed power quite aggressively after 4500 rpm.

There’s two things we can discuss and analyze from this.

First — clearly the baby turbo can do LOTS of boost in the mid range — which continues to make a LOT of torque. As a result, our peak HP spot goes down in the powerband (and I drew in what a potential curve without the limits would look like given what I already know about the turbos capabilities after 5500 rpm). But as horsepower is just a function of torque — if you make enough torque you can make “more horsepower”. As you can see — we’re in the 270whp area! The side effect of this is you have to run the motor with a LOT more torque as your usable powerband for best acceleration actually goes down.

Which brings us to the second point — do you really want to be laying 340wtq into this motor? I think it’s very cool from a testing perspective to see what we can do — but may not be practical for day to day use or the longevity of the motor.




Tuners vs Tooners

It has been a while since I’ve posted a good rant as I have been busy hitting the ground running in 2017. Kevin’s 9th gen Civic Si is alive and laying down some solid power with our MoTeC programming and we’ve done a lot of testing (lots in the background beyond the power/tuning figures I posted) on the new CivicX platform. We also have a project I’m really looking forward to coming into the shop soon — a certain yellow Chevelle we’re converting to fuel injection and building a MoTeC ECU for a twin turbo 76mm setup. More 9th and 8th gen Si’s coming in for MoTeC installs as well…

More on that stuff later as it progresses… on to the rant.

My Tuner Is Legit

You know we’ve all heard this one — but when they tag their tuner, no one’s ever heard of that one.

Not to say that automatically implies the said person isn’t a magician at their trade. But the reality and years in this business has made me a skeptic. I’ve been sent plenty of datalogs to review where the owner thought the car “drove fine” where in reality it was not even remotely close and was improved on significantly. It just exemplifies the ignorance when it comes to what a “properly tuned car” is. And really, the average enthusiast/car owner/racer shouldn’t really have to care or worry about it — it is in fact not their job to set the ECU up properly. They are paying for it to be done right.


I feel like a broken record on this one point, as this argument comes up a lot. Tuning isn’t just about power. YOU CAN ALWAYS MAKE MORE POWER. Either with better parts, better fuel, or running the motor harder (the “tune”). In some of those scenarios you’re in a situation where you are going to trade off “more power” for reliability. And a dyno is a tool — it was not invented so we can go around racing the dyno sheets and arguing about “making power”. It’s a tool designed to let the operator run tests and make CONSCIOUS DECISIONS about how they are going to CHOSE to run a motor — and this will vary depending on the venue the car is used in.

The “basics” of tuning an engine, any engine, is mostly the same from platform to platform, car to car. Fuel injection is fuel injection, whether it’s port or direct — there are some differences, obviously, but the concepts of fueling & ignition timing (then throw in cam timing) do not really vary from engine to engine. If you can tune one engine on one platform, you can tune another engine on another platform.

Can’t Be That Hard Then?

So where does the complexity arise? The ECU’s themselves. This is where the platforms start to vary and the actual work, experience & knowledge start to come in to play. The way Honda does things in the ECU is different from how Ford does it which is different from how Subaru does it which is different from how Toyota does it which is different from how Chevy does it, on and on. I work on a large variety of platforms, the ECU’s can be wildly different.

This is where someone that is only familiar with one way of doing something because that is the only platform they work on (or mostly work on and see something else very rarely) will stumble and produce results which are not the best.


You can literally spend weeks if not months figuring out how to setup a calibration (the “tune” file) properly to get the ECU to do what you want it to do not only repeatedly, but safely.

So what have we done to figure out what strategies to employee to run the motors with the factory ECU’s? Well — either I work closely with a friend/customer that has a certain platform or we have purchased and own (or have owned) our own cars to test on. This way I have a car readily available to not only test parts on — but to test different strategies on and figure out what the ECU is actually doing with the input in the exposed tables in the software and whether the results are good or bad and something underlying in the ECU needs to be changed.

This is a hefty investment in not just resources — but time. And largely this investment isn’t appreciated or is under appreciated as no one is really aware of what has gone in to get a certain platform to where it is today.


I’m going to be very blunt here — there’s a million of these guys. Anyone with a $150 laptop, some free software and a base file or two can pass off as a “tuner”. This doesn’t just apply to the Honda market — I’ve watched it grow and repeat in the Subaru, Ford, Chevy and even some stand alone ECU markets. I’m sure it happens on anything that you can “tune”.

So what actually happens? It’s very simple — on most solutions it’s virtually impossible to protect your work. So after a car has been tuned and is out in the “wild”, either the owner takes it to a dyno day or the car is sold and the next owner takes it to someone… and something as basic as this happens: plug into the ECU/device and click “Download”.

Done, you’ve pulled the calibration (“tune”) off the device or the ECU, and from there on they can claim it is there’s.

You are now a legit tuner and I’m sure the car(s) the calibrations are being recycled on even drive alright.

Who’s going to know it wasn’t your work, right?

Guess what, I know. Anyone that’s developed a calibration from scratch on any platform will know when their work has been ripped off and recycled.

Some are doing it so flagrantly that literally the whole calibration is 99% identical to what was ripped off the device/ECU. Not even changing any notes or comments. They have absolutely no clue what they are looking at but making a buck off someone that is oblivious to what is actually happening is just easy money. Hey it drives fine and the owner of the car is happy, so screw it?

Then there is the other crowd — they are pulling/ripping the maps, and then analyze them to figure out what you did and they duplicate it in their own calibrations. This is known as “R&D” (read & duplicate). They understand the basics, but when it comes to the platform, really have no idea what they are looking for beyond just that — the basics (fuel/timing). As long as they can duplicate it to get the results, they are happy and their customers are oblivious.

In both situations I’ve watched the tooners and their “fans” defend them tooth and nail. In situations where I absolutely know this “map hijacking” is happening. They will, of course, deny it til they are blue in the face. Can’t admit to it, ruins their credibility right? Lol, what credibility?

Really, it is flattering, I guess?

But what stems from this is having to wade through oceans of bullshit.

So How’s This Happen?

Not only is the ease in which maps (“tunes”) can be pulled, but the tactics they use, are really disgusting. I’ve witnessed maps get pulled off cars on dyno days where the car was just there for a baseline and the laptop had no reason to be near the vehicle. A certain customer of mine had his VTEC Killer tune ripped off his laptop via a remote “support” session (lol?). One even had a map ripped from him under pretenses of “making the tune better”, which when comparing the “changed” calibration (99.9% identical to what he had to start with anyway…) was leaning the car out to something ridiculous like 13.88 A/F under WOT — so in reality he actually paid someone $50 to rip the map to use as their own. Yes this actually happened — I was dumbfounded when I was told about the situation (I was down in SoCal on a trip and he swung by to have his car retuned in person for the S/C he was having a friend’s shop install on his car while I was in town).

In fact, the most common ways the maps find their way into the hands of tooners is under pretenses of “making more power”. It’s disgusting and I can only hope people do their research and understand that very little in tuning is about just making power and getting a number.

It really is a vicious cycle — I’ve personally witnessed this happen over the 10 years in the Honda market. As the 8th gen Civics and 9th gen Civics got older more and more tooners were popping up out of the woods offering “tunes”. They were absolutely nowhere to be found when the platform was in it’s infancy and just starting out. And they are still nowhere to be found in any of the circles that are trying to advance the platform in one way or another.

Some of the names I even recognized from customers who had paid me to tune their own personal vehicles — are now proclaimed legit tuners. Gee I wonder where they got their maps?

I’m sure recycling cooking cutter bolt on and light F/I (basic s/c and such) maps is one hell of a market. I’m sure it is a hell of a lot easier and much less of an investment than having to devote countless hours/days/months of your time to actually developing the platform, arguing with the company developing the tuning software to get improvements added and figuring out what’s what.

Oh well, back to the grind I go, I guess.

What About Dat Short Ram Intake Doe?

Back to Honda today…

If there is one question on the interwebs that bugs the crap out of me, it’s definitely “What intake should I buy?”. Really? Come on! In this day and age Google knows that answer. So I’m not going to talk about what intake you SHOULD buy, but what intake you SHOULD NOT buy.

Short Ram Intakes Suck

Now I do realize this is a bit of a generalization as there are some exceptions (namely SRI’s designed to point at fresh air and are directed completely away from any heat sources).

Generally the SRI style intakes commonly found on the 8th and 9th gen platforms all point the filter/inlet at the back of the engine bay. This is just plain dumb. Some people will argue that the intakes do “make power” and the manufacturers claim absurd (and unrealistic) “gains” from this style of intake.

The actual FACT is these style of intakes breath hot air from the back of the engine bay — fresh air rarely, if ever, makes it to the intake and it’s pulling very hot air from an area of the engine bay where the exhaust manifold is emanating a generous amount of heat. Hot air does not make power — in fact it creates a scenario that is unsafe for optimal engine operation and you have to “dial the tune back”, something I’ll address in a bit.

The Snorkel Mod

This is a fun mod — I’ve seen this a lot and some places claim to do this to try and create “conditions similar to the street when the car is moving”. So at the heart of it they know these intakes breath hot air. This is just a cop out to “make numbers” — gotta get a print out to race the dyno sheet online, right? I don’t care about “numbers”, if my dyno generated absolutely no numbers and just a power curve I could still do my job. We sell tunes, not numbers. Let that sink in.

So what do they do? They point the IMG_0953intake out of the engine bay to artificially reduce intake air temps (“IATs”). Sorry to break it for you — this doesn’t mimic actual road driving even remotely. I actually see IATs dramatically increase in “normal” driving conditions — as high as 40-60 degrees over ambient with these style intakes.

So let’s use the tool at our disposal — the dyno — to get empirical data on how the engine is affected by changing the position of this style SRI.

The Test

vs_stockThe car in question is a 2013 Civic Si w/ said SRI, catted Full Race DP, RBC swap and stock exhaust. The change over a completely stock car looks like so. Overall not a bad gain, and as always, the RBC sacrifices mid range over the stock intake manifold.

Now that we have done the “tuning” to extract power, let’s see how intake vs_in_engineplacement affects power. We turn the SRI back into the engine — but leave the hood open, and do a subsequent pull (making sure engine conditions are at steady state — meaning we don’t have a heat soaked car with a high ECT, we make sure we start at the same temps as a high ECT will cost power as well and render our test meaningless). The chart to the left demonstrates this change — all we did was lay the intake back in the engine bay — and we lost on average 10-12whp and 10-14wtq! Really?? What???? WHY IS THIS??

shut_hoodBut it gets better, what happens we if shut the hood? Whoops — looks like we lost another 5-8whp and 5-6wtq just full_vs_shuthoodshutting the hood over our previous pull. The left chart demonstrates how much we lost overall — as much as 20whp! No way, right? Yes way!

Why Does This Happen?

This is actually quite simple — when you tune a car, particularly on the dyno, you are tuning in as close to steady state conditions as possible. You do this so when you make changes in the ECU (“Tune”) you can verify your changes have some sort of impact on the way the motor runs. Whether this is good or bad. You also have to make conscious decisions on how you want to leave the motor running long term — these should be intelligent decisions as they will dictateiat not only long term reliability but how well the motor runs in dynamic conditions which the ECU does have to account for.

So why the power loss? Quite simply, Intake Air Temps went up and the motor got warmer air as conditions changed. The read outs to the right indicate what the intake air temp (IAT) was on each pull. As the IAT went up, we had a respective drop in power. Will this drop in power continue to get worse as IAT climbs further? Absolutely.

In fact, as IAT climbs, the motor will run hotter and less “stable” (to put it in simple terms), which will create situations in which the motor can “knock” or “detonate” — which is an unsafe condition where your combustion event is no longer in a safe and controlled burn and will destroy your motor if left running in this state. The ECU allows us to account for this timing_reductionbehavior — by reducing time and/or adding fuel. An example of this is in the table to the left. Does reducing timing hurt power? Absolutely. Is it necessary? When the motor could potentially see unsafe running conditions — absolutely. You want to protect the motor as much as you want to make power.

Tuning Tool

Now back to those dyno “numbers”. A dyno, any dyno, is a tool. You can take your car to 15 dynos and get 15 completely different “numbers”. You can always “make more power” when you stick a car on the dyno and make changes in steady state conditions — especially if you disable any of the dynamic compensations the ECU will apply to protect the motor. Factor in strap down variances (particularly on roller style dynos) and your numbers will potentially be all over the place from day to day, dyno to dyno, etc.

I use the dyno as the tool it was meant to be. Making power is awesome — fun even, but at the root of it, the correct PARTS will make power, and will potentially make better power in fluid day to day conditions as well. The tools at my disafr.pnposal will let me find where the motor runs best, runs safest, and how it responds to the changes I make.  Tests like finding out what AFR the motor runs best at — and what AFR it actually starts to lose power (from either running too hot, or “choking” on the fuel). Yes the plot to the right is an N/A 9th gen, the AFR it loves to run at might surprise you — it definitely isn’t 13.88.

In Conclusion

It’s easy to hit the plus key on your keyboard and keep on pumping timing into the motor to “make power”. It’s all fun and gains til it melts a piston or throws a rod and the oil pump “failing” gets blamed for the motor going out. We’ll be having none of that here — a lot more to tuning than “making power”, sorry.