Today we’re going to be looking at the best tuning boxes to boost your engine power, performance, and fuel economy in one neat package.
Figure 1: The VR Tuned ECU Tuning Box Kit V2 depicted alongside an Audi SF 3.0L engine. Source: Vivid Racing.
What’s a Tuning Box Anyway?
What is a tuning box kit, you ask? Well, every automobile these days includes an electronic control unit or ECU (also called an engine control module or ECM). The ECU monitors and controls things like fuel intake, timing of the ignition, valve timing, and other fundamental functions of the car’s engine.
A tuning box works like a middleman between the car’s engine and the ECU. Basically, your car’s engine has sensors that detect all the relevant metrics of the engine’s performance. The ECU is the ‘brain’ of the car and decides what to do based on that sensor data. The tuning box modifies data from the engine and sends it to the ECU. When the ECU calculates how to adjust a certain parameter (fuel intake, for example), it relays a signal back to the tuning box, which then sends it to the engine.
Now, installing a tuning box is sort of like pulling a fast one on your ECU. If you want the car’s engine to put out more HP and torque, have your tuning box intercept signals from the engine and modify them to understate the current power output. The ECU will receive the signal and be tricked into thinking that the engine is not running at its maximum power limit, even when it actually is. The ECU then commands the engine to increase power output beyond its normal limits. Finally, the tuning box relays this signal back to the engine.
In this way, a tuning box can allow your car to blow past the limits programmed by the automotive manufacturer. All street-legal cars have certain limitations on power, torque, fuel consumption, and so on. They are physically capable of churning out much more power, but various federal and state regulations require them to never exceed certain level.
Manufactures want to sell cars in many different states to many different customers, so they program vehicles to stay comfortably within legal limits. An ECU tuning box kit is the key to unlocking your car’s hidden potential.
What’s the advantage of an ECU tuning box kit? After all, can’t you just reflash the engine at an ECU tuning shop and get the same advantages?
It depends on what you’re looking for. But the short answer is that a tuning box will achieve similar results as a flash but without voiding your warranty.
Be aware that many tuning box kits, like the VR Tuned ECU kit seen above, are for racing only. Such vehicles are banned from highway or street use in most states. You will have to sign a vehicle compliance waver before purchasing these products.
The Best ECU Tuning Box Kits: 3 Excellent Options
The precise tuning box you want depends largely on your vehicle. Each car is different, and many tuning boxes exist with different maps and specifications for each. For this reason, it is difficult to objectively list the ‘best’ tuning boxes on the market today.
Instead, we’ve selected several exemplary tuning box kits for specific vehicles. Each is different and tailor-made for its respective make and model. These will give some idea as to what you should look for when shopping around for your own tuning box.
As a final word of caution, be sure to stay safe out there! You may be surprised at how much power your car can put out. If you’re looking to maximize power, stick to the racetrack and take all the necessary safety precautions when driving your box-tuned vehicle.
VR Tuned ECU Tuning Box Kit V2
Figure 3: The V2 version of the VR Tuned performance tuning box is the ultimate plug-and-play solution to crank out more HP.
The video above discusses this tuning box when applied to a Mini Cooper F56. For another example, the V2 kit for the Alfa Romeo 4C is an excellent, ‘plug-and-play’ tool for boosting performance of an already formidable vehicle. This box kit is made in Germany and is guaranteed to ‘leave no trace’ on your vehicle once it is removed. Your warranty and vehicle value will be untouched.
Figure 4: An Alfa Romeo C4. With a tuning box, this dream machine can put out over 300 HP. Source: Car and Driver.
We spoke to sales representative from Vivid Racing with expertise in automotive tuning. They recommended that Alfa Romeo owners who are serious about maximizing the HP of their vehicle use a tuning box kit, as “this box kit can get you even better power than [would be possible] with a dyno tuning and reflash.”
Using the VR Tuned V2 box kit is extremely easy and effective: “you can get a 64-HP increase and 74 extra lb-ft of torque, and you can do it from home in 10 to 15 minutes. All you do is plug it into your ECM.”
“It’s a remapping of your ECM. What’s cool about my handheld tune is that it gets 7 different mapping.” No matter what you need for your Alfa Romeo, this little black box can get it done.
Sources: Vivid Racing; interview conducted with representative from Vivid Racing (09/18/2020).
RaceChip GTS Series Chip Tuning Box Kit
Figure 5: The RaceChip GTS series box kit. Source: Vivid Racing
This tuning box kit includes 7 fine-tuned mappings (apparently 7 is the magic number for tuning box kits), all of which offer different specifications depending on your engine.
With its industry-grade tech and engine-specific mappings, this tuning box can work for all kinds of different vehicles. Other notable features include RaceChip’s special Engine Protect System, an ARM Cortex-M3 processor (seriously, that’s what it’s called!), and a pro-grade connector. It’s all contained within a durable composite enclosure. This little magic box can even be reprogrammed if you change cars!
This tuning box is particularly good at boosting fuel efficiency. It can earn you up to 20% more miles per gallon (which is pretty crazy if you ask us). It does this by boosting the torque of your engine, which in turn reduces the number of times you need to shift gears while driving. With less gear shifting, fuel can be consumed more efficiently. It does this while also allowing for up to 30% more power and torque.
Figure 6: The “Black Series” from RaceChip is an even more advanced ECU tuning box. It is nothing if not classy. Source: Vivid Racing.
The RaceChip GTS Series is vehicle specific and is available for multiple different makes and models. Despite the name, it is by no means limited to the Porsche GTS 911 models. See the link below to select one for your vehicle.
Sources: Vivid Racing.
aFe Scorcher GT Module
Figure 7: The aFe Scorcher is a little box with huge potential. Source: Vivid Racing.
The aFe Scorcher (what a weird capitalization!) includes 4 different power settings, all adjustable with a single button. You’ll immediately notice its tough, high-quality casing and wire harness included. Another particularly handy feature is the LED light that displays its 4 power settings:
- Green: stock settings
- Yellow: sport
- Orange: sport+, meaning a slightly different steering feel and more sensitive throttle response
- Red: full-on racing settings
Indeed, this tuning box allows for in-cabin, on-the-fly adjustments. Just tap a button, see the LED light switch, and you’re good to go!
Be aware that this item, like most ECU tuning box kits, is only legal for racetrack settings. Even if you’re accessing the full-on ‘race’ mode with your vehicle, you still have to sign a Vehicle Compliance waiver before purchasing. It is currently not legal for sale in several states, including California.
Like most of the tuning box kits, the aFe Scorcher is vehicle specific. Make sure to get the right one for your vehicle.
We’ve chosen to look at the Scorcher for the Audi A4 (B8). This particular tuning box can make your Audi pump out an additional 38 HP and up to 48 lb-ft of torque. It does this by modifying pressure sensor signals in between engine and ECU, which cranks up the turbo boost to improve efficiency, performance, and throttle response.
Figure 8: This Audi A4 can realize its maximum potential with the Scorcher GT tuning box kit. Source: Car and Driver.
Check the link below to see exactly which Audi A4s this box will work with.
Some notable features of this kit include a quick, 30-minute installation, its dyno-tested power settings, and its complete compatibility with other aFe POWER performance products.
Like any good ECU tuning box kit, this one ‘leaves no trace’ on your vehicle. If you want to trade in your A4 at some later date, the dealer will be none the wiser.