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WOO-HOO! TUNERS!

Above, My SCT X3 Tuner, Hypertech Max Energy Tuner, and my OBDLink SX (not a tuner, but an OBD-II to USB device)


DISCLAIMER: This tune is for my car, a 2008 Mercury Sable with the Naturally Aspirated Duratec 3.5L 24V DOHC iVCT V6. Your results may very wildly from mine in a good or bad way. REMEMBER: Tuning your car is not something to be taken lightly. There are many considerations to be taken into account. USE AT YOUR OWN RISK!

Hypertech kindly sent me a Max Energy Tuner to test out and review. I am going to be comparing the Hypertech Max Energy Tuner and the SCT X3 Custom Tuner. I will give information about each tuner as well as how it is used, followed by my review on the changes over stock tuning and the tuner itself. Lastly I will give Pro's and Con's of each and list the reasons to get one or the other. This is an UNBIASED and FAIR review. I will not be letting you know which tuner I chose, or tell you which one to buy. You must decide that for yourself!

This review is long and through so make sure you have ample time to read it. I'll try to format it and clean it up the best I can. Scroll to the end for Pros/Cons of each device. Bottom line for each device is at the end of its review.

Things to be careful about when tuning your car:
-DO NOT have the motor running when flashing a tune. It will damage the PCM requiring its replacement. That's a pricey fix!
-Pay attention to ALL instructions on the device. Do exactly what it says, when it says to do it. Be deliberate, not careless in your actions.
-Be sure to turn off ALL accessories before flashing a tune. You want to be sure your battery has the proper charge to handle leaving the car in 'on' mode before flashing the tune. A safe way to ensure this is to go into Engineering Test Mode and make sure your battery voltage is 12.3 or higher. May be safe to have it on a trickle charger in case. If the battery dies while tuning, you could destroy the PCM.
-DO NOT turn the key OFF or unplug the tuner while the tune is being written to the PCM. If this happens, you could destroy the PCM.
-Be sure that you have the proper octane fuel in your tank. If you have a mixed octane, calculate what the approximate octane is. Set global spark -1 PER octane lower than the tune is on the SCT, or just use a regular octane tune to be safe on the hypertech tuner.



The tuners at a glance:

Hypertech tuner was given to me for free by Hypertech-inc's wonderful sales department. They only ask I give them a fair, unbiased review and said I may compare their tuner to the SCT one. Hypertech makes tuners differently than most companies. Their tunes are not custom for an individual vehicle, but custom for that exact powertrain. The device reads your PCM calibration and writes the tune itself, then loads it on. There are several adjustable parameters when you do the first tune.

Mike at 5 Star Tuning sold me a SCT X3 3015 with a single custom tune. The SCT device can be given up to 10 custom tuning files that can then be modified on the device (at a basic level) to adjust settings as you please. It also has built in tunes that are not tuned specifically for your car. The device will read your PCM calibration code, and write a simple tune that will work with your car. In my honest opinion, if you get an SCT device, get a custom tune. You have to send your PCM calibration code to the tuner beforehand, otherwise your car won't start.

Hypertech Max Energy Tuner Retail Price: $310-340

Packaging and Shipping: I received the tuner the day after it was shipped out via FedEx. Was very pleased with that. It came in a small brown box with the FedEx label. They had some Hypertech brand shipping tape to seal it. After opening that box, there was another box in side that was the retail box for the hypertech tuner. After I opened the box, it was well packaged with the tuner itself sitting on a shelf. Once you removed the tuner, you opened the shelf to reveal the OBD-II and USB cables, along with some instructions, warnings, a Hypertech badge, and the software CD. My MacBook Air doesn't have a CD drive so I downloaded the software from their website. One thing I want to note is the CD did NOT come in a sleeve. It was just loose in the box. I suppose this isn't too dangerous, but I just don't like leaving CDs unprotected.

Impressions of the tuner: I like its size a lot. It's small, but not too small. I was disappointed that the display was not backlit. It also takes a long time to set custom settings since you have to wait for every line of text to scroll. Once you've done it a few times you know what is going to ask, but be cautious about hitting yes or no too quickly, you may do the wrong thing. I really liked the fact that the OBD-II cable was detachable. Helps for storage. It has a safety clip to keep it from coming randomly unplugged. USB cable was mini-usb which most people have abundantly. I feel like it should be micro USB, but USB is USB.....



Tuner was easy to update. When I got it, I had to download the software (or install from the CD is an option), then hook the tuner up to my computer. I booted into windows to do this since it doesn't work on Mac (nor does the SCT software). I had to plug in the tuner and windows installed drivers quickly and automatically. You may have to manually install them from a download or the disc. After opening the application, I hit 'update device'. It found the device, warned me to keep it plugged in while it was updating, then asked me to pick what calibration I wanted. I chose the 2007-2009 Ford 3.5L Car and Truck (Except Flex).

Next step is doing the actual tune. If you have another tune installed from a different tuner, make sure to revert to stock BEFORE flashing the new tune. Plug the tuner into the OBD-II port on your car. Put the key in the ignition. The screen will then ask you to turn it on after it boots up. Turn it on, but don't start the car, and hit Y. Follow the rest of the instructions. It will allow you to change parameters of the device to tune the car the way that suits your needs. Both tuners have very similar user-adjustable settings.

On this tuner, you have these programmable adjustable options:
-Rev Limiter (+-500RPM)
-Shift Points (+-500RPM)
-Shift Pressure (+25,50,75,100%)
-Modified Wheel Size
-Modified Axle Ratio
-Speed Limiter (In tire speed rating steps, AKA H=130mph for my tires)
-Cooling fan on/off temp

After choosing the settings, it will ask you to turn the key off while it gets the tune ready. Then it asks you to turn the key on and it begins to program. If you have not programmed before, it will first download the stock tune which will take a while. Actually programming process is fairly fast.

When it is complete it will check the tune file, follow the instructions carefully! Then when it says disconnect, disconnect it and start the car!

First drive impressions:
After driving around with the tune for a while I can say there is a definite improvement over stock tuning. Throttle response is increased, power is increased slightly at WOT, but the most notable thing about this tune is the under 4000 RPM power increase. It has a lot more power than it used to at the lower RPMs. Much easier to chirp the tires (FWD car here).

Fuel economy: The economy seems almost the same to stock. The increases in the city are there, but small (approx. +5%). Highway fuel economy is also only slightly increased (+5%). So there is a small increase on both ends.

Transmission programming feels almost identical to stock (perfect for the average user), with slight modifications to torque converter lockup under light to medium load situations to increase economy as well as easier and quicker downshifting.

Increased shifting firmness was there for sure. However it would be nice to have a smaller increase amount. 25% was not quite enough but 50% was far too much for shifting under no load for my tastes. A nice 35% would have been better! A problem I am having with the tuner right now is shift points. It still is shifting at 6000-6200RPM instead of 6500 where I am asking it to shift. I attempted raising the limiter by 500rpm as well to see if that fixed things. Stock limiter is 6700 RPM so I should have had no problems reaching that RPM. I don't believe this is the tuners fault, but something odd with my PCM. I had similar problems with the other tuner which I will explain in that section.

Hypertech tunes are very different than others tunes. They aren't all about pure power by increasing spark advance on premium fuel. Doesn't make much sense, but their results are proven. They manage to make a huge amount of power out of 87 octane gasoline which is great for the average person that doesn't want to put premium in or doesn't have premium available to them. The only true downside to this tuner is it cannot be customized more than just what it lets you change on the display. Hypertech does not offer custom tuning services.

I asked the guys at Hypertech a few questions. Mainly, how can you tune with that much power at 87 octane?: "The truth is that most vehicles make nearly the same power on tuning optimized for regular octane as they do with premium octane. Only higher compression engines are limited by the octane of fuel that can be used to make power. Some competitors claim to have tuning for regular octane gas, but their calibrations for regular typically make no more power than the stock tuning."

"Looking at our dyno chart for the 3.5L Duratec V6 engine, you can see that there is only a slight torque gain from 3500-4500 RPM, and then at 6500-up with premium fuel. Now how we do that? That is a trade secret. But basically it boils down to hundreds of dyno pulls, making spark, air/fuel ratio, and cam timing adjustments at each RPM point until we find the absolute maximum horsepower and torque it is capable of producing." Link to dyno chart: http://www.hypertech-inc.com/PerformanceGraphs/ford/3_5L_2007_2009_Ford_CarSUV_42501.pdf

"One thing that makes our tuning development unique, is that we use All Wheel Drive chassis dynos. The advantage of this is that all 4 wheels are spinning at the same speed, just as if the vehicle was driving down the road. There are issues with dynoing a lot of newer vehicles on 2 wheel chassis dynos, due to ABS and traction control systems. While you can disable these systems temporarily for dyno testing, that doesn’t always mean that the ECU is happy about it. Without input from these systems, the ECU may possibly be reducing engine timing, limiting throttle angle, or making other changes. If you are trying to tune the vehicle when the ECU is doing this, then the final tune will be totally different when the car is back on the road."

"The other advantage is that we have the ability to load the dyno for actual vehicle weight. This allows us to properly tune the vehicle for the actual load the engine will see under real world driving conditions. Your Sable weighs around 3,800 lbs. A typical 2 wheel chassis dyno’s drums weigh around 2,500 lbs, so the load on the vehicle isn’t the same. The tuning for an engine accelerating a 2,500 load is different from the tuning for an engine accelerating a 3,800 lb load. Factor in wind resistance as speed increases, and you have a lot of variables to deal with. We “tuned” our Superflow dynos to allow us to add loads for specific vehicle weights, and for wind resistance."

I asked: How are your tunes Emissions Legal in all 50 states if you can't add fuel at any point over stock tuning?

They replied: "There are some limitations as to what you can do to the tuning in order to pass emissions. But emissions testing doesn’t mean that you can’t add extra fuel at ANY point. And it also doesn’t mean that we can’t lean out the air/fuel ratio to make more power. The factory ECU will always correct the fueling in closed loop, to 14.7:1. This correction is made based off of the oxygen sensors. There are things you can change in the tune that will increase power and efficiency in closed loop, such as spark and cam timing. When the vehicle is in open loop, like at wide open throttle, then we can adjust air/fuel ratio to optimize the power. This is where our years of experience with tuning vehicles to pass California emissions comes in handy. We optimize the tune for maximum power and torque on the dyno, then spend hundreds of miles on the road fine tuning the part throttle areas to optimize the tune for improved drivability, and to make sure it will pass emissions."


The bottom line: The Hypertech Max Energy Performance Tuner is a perfect solution for the user that wants a bump in power, increase in drivability, and complete legality with both Safety and Emissions in ALL 50 States. It's less expensive than the competition and produces similar results in a very different way.




SCT X3 3015 Tuner w/Custom Tune Retail Price: $400-500 depending on custom tuning company. Less with no custom tune.

I ONLY used the custom tune on this device so I have no review of the built in calibrations effectiveness.

As of the 21st of August, I've had this tune installed for about 3 weeks. Driven roughly 1000 miles on it. Uninstalled it 8/21 to try the Hypertech tune.

I ordered the tuner from [email protected]. Was shipped Monday (ordered Sunday evening), and it arrived via USPS on Wednesday I believe. It was shipped flat rate so 2 day shipping basically. Packaging was designed to be on the shelf. Didn't like how it was packaged, but it works. Took a larger box to ship.

Impressions of the tuner: Solidly built and easy to grip in the hand, the SCT tuner has 4 directional buttons, along with a cancel and select button. It has a large backlit LCD display for showing around 8 lines of text. USB port on the bottom and 1394 port on the top for extra sensor plugins (like a wideband O2 sensor or AFR sensor).

The tuner software was easily downloadable from their website, but a CD was included. After installing the software, I downloaded the tune emailed to me by Mike, and updated the device, then uploaded the custom tune to the device naming it "93 Performance".

Went to the car and plugged it in. Click on the custom tune icon then choose the custom tune you want. It will ask if you want to adjust options. Hit yes if you do, no if you don't. When I first did this tune I only had 92 octane fuel in the tank and the tune was written for 93 octane fuel. I turned the global spark advance to -2 just to be safe. BE CAREFUL with the spark advance settings. You do NOT want to increase it unless you are watching the live data to ensure the motor is not knocking or noticing knock at WOT. If you don't know what you are doing, LEAVE IT ALONE!

On this tuner, you have these programmable options:
-Global Spark Adv (+4 to -14)
-Spark Adv (0-2000RPM)
-Spark Adv (2000-4000RPM)
-Spark Adv (4000-6000RPM)
-Shift Point (+-5mph for each gear)
-Shift Pressure (0-100% in 5% intervals, only for some shifts, however)
-Speed limiter (many options, or turn off completely)
-Rev Limiter Drive (Choose RPM)
-Rev Limiter Neutral (Choose RPM)
-Desired Idle Speed in Park/Neutral (Choose RPM)
-Desired Idle Speed in Drive (Choose RPM)
-WOT Air to Fuel (6.0 Leaner to 14.0 Richer, desired in Closed Loop is 14.3:1 AFR)
-Axle Ratio Adjustments
-Tire Size Adjustments

First drive impressions:
Immediately after pulling out of the parking lot I noticed the increase in throttle response from the stock programming. Felt like a whole new car. Power didn't seem crazy increased when I did a first gear WOT pull within 30 seconds of pulling out of the parking lot. Mike had set the 1-2 gear change to shift at 6400 RPM however it shifted at 6000 RPM like normal. I re-tuned and added the max MPH increase I could yet no increase in shift point. 2-3 was increased to about 6300RPM. I got on the highway and did a WOT run from a rolling start to 70mph. Felt good, shifts were more firm, and I noticed the change in 2-3 shift point. One thing I quickly noticed was the torque converter didn't like to lock or stay locked in 6th gear. This was troubling because that would obviously cause a drastic decrease in highway gas milage. With OD off it seemed to lock seemingly normally though.

Went home, and emailed Mike. He sent me a second tune to fix the Torque converter problems and raise the shift point for the 1-2 gear change. Flashed it and went out and it shifted 1-2 at about 6100 RPM tops. Torque converter was locking up like normal though. Emailed him back again and he sent me a third tune. This time he said he set it to shift at 6800 RPM (above my rev limiter). To be safe I raised my rev limiter to 6900RPM. This time first gear shifted at a mean 6300 RPM and 2-3 was about the same as before around 6300RPM.

I drove a while with this tune and it was a great improvement over stock. I would give it gas on the highway and it would jump down into 4th without flinching giving me passing power without putting my foot to the floor. Driving around 40mph I could stomp the pedal to the floor and it would slam into 2nd launching me forwards, much faster than the gear hunting of the stock tuner.

Fuel economy: I have noticed an increase of city fuel economy. Honestly it's quiet a big bump. Nearly 15% better! Highway economy seems negligibly changed. Maybe 0 to -5% economy, but not much difference I have noticed.

A last tidbit on the SCT Tuner: BE WARNED! The tuner may be used on a total of Five (5) cars until it locks up forever! This means you can tune your car or return it to stock unlimited times, but if you tune a second car that uses #2 out of your 5 unlocks. Going back to your car does not use another unlock. You can send it into SCT to be unlocked for a small fee ($65 I believe). Like the Hypertech, only one car may be tuned at a time. You must return the first car to stock to tune another vehicle. The device becomes "married" with your car when you tune it and will have to be unlocked to be used with another car. If you have sold the car you can send the device into SCT to be unlocked for a fee ($150 I believe).

The bottom line: The SCT X3 tuner is perfect for the user who want's maximum power and drivability. Not for the feint of heart. This tuner unleashes massive amount power under 93 octane fuel. Makes your car feel like a race car.


PLENTY MORE COMING! HOLD ONTO YOUR BUTTS!

PROS and CONS of each device:
Hypertech Max Energy Pros:
Low Price
Unlimited Car Use
Ease of Use
Detachable OBD-II Port
Internet Updatable
Updating the tune takes very little time
100% Safety and Emissions Legal in ALL 50 States
Tune you're loading is tested 100% on the same car
Significant Power Gains on 87 octane
Limits the things you can do. It's hard to break your car when using this tuner. This is also a con.
Available for use on hundreds of makes and models
Significant low rpm power increases
Very fast tuning!

Hypertech Max Energy Cons:
User adjustable options are limited
No possibility of custom tuning outside of user adjustable options
Display is not backlit
Clumsy menu to tune with. Takes forever to get to the tuning process.
Increments in 25% for shift pressure makes it difficult to fine tune the pressure you want.
No datalogging

SCT X3 Pros:
Custom tuning means you can adjust the tune to tailor your needs. This is the single greatest thing the SCT has going for it. This should be the deciding factor for which tune you go with.
Many user adjustable options
Backlit display with well designed menus
Internet Updatable
Can datalog to the computer
Can use aftermarket sensors
Significant high RPM power increases


SCT X3 Cons:
Expensive
Larger design makes it more clumsy to store
Back gets very hot when tuning
Takes a long time to write a tune to the car
Some user adjustable options are in weird units and don't allow for precise tuning
Drivability increases only with 87 octane. To get power increases you must use a 91+ octane tune.
Not emissions legal in all 50 states
Only available on select cars
Locks you out after using on 5 vehicles
Takes a while to tune


Quick Comparison: After driving the car with both tuners for a large amount of miles, I can compare both. The Hypertech tuner I believe is the best for the average user. It is perfect for every day driving and the power gains really shine where most users of this tuner would need that power. Over stock, it adds wonderful amounts of power at the mid/lower RPMs where you will normally need it. However the hypertech isn't adjustable more than just the user options. For the advanced or performance-oriented user, the SCT tuner is better. It allows for fine tuning of transmission programming. This includes torque converter lockup and how much throttle it takes to downshift and where it shifts to.

The very bottom line: Choose the hypertech if you are a normal driver that just wants a boost in power and drivability (on 87 octane fuel). Choose the SCT if you are a performance-oriented or advanced user looking for max power, drivability, and customizability (on 93 octane fuel).



Who will you chose? .........Get at tune! It's worth it!







More Pictures of the devices:
Hypertech OBD-II Cable:


Bottom of Hypertech:




Front of SCT:

SCT Top 1394 port and OBD-II out cable:

SCT USB Port:

Back of SCT:

My PCM Strategy:
 

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I Drive A Fuze
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Hypertech requires CAN bus IIRC, since that started in 2004. I know Nick SCT tuned his 2000, and those lack a CAN bus IIRC.
 
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