Handheld LS1 Tuners - Tuned In

Eight Hand held LS1 Tuners Go Head-To-Head On The Track And Dyno-And The Results Might Surprise You

Rick Jensen May 1, 2008 0 Comment(s)

Most owners of bone-stock, or near-stock, LS1 vehicles have heard of handheld tuners. These wondrous little devices are best known for the ability to flash in a performance tune into the ECM-removing the conservative (and usually pig-rich) factory tuning and replacing it with more aggressive tuning more suitable for high-performance lovers.

These suckers have been around for years. From humble and basic beginnings consisting of the tune and not much more, the handhelds have evolved rapidly-enough in recent years to considerably close the gap between the handheld device and the more complex, laptop-based tuning suites. Not only are the included tunes much more accurate and very refined, but some offerings feature multiple complete tunes to choose from based on vehicle modifications, live engine data, custom tuning features, and even enhanced displays, dyno, and drag racing functions.

Though GMHTP has used many of the tuners you see on these pages for various projects before, we have never put a whole mess of 'em together, come up with the criteria deemed important to a potential buyer, and then tested and reviewed each tuner based on those criteria. We felt now was a good time to do such a test for several reasons: one, because it could pit an "old standard" group of tuners against a few newbies; two, because there are strong opinions and stereotypes regarding tuners that we hoped we could prove or refute; three, because I needed an excuse to make ridiculous amounts of dyno pulls and track passes in the name of research; and, most importantly, to give potential handheld buyers the information they need to make the right choice.

So I contacted 10 companies, explained what we were doing, and asked if they wanted in. Though two couldn't participate because their products weren't ready for testing, eight replied yes.

The test vehicle was 1SC-YA, my 2001 Z28 6-speed. This car's PCM had a stock 2001 F-body tune. The only drivetrain modifications were an aftermarket exhaust system, built 6-speed (stock ratios), and new clutch. This LS1 was fitted with a FAST dual wideband O2 system, and utilized scan tool/data logging software to keep track of the air/fuel ratio and spark timing of each tuner. Dyno, track, and subjective driveability testing was performed, all with Sunoco 93-octane premium unleaded fuel in the tank.

Dyno testing took place at TT Performance in Passaic Park, NJ (973/365-2270), utilizing their Dynojet. Coolant and oil temps were kept as consistent as possible for the most accurate results, utilizing a tuning suite and a digital laser thermometer on the oil pan. Two runs were made for each tune appropriate to my car's modification level. Some tuners only had one built-in tune, some had several.

Track testing took place at Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ. The test vehicle was equipped with Nitto 555 radial tires set to 30 psi to replicate a street-driven LS1's traction constraints. The launch rpm was 2,500, and shift rpm was 5,500. The stock tune and each tuner (set for whichever tune yielded the best horsepower) were given two runs, then the mile-per-hour numbers were averaged. A 15-minute cooldown was given between each tune change, and each tune was hot-lapped. Coolant temps and driving technique were kept as consistent as possible for the most accurate results, and due to slowly rising density altitudes at E-town during the course of the day, the tuners were track tested in the order of the least dyno horsepower gained to the most.

A FAST dual-sensor wideband was used to keep track of air/fuel ratios-which, by the way, didn't deviate much from the dyno A/F numbers.

The price shown is the lowest price we found for the unit, either from the manufacturer or at summitracing.com. The warranty info is per the manufacturer, and there are also notes pertaining to each tuner. Now let's start testing.

Crane/Vinci Powermax530 Fentress Blvd. / Dept. GMHTP / Daytona Beach, FL 32114 / 386/252-1151 / www.cranecams.com

Main Menu
Tune Car
Get DTC Codes

It Can Adjust DTCS
Speed limiter
Speedometer
Gear ratios
Cooling fan
Power enrichment level (+/-15%)
Spark advance (+/-10%)
Shift points
Shift firmness
Idle RPM
Injector size (0 to 120%)
Skip shift

Included Tune(S)
Hi-perf stock cam, stock cam with super, cam perf 1, 2, 3, 4, cam with super #1, 2

Notes
Medium-sized display, OK readability, no backlight, no escape button, must unplug to restart in certain cases, code descriptions in instruction manual

Driveability
Good

Diablosport Predator
3500 NW Boca Raton, Suite 501 / Dept.
GMHTP / Boca Raton, FL
33431 / 877/396-6614 /
www.diablosport.com

Main Menu
Tune It
Diagnostics
Options

It Can Adjust
DTC reading/clearing
Axle ratio
Cooling fans
Power enrichment (2-4,000, 4-7,000, +/-20%)
Spark (1-1,800, 2-4,000, 4-7,000, +/-20%)
Rev limit
Wheel size
Idle RPM

Torque management (Abuse mode time, % torque reduction, Upshift torque reduction) Injector slope (-40 to 100%)Cat Overtemp
EGR, AIR, multiple misfire code delete
Auto trans shift firmness/speed/shift points
O2 Sensors, rear 02 code delete
Skip-shift
Speed limiter
Real time data reading

Included Tune(S)
Performance tune

Notes
Large, backlit display, easy readability, OBD-II abbreviation list in tuner

Driveability
Good

Took Out 1 Percent Timing, 1percent Fuel, Raised Cat Overtemp

Fast
Fast-Flash
3400 Democrat Road / Dept. GMHTP /
Memphis, TN 38118 901/260-3278 /
www.fuelairspark.com

Main Menu
Performance tuning
DTCs
Engine data

It Can Adjust
DTCs
Speed limiter
Speedometer
Gear ratio
Trans shift points
Trans firmness
Power Enrichment level over
3500, +/-15% in 5% increments
Spark, +/-10%
Custom cams
Octane level
Fan thermostat

Included Tunes
Performance tune, performance tune 93 octane, three custom camshaft options

Notes
Medium-sized display, OK readability, no backlight, detailed engine data readouts

Driveability
Good

Kept to 5,800 rpm due to knock readings with 93 octane tune
Adjusted spark to negative 10 percent

Hypertech Hyperpac
3215 Appling Rd / Dept. GMHTP /
Bartlett, TN 38133 /
901/382-8888
/ www.hypertech-inc.com

Main Menu
Performance tuning
Dragstrip
Dynomometer
Gauges
Diagnostics
Vehicle/owner information

It Can Adjust
Performance Tuning
Power tuning
Speed limiter
Rev limiter
Cooling fans
Tire size
Gear ratio

Dragstrip
Create new test session
View saved sessions

Dynamometer
Create new test session
View saved sessions

Gauges
Gauge choices
View saved tests

Diagnostics
View/clear trouble codes

Vehicle/Owner Information
Vehicle weight
Display settings
Volume
Vehicle information summary
Current tuning selections
Install new modules or sensors
Current time
Current date
Touch screen alignment
New tire size
New gear ratio
Unit of measure
Accelerometer calibration
Software version info
User name
Transmission type

Traction assist
Calibration Ids

Notes
Very large, backlit, touch screen, good readability, very fast refresh rate, very good graphics Dragstrip function allows the use of info from the vehicle information settings to make a pass; visible on the left are engine parameters, on the right is a tree that beeps as it comes down. Notes can be typed in and saved, along with the run The dyno function allows dyno testing, with parameters to the left and a large tach on the right. After the run, engine and wheel horsepower are shown in max and chart/rpm form, and a horsepower graph and data acquisition can be viewed. Notes can be typed in and saved along with the run Eight gauge configurations: analog-look, digital, graph, hybrid graph/analog look, and rolling horizontal with digital readout, 16 functions monitored, can set parameter alarms

Driveability
Good

Jet Performance Programmer
17491 Apex Circle / Dept. GMHTP
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
800/535-1161
www.jetchip.com

Main Menu
Programming
Scan tool

It Can Adjust
DTCs
Shift points
Shift firmness
Skip shift
RPM limiter
Speed limiter
Tire size
Gear ratio
Thermostat

Included Tune(S)
JET EZ program: performance tune stage one, two, three, custom program

Notes
Small display, good readability, no backlight, no escape button

Driveability
Good

Roush Performance Tuner
28156 Plymouth Road, Suite Z / Dept. GMHTP
/ Livonia, MI 48150
800/59-ROUSH /
www.roushperformance.com

Main Menu
DTCs, then programmer mode

It Can Adjust
Rev limiter
Cooling fan temps
Speed limiter
Tire height
Axle ratio
Shift points
Shift firmness

Included Tune(S)
Performance tuning

Notes
Small display, readability OK, no backlight Checks DTCs automatically, report feature lets you know settings before changes are made, Web updatable

Driveability
Good

Superchips Flashpaq
1790 E. Airport Blvd. / Dept. GMHTP /
Sanford, FL 32773
888/227-2447 /
www.superchips.com

Main Menu
Flashpaq setup
Performance tuning
Advanced features

It Can Adjust
DTCs
Axle ratio
Fan temp
Rev limiter
Speed limiter
Skip shift

Advanced Features
0-40 through 0-70mph timing (best times and last run functions)
Dragstrip timing, 60-foot, 330-foot, 1.8-mile, 1000-foot, 1.4-mile timing (best times and last run functions)
Advanced function will allow four parameters to be chosen from ignition timing, fueling, RPM, 02 sensor reading, and transmission functions for display and logging

Included Tune(S)
Performance tuning

Notes
Large, backlit display, readability good, large buttons, no "up" button so you have to scroll through lists multiple times. Display has contrast/backlight adjustments
Internet updatable, offers USB connections, data logging, tuner has built-in DTC definitions, some data shows up in metric (SAE) standards

Driveability
Good

Reset Rev Limiter To Stock For This Run

Motorvation X-Celerator
1215 Vermeer Cove / Dept. GMHTP /
Cordova, TN 38018
901/821-0033 /
www.motorvation.tv

Main Menu
Tune car
Get DTC codes

It Can Adjust
Speed limiter
Speedo
Thermostat
Skip shift

Included Tune(S)
High-performance, performance exhaust

Notes
Small display, OK readability, no backlight, no escape button

Driveability
Fair: rough idle, slight off-idle stumble

(1) Heavy first and second gear wheelspin from huge torque, had to pedal car which affected mph
(2) Slight first-gear wheelspin from huge torque, unstable idle

CONCLUSION:

WHOA! To say that the Motorvation X-Celerator surprised me would be an understatement. Though the dyno testing proved that we were splitting hairs with nearly all of the tuners where rear-wheel horsepower and torque were concerned, no other tuner picked up 3-plus miles an hour at the track. Only two others, the Diablosport Predator and the Superchips Flashpaq, picked up 2-plus. If I hadn't seen the rock-steady air/fuel numbers and the complete lack of any retard, I would have been spooked.

However, there's more to this story. Though the X-Celerator picked up the most track mph, its idling/driving manners (the roughest in this test) and lack of features paled in comparison with the more refined Diablosport and Superchips tuners. But for mostly track use, I've gotta say that Motorvation got it done.

The Crane/Vinci tuner was a bit of a puzzle: Roger Vinci's tuning prowess precedes him, yet the mph was lower than expected. As we were testing pure "canned" tunes at the track, and not playing with the tuning features, perhaps this hurt. Also, the near-stock nature of this test vehicle eliminated cam/forced induction tuning, areas where the Crane/Vinci is known to shine.

The surprising newcomer was the Roush piece. Though known mostly for Ford performance, the Roush tuner held its own and, though considered a "basic" tuner with limited options like the Jet piece, the track performance was strong. The FAST piece didn't perform poorly, especially for the best-in-test price, but just like the Crane/Vinci, its forte may lie in custom cam and other advanced tuning features, areas I wasn't testing here.

If the X-Celerator got the WHOA!, the Hypertech Hyperpac gets the WOW! Yes, the mph gain was second lowest in testing, but this was the one tuner that seriously needed a drag radial--torque was everywhere and even with a prepped track and sticky Nitto radials, I had to lift each time.

But this thing isn't just a tuner--it's an experience. The touch screen is awesome, and the dyno/drag features are easy and fun to use. And there's some serious computing power, too: while using an analog-look gauge display, it picked up on very slight and fast voltage variations that my stock gauge wasn't showing. Sweet.

And finally, I have nothing bad to say about the Jet tuner--it was easy to navigate, simple to use, and has a great display--but it was simply outgunned in this test.

If you are in the market for an LS hand-held, rest assured that each and every one of these tunes was track, dyno, and street thrashed, and as you can see from the data, the air-fuel ratios, timing settings, and knock retard values were all acceptable. Even better, the prices continue to drop with these units. The hand-held has come a long way, baby. And for the purely subjective record, the tuners that took up a permanent residence in my Z are the Diablo and the Hypertech.

Sources

Hypertech
Bartlett, TN 38133
901-382-8888
www.hypertech.com
DiabloSport
Delray Beach, FL
561-908-0041
DiabloSport.com
JET Performance Products
Huntington Beach , CA
800-535-1161
http://www.jetchip.com
Roush Performance
Livonia, MI
800-597-6874
http://www.roushperformance.com
FAST
Memphis, TN 38118
877-334-8355
http://www.fuelairspark.com
Superchips
888-227-2447
www.superchips.com
TT Performance Parts Inc.
Clifton, NJ 07013

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Get the scoop on which handheld LS1 tuner is right for you.
Rick Jensen May 1, 2008

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