“There’s no replacement for displacement.”
Once a truism of automotive performance, the modern era of turbocharging and direct injection have rendered that statement more of an untruism. Take, for example, Audi’s 2.0 TFSI engine like the one in our A3 2.0 TFSI. No, it may not be as powerful as 5.2 FSI of an Audi R8 V10 plus, but adding serious gains can be done a lot more economically.
When the A3 sedan was launched, the underlying tone amongst Audi aficionados was that the car represented the second coming of the B5 A4. In size, that much is decidedly true. In performance, it would seem the theme continues. The car’s 2.0 TFSI engine is highly tunable. Just ask the good folks at APR.
That original B5 A4 1.8T ushered in a new era of performance for modern car enthusiasts. Displacement gave way to forced induction, while the arrival of programming savvy firms like Alabama-based APR meant engineers with laptops, chips and a solder gun could untap more affordable power simply with lines of code rather then traditional hardware upgrades like cams or exhaust. The 1.8T quickly gained an enthusiastic following and today’s equivalent, the latest EA 888 generation 2.0 TFSI, continues that tradition nearly two decades later.
Nearly 20 years down the road, the solder guns are gone. While companies like Audi now employ Pentagon levels of encryption on their engine ECUs, firms able to get past that like the aforementioned APR, can do it all with a quick flash. So too can their network of distributors like local-to-us APTuning in Lebanon, PA.
So what do you get with that flash? First off, you get power. The A3 makes 235 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque already. While robust, the APR Stage 1 software running 93 Octane fuel pumps out an even more healthy 316 hp and 381 lb-ft. That’s a gain of 81 hp and 111 lb-ft of torque. APR offers other tunes, including one for race fuel, but our focus for Project OE A3 was to improve the experience in daily drivability. To learn more about the more extreme programming, check out the APR website.
Of course, power is only one of the benefits of the new software. They say the car can get better fuel economy, and that may be true, but we found our want to use the new power negated any of those benefits. Other improvements like top speed limiter removal aren’t really worth testing on public roads while retaining your license, but left foot braking made for some fun shifting of the car’s mass. Such pedal play wasn’t really possible before we upgraded because in stock form the throttle is locked out when the brake is being used.
In our time with the ECU upgrade programmed, we have not had a chance to instrument test the car for before and after numbers. APR has tested a front-wheel drive GTI with the same engine and transmission and the results were a drop from 6.932 to 5.656 seconds from 0-60 mph. We suspect the A3 is even better as the quattro system allows the car to hook up and make use of the power.
So how does it compare to the Audi S3? That’s a question we get a lot. We’ve spent time in the stock Audi S3 and believe our A3 to be every bit as fast. If sheer pace is your measuring point and you wouldn’t also modify the S3 or perhaps the S3 doesn’t fit your budget, this is a great solution.
The software itself is very drivable. This is one reason we went with APR. We have pretty extensive experience with the firm in the upgrading of many of our internal project cars over the years and we like the drivability that is usually inherent in their programming. Torque is in a fat and useful curve, not peaky and tuned more for dyno numbers.
There are other features we also really like about the APR ECU upgrade, like the firm’s Flip Switch functionality. With Flip Switch, owners can toggle between optional programs such as Stage 1, Stock Tune, Race Fuel and even an anti-theft mode that disables the ECU and basically renders the car inoperative.
There are other advantages as well. APR offers direct port tuning, meaning there’s no soldering or harness you’ll have to install. Also, most of the ECU’s functionality can be controlled via the firm’s mobile app.
Are there shortcomings to this setup as compared to buying an S3? Yes, but it’s not really the fault of APR or of the A3. The S3 is designed as a full package. The A3 is designed to manage less power. Augment that power and you will likely lessen the operational life of some components. More readily apparent to us was the transmission shift programming. The S3 is simply programmed more aggressively in Sport, and it knows what it has (at least before you chip tune it as well), so the timing of shifts feel more natural. We loved our new power, but we wished we’d had more aggressive shifting and also, critically, shift paddles as our A3 is a lower spec car without those. On the up side, the latest version of Haldex is decidedly more rear-wheel biased than previous versions we’ve driven and the new-found power allowed us to explore this more readily.
All in all, we’re happy we made the change. There’s not much one could do to radically change the performance of their car for $699. Also, it elevated the A3’s straight-line performance enough to make it competitive with S-model Audis and other performance cars. Rather than just being a handsome European sedan, it is a wolf in a sheep’s designer suit and we like having that power on tap should we find ourselves wanting or needing it. Moreso, we didn’t want an extensive tune in the case of Project OE A3, and the ECU worked flawlessly without the need for an upgraded intake, exhaust, etcetera. APR would be happy to sell these components to owners who want them, but for this particular project we wanted a setup more likely to be chosen by the casual enthusiast.
More Information: GoAPR.com