APR Stage 1 ECU Flash – Review

The quickest way to add power to the MKV GTI is with an ECU reflash.  There are several well reputed companies out there.  The three major players here are APR, REVO, and GIAC.  The main difference between them is that REVO allows some fine tuning with a small handheld device.  You can also switch maps using the same device.  APR does not allow fine tuning but you boasts the ability to switch between maps without buying an additional handheld device.  I don’t know too much about GIAC.  Like APR it does not allow fine tuning by the end user and like REVO, it requires the use of a device to switch maps.  Asking “which company is best?” on the forums usually generates endless debate and stupidity.  General advice is to find a good dealer that is close to you.  I like REVO’s user end tweaking ability and I like APR’s ability to switch maps using the cruise control buttons.  You cannot go wrong with any of the major players.  I chose APR since they were having a sale at the time of purchase.  I also like having the ability to switch flash modes with the cruise control stalk.  This wiki page (MKV Wiki) has a nice collection of random internet knowledge.

Overview

An ECU flash tweaks the stock engine control maps to make power out of the available parameters.  This usually includes, but isn’t limited to changes to the boost levels and the stock timing.  As a result, with a simple reflash, you gain around 20 wheel horsepower and 60 ft/lbs of torque.  Actual numbers could be more or less, it depends on each car and the dyno.  Anyway, during the sale, it cost me 650 dollars to “chip” my car.  I set up an appointment and it took a little less than an hour to complete the process.  I purchased the Stage I flash with various features such as ECU lockout and other octane modes.  The shop I went to was Ingolstadt West.  This is a pretty well known shop in the area and they do great work.

This is APR's beautified dyno so take with a heavy dose of salt. (Crank hp @ 93 oct)

Impressions

Dealers usually tell you that the tune needs a few miles to fully adapt and make full power.  I’m not so sure but I think part of that feeling that it “needs to adapt” comes from the way a Stage I tune is delivered.  It very closely mirrors the stock feel but with more torque in the midrange.  If you don’t punch it when you leave the shop, you’ll be hard pressed to notice a big difference.  If you drive normally, you can tell the car feels a bit lighter on it’s feet, but you are not quite sure by how much. Nudging the throttle a little more though reveals a massive torque difference from stock.  Speed ramps up quite a bit faster.  Definitely an addictive feeling.

To summarize it, an (APR) Stage I flash drives as smoothly as the stock program but has much deeper reserves of power.  Passing power, already a strong point in the GTI becomes even better.  At every point in the rev range, the reflashed engine is immensely more confident.  Lag is almost none existent even with the higher boost level.  Stage I peaks at around 19-21 psi.

Downsides

As with most modifications, there will be a few downsides.  Higher boost levels often lead to failure in parts that were designed for stock boost levels.  The most common offenders are the diverter valve and the pcv valve.  The new revision of the diverter valve is all but bulletproof, though diaphragm versions are prone to ripping.  Same story with the pcv valve.  Newer revisions are sturdier but older versions tend to leak under higher levels of boost.  Some of them failed with stock tuning.  If either of these fail, boost pressure will be reduced.  Neither is catastrophic but should be tended to as soon as possible.  Leaking boost pressure can overwork the turbo over time.

Driving in summer heat and in traffic can also bring up a slightly less responsive throttle.  This is present in many turbo cars as heat does the turbo no favors.  The more aggressive tune will make it a little more noticeable though.  Basically the turbo is not as efficient when ambient air temperatures are up.  Not a big deal and certainly not a reason to avoid a reflash.  Happens to any car.  Hotter air, less power.

Remember also that when reflashing the ECU, we are changing designed engine parameters.  These parts were not designed to run at these levels and manufacturers can deny warranty claims based on chipping.  The turbo is working harder, the transmission has to cope with more torque, etc.  You get the picture.  These companies have done their research and I have yet to see any definitive failures as a result of a reflash.  Note that this is not a new concept either.  Just be aware of the possibilities and pay attention to your engine.

Conclusion

This really is one of the first modifications an owner should look into if they are interested in more power.  You just might find that this is all you need.  Maybe.

A few reasons:

Cost to gain ratio – Hands down the best ratio of money spent to hp gained.  You can throw 600 dollars at intakes and other parts and still not gain 10 whp.

Requires no other changes – A stock car can be reflashed with absolutely no other changes.  Just stay on top of your maintenance and your car will last just as long.

Fun factor – The nice increase in torque makes driving that much more fun.  Point and squirt.  Shift and pass.  Oh the joy.

The bottom line is, if you want more power, get the car reflashed.  You can then tune the car from there with an intake and other bolt-ons.  Nothing short of a turbo swap will gain as much for so little money.  I’ve had the APR flash for almost 3 years now and the punch it gives the car still makes me smile.

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4 thoughts on “APR Stage 1 ECU Flash – Review

  1. Thank you for the great overview. I have a 2010 GTI and I love it. It takes second place in my favorite cars I have owned. First place was my 1985 SAAB 900 Turbo. Not the fastest car but I got it for a few thousand dollars with 138,000 miles and gave it to my brother when it hit 270,000. I hope the GTI proves to be as reliable. I have been flirting with doing some type of enhancement but wanted to start small. I see you wrote this in 2011 and was wondering if you still feel the same or if you have any new information to add?

    • Hi David,

      In terms of adding power, the ECU flash is still the best in terms of gains for money spent. I still have my 07 so I don’t have any experience with the later GTI models. I have read though that they require removal of the ECU in order to flash and that bricking is a real possibility. A sloppy install may cause reliability problems down the road and ultimately cost you a new ecu. Given the chance, I’d probably do it, but do some homework on the installer and read around the MK6 forum for suggestions. Intakes for the MK6 provide more gains than they did for the MK5 but the cost to performance ratio doesn’t come close to a reflash. Let me know if I answered your question!

      -Frederick

      On Wed, Apr 23, 2014 at 1:20 PM, markFive GTI wrote:

      >

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