Kumho Ecsta 4x – Review and Experience

After spending some time with these budget priced performance all seasons, I can finally write something about them. I replaced the set a few months early due to irreparable tire damage. Most of the ride / handling comparisons are against the Michelin Pilot Sport A/S+ tires, which where my previous set and generally well regarded high performance all season.

Overview 

The Ecsta 4x’s are a great value choice in this tire category (High Performance All Seasons). I say value because they were not meant to outperform the top brands, but to stand alongside at least a few of them. Performance is better than I expected. Grip is plentiful in the dry, and was surefooted enough in the rain (or whatever California considers inclement weather). The treadwear looks to be on track for the mileage. Ride quality is not as good as I thought it would be but certainly not bad.

Handling

The Ecsta 4x’s are a great handling tire. Turn in is crisp and grip is plentiful. Ultimate grip is shy of the Michelin Pilot Sport A/S+ that I had on previously, but for the money saved, I won’t knock off too much. I won’t notice it on the street. The sidewalls are very stiff and keep the tire from feeling sloppy. It’s a predictable tire. More on the stiff sidewall later. I have no problems with the tire in the handling department. It does what you ask. Weatherwise, I can’t comment on anything other than rain. They handle rain just fine and feel secure on a wet road.

Ride Quality

This is the area I will fault the tire. Ride quality is not as good as the Michelin’s or not great in general. It feels rougher and less refined on imperfect roads. The carcass at times feels like it has a spring to it that translates into a bit of a jiggle. It may be the sidewall stiffness. The ones I purchased were an XL designation tire with a 94W service description. Too much stiffness for the GTI. The XL version is not the one to get. The Michelin’s had stiff sidewalls but the ride did not suffer as much. Overall, not a bad ride from the Kumho’s but not great either. Refinement feels lacking. I initially wrote that the ride quality was better than the Michelin’s but extended time revealed otherwise.

 Treadwear

Treadwear was as expected. I replaced them a little before their time due to an irreparable puncture but I was satisfied by the mileage. I accumulated maybe 30,000 miles on them. I estimate that they could have lasted another 10k miles, but previous alignment issues left the wear uneven (not the tires fault) and at this point in the tires life it made sense to replace the set. If they hit 40,000 miles, I consider that satisfactory.

Issues

The mold that was used to make my particular set suffered from a weird line that ran across the tread. It looked like a crack but was limited to the surface. I didn’t consider it an issue as long as it didn’t get larger. I’ve seen other Kumho Ecsta 4x’s with this mold line/crack. I put a decent amount of miles into the tires and the crack was not an issue but it gives me pause about the quality control. It certainly added some road noise if anything. I looked at the lines during a recent tire rotation and they looked a little bigger larger. They didn’t cause any issues but it’s something that I would rather not have to worry about. It factored into my decision to replace the set.

Summary

I really wanted to like these tires because the performance side was great. Grip was good, handling was good, wear was good. However, ride quality was only so-so and could get jarring on expansion cracks and rougher patches. The tread crack (which was the same on all 4 tires) didn’t give me any issues but certainly didn’t reassure me of the quality of the tires.

My final verdict – The Kumho Ecsta 4x’s are a nice performance value but not as well rounded as Michelin’s offering. The money you save reflects in what you get. Performance is great but the ride quality suffers. More expensive tires provide good performance numbers and also provide good ride characteristics. The Continental DWS’ are an example set of highly regarded performance all seasons that provide a good balance of handling and ride characteristics. Tire Rack surveys show that there is a highly competitive field in the high performance all season market. With more competitors coming out with a better balance of ride and handling, the Ecsta 4x’s may come out lighter on the wallet but you’ll know know what you’re missing from slightly more expensive brands. As much as I wanted to like these tires, I cannot recommend purchasing a set.

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Kumho Ecsta 4x – Quick Look

I’ve had a set of Kumho Ecsta 4x tires on for the last few months to replace my tired set (Michelin Pilot Sport A/S+). My old tires were badly cupped and incredibly noisy. It’s amazing how badly tires degrade over their lifetime, especially if the alignment is not spot on.

The Ecsta 4x’s are relatively new and there is not too much written about them but early reviews (mostly from Tire Rack) suggests that they are a good performance all season for people on a budget. The Tire Rack lists them as Ultra High Performance All Seasons. On the merit of pricing, I chose these over the category favorite, the Continental DWS. They were (at the time of purchase) slightly cheaper per tire and approximately 100-150 cheaper for the set.The Kumho’s are the stock size (225/45/17) with a 94w XL load designation.

Ecsta 4x (stock photo)

So far, I’m liking these tires. They are quiet and quite competent in the handling department. They may give up a bit of response to the Michelin PS A/S+ but the difference is not worth the price premium for the Michelin’s. The Ecsta’s seem to like a little more pressure than the Michelin’s in the corners. Stray too far from the stock pressure setting and they feel a little sloppy. So far, I’ve settled around 35.5 psi front and rear. Your preferences will vary depending on the setup. Ultimate grip seems very similar and Ecsta’s also ride nicer than the Michelin’s.

More impressions to come after a little more seat time. I am curious to find out how they are in the rain.

BSH Throttle Pipe – Review

BSH Throttle Pipe

Overview

The BSH throttle pipe replaces the stock piping from the intercooler to the throttle body.  It has a provision for two water-meth nozzles and a noise pipe connection.  Block-off plugs are provided if you do not need the water-meth bungs or the noise pipe connection.  This is a high quality piece and it really shows how far BSH’s manufacturing methods have come.  The powdercoat is a nice wrinkle black finish, the welds, although still external, are much more uniform and the whole piece feels like quality.  Nice job BSH.

Installation

Installation was not too hard. You’ll find all sorts of stories online about how difficult it was to install the throttle body pipe but I didn’t really find it too hard.  It took me about 1 1/2 hours working at a moderate pace.  I followed the instructions for the Neuspeed throttle pipe since BSH includes ZERO instructions in the package.  I did not find any instructions on BSH’s website either.  While not a show stopper, it’s just an annoyance that really shouldn’t be there.  The best way to remove the stock throttle pipe is to undo all the necessary bolts and then remove the piece from the bottom.  I don’t even know if you can remove the pipe from the top.  You will have very little clearance to do so but it is completely possible to remove it without forcing anything.

Fitting in the BSH piece is just the opposite of removing the stock piece.  It’s easier to attach the silicone tubing to the throttle body first and then to install the BSH pipe from the bottom.  It helps to lube up the silicone with a little bit of motor oil.  It’ll become clearer as you go through the install process.  Clearance is very tight, as you can see.  There is only one mounting point on the BSH pipe.  I don’t have a picture of it but it attaches to the bolt that holds a coolant line.  Once I get down there for an oil change, I’ll take a picture.

Once everything is fitted up, double check you clearances and make sure you won’t hit the fans.  The engine does rock when you accelerate.  Check to see if you reconnected the MAP sensor and all the clamps are adequately tightened.

Driving impressions

BSH does not claim hp gains with this pipe.  They advertise it as an easy way to add water-meth spray nozzles and block off the noise pipe.  They also claim increased airflow and better engine response by virtue of the larger diameter piping.  I think I can fully agree with the engine response claim.  The biggest improvement I felt was in the midrange.  The engine just feels livelier, punchier for lack of a better word and feels much less restrained when applying the throttle.  Definitely a lot more fun to kick around town.

Overall

I really like what this pipe  has added to the character of the engine.  To me it makes driving the car even more fun.  It’s not a massive fundamental change but I noticed the change in response immediately.  It is a nice option if you want to have a reliable method of installing a water-meth spray system, but I can’t really comment on it because I don’t run water-meth.  The price hovers around 170 dollars and is available from the usual vendors.  A search on Google shopper will find the lowest price.  I really like this part and it would probably complement other intake mods very well.  I am running the stock intake and still found gains.  It is currently the best throttle pipe on the market as it offers a variety of configurations at the same price point as the others.  Recommended.

Akebono Euro Ceramics

Akebono Euro Ceramic Pads

Overview

The Akebono Euro Ceramics are an OEM type replacement ceramic pad.  They promise less dusting and no noise when compared with regular replacement pads.

Driving Impressions

The Euro Ceramics are very progressive feeling brake pads.  Pedal pressure translates well into brake force.  In other words, I know how much pressure to apply and how much braking I’ll be getting in return.  The Hawk HPS pads I had before were annoying in this aspect.  They were not linear, grabbing slowly at first and then all of a sudden too much.  The Euro Ceramics on the other hand are pretty progressive and have better cold bite than the HPS pads.  Stopping power is good, just  a tad less than the HPS.  If the HPS pads were a 10, the Euro Ceramics are an 8.  Still great but the HPS pads haul you down impressively.  Still good for a briskly driven daily driver.  The brake pedal feels better, slightly firmer than the HPS pads.

Noise is nonexistent.  I have yet to hear these pads squeal or make any noise.  Noise was the main reason I got rid of the HPS pads.  One of the sets developed a squeal that refused to go away.  Anti squeal goops, greases, or adhesives all failed.  I tried reseating them, regreasing the pins, sanding down a new surface; nothing worked.  The Akebono pads have turned out great in this department.  The Akebono pads also have much less noticeable dust.  They still release dust, but it is a much lighter color, practically invisible from a distance.  Up close, it is a light almost yellowish dust, hard to see on silver wheels but maybe a problem on darker colors.

Overall

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Akebono Euro Ceramic pads as an alternative to the OEM pads.  They have good, if not great stopping power, are rather clean dusting and have little to no noise.  While they don’t have the pure stopping force of the HPS pads, I like the pedal feel much better.  The Akebono’s are much more progressive and provide an even keel response from a cold stop to warm up.  This gives me much more confidence while braking as compared with the slightly better friction properties of the HPS pads.  I purchased these pads from Amazon.com, part number EUR1107 for the front, and EUR1348 for the rears.  It’ll cost you about 120-130 dollars for the set.

Product Reviews

I’ve been slowly reworking over some of the older product posts and turning them into more informative reviews.  They’re being compiled on one page.  Click this link or the link at the top of the header to check them out!

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.

AWE Diverter Valve Relocation – Review

I recently switched my diverter valve setup from the BSH relocate kit to the AWE stock diverter valve relocate kit.  What’s the difference?  AWE’s kit uses the stock electronic diverter valve instead of a mechanical (Forge) valve as in the BSH kit.  Doing so allows the ECU to control when the valve should be closed and when it should be opened.  Not that I was unhappy with the BSH kit.  Not at all.  It’s a great setup, but I wanted to use the revision D valve in a relocate.

Overview

Enter the AWE kit.  This is a very well done kit.  Very simple and rather ingenious.  I’m impressed with the execution.  This, in my opinion of course, has to be the easiest relocate setup to install.  The parts are all of very high quality and fit precisely.  I did break the larger hose clamp.  I probably over tightened it but it may be something to keep an eye on.  This kit does not include a diverter valve.  You either reuse your stock one or purchase a revision D valve to go with it.  I did the latter.  The stock intake will not work with this kit unless you have the TSI motor.  You will need to have an intake with a diameter of 2.75 inches.  No worries as this is a very common intake size.  Just be sure to check.  The valve adapter is an anodized piece and works with any oem valve.  The firewall gasket is what you will not find on most other relocation setups.  It’s an oem part but the fact that AWE included it for convenience is very cool.  Silicone hoses are pretty much standard, if not a little thicker than the silicone BSH uses.  This kit is for all intents invisible to the untrained eye.  Just about the only visible aspect will be your aftermarket intake and the one piece of silicone that leads to the noise pipe.

Stock photo from AWE’s website. I labeled the parts.

Installation

The most difficult step when relocating the diverter valve is removing the connection to the noise maker piece underneath the rain tray.  I absolutely hate spring clamps.  Fortunately for me, I did this step when I installed the BSH kit.  AWE’s website has a PDF of all the complete steps.

Other than that, installation is very straightforward.  A 1/4 inch rachet and socket set will help make everything go smoothly when removing the stock diverter valve.  The diverter valve bolts are a 5mm hex.  A needle nose vice grip will also help with the spring clamps.  Nothing too tricky on the tool side.  Just be sure to have all your tools lined up beforehand.

Revision D Valve and Adapter

Driving Impressions

So far I have not noticed much of a difference from the BSH kit, as you would expect.  This kit is definitely quieter and I do somewhat miss the noise of the gigantic Forge valve.  I feel like the boost comes on differently but I can’t validate it without doing logs.  It feels like it comes on a little less progressively.  This could be due to the way the ECU operates the diverter valve.  Under most conditions the stock valve is closed, unlike the mechanical valve which is open under vacuum.  This doesn’t allow the engine to draw air through the noise pipe as often as the BSH kit does.  I would give a very slight edge to the purely mechanical setup in terms of throttle response.  Other than that, little difference from the BSH kit.

Why should you get this?

It all depends on what you want.  If you want the ECU to maintain full control, get AWE’s kit.  I suggest picking up a revision D valve to run with it.  If you want a mechanical setup, and especially if you have the BSH intake, go with the BSH.  I would recommend the BSH kit only with their own intake.  The ports are all matched up and you don’t have to cut anything.  BSH might be phasing out the standalone version of their kit, I haven’t seen it on their website lately.  I’m sure they still have it but you have to place a phone call.

AWE can also equip the kit to work with a mechanical valve but I can’t comment on how that performs.  I assume it will work similarly to the BSH kit in terms of mechanical valve throttle response.

Grade

I really like this kit.  Clean installation, great design, and relatively cheap compared to the other relocates.  It is practically indestructible with the D valve.  It also maintains ECU control.

This kit is highly recommended.

Noisepipe to turbo inlet coupler connection