It shouldn't come as a surprise that automakers' engines aren't pushed to the limit from the factory. Honda's new 1.5-liter turbo I4 is promising, and it appears some simple ECU tuning can send its power levels through the roof.
Hondata -- a company that's been tuning Honda computers for ages -- has a plug-and-play tuning solution for 2016-and-up Honda Civics equipped with that motor. $695 gives you everything you need to take your Civic to a qualified tuner and turn up the wick well beyond stock power levels. The FlashPro hardware also includes base tunes, in the event you don't want a tuner to apply a custom one.
The final results depend on the individual tuner responsible for tweaking engine output, but Hondata's internal figures are promising. A manual-transmission 1.5-liter Civic can put out about 225 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque, a far cry from the 174 horsepower and 167 pound-feet of a base Civic. CVT models will see a lower output, but it's still pretty impressive at roughly 214 horsepower and 220 pound-feet of torque.
What's most interesting about this arrangement is that both example tunes produce more power than Honda's own performance car, the. The Civic Si will be rated at just 205 horsepower and 192 pound-feet when it goes on sale later this year.
Many were quick to bash the Si for its output, which lags behind competitors like the Volkswagen Golf GTI and the Hyundai Elantra Sport. It's important to note that the Civic Si now packs more torque than before, and its curb weight is lighter than the competitors, but it will have to overcome the numbers game with some solid performance.
While some of us wondered if the Si's output was the way it was because of the 1.5-liter turbo I4's limitations, but Hondata's tunes prove that there's plenty of power left on the table.
Of course, it bears mentioning that leaving power on the table is probably intentional. Honda needs its engines to last a long time, or buyers will revolt and not purchase their cars, and tuning within safe parameters helps achieve that. Hondata's hardware may improve performance, but it could have an effect on the engine's longevity, and given how new it is, there's still a lot left to figure out in that regard.
There's also the matter of what ECU tuning can do to your warranty -- namely, it can void it, especially if you drive into the dealership with the tune installed on the ECU. You can always reflash before taking the car into the dealer, but it's not a foolproof measure.
Furthermore, you might need to add some supporting modifications to get the most power, and certain modifications can also void your warranty and cause the car to fail an emissions test. That's why Hondata's site is quick to note that its tuning solution for the 2016+ Civic is not for street use. Do users regularly run ECU tunes like this on the street? Yes. But will Hondata assume liability in the event something goes awry on the road? No.
ECU tunes like these are a mixed bag. Sure, for $700 you can boost your Civic's output to surpass the Si and save thousands of dollars over just buying the Si, but it comes at the risk of sacrificing engine longevity and the all-important factory warranty. If that doesn't matter to you -- and for some enthusiasts, it really doesn't -- then by all means, tune away.