Driving impressions: Hondata's FlashPro for the FK8 Civic Type R
Date: May 04, 2018 14:52
TOV Road Report
The Civic Type R is an incredible package, meticulously engineered by Honda to provide exhilarating performance at a reasonable price (provided you're lucky enough to find one at MSRP, that is). Straight from the showroom floor, they are very quick and are capable of achieving a 170mph top speed. But some people are constantly looking for more performance. And for that, we can look towards the aftermarket to provide answers. As it turns out, one of the easiest ways to untap more power and torque in the Type R is by way of reflashing the ECU, and Hondata released their FlashPro product for the Civic Type R just about a month ago. This has been a highly anticipated product – not only for eager Civic Type R owners, but also for Hondata themselves, as they have been laboring on this product for several years. Work officially began when Hondata imported a European Civic Type R (FK2) in December of 2015. As such, Hondata has spent the better part of 2 years fine tuning the details of adapting their FlashPro to work with the Civic Type R's Bosch-sourced ECUs, and we've spent the past several weeks testing the FlashPro on our resident 2017 Civic Type R.
Hondata sent a FlashPro to us for testing and evaluation, and we've been using it in our own Type R for the past month. So far, it's been fantastic - we've loved the results, and Hondata has steadily refined the standard calibrations over the past few weeks, so we've enjoyed testing each of the updates, while also tweaking them a bit to suit our own tastes.
ECU Jailbreak First of all, we should note that the FK8 Civic Type R FlashPro device itself is essentially the same as prior FlashPro units, but the Civic Type R uses a Bosch ECU, which is different from the prior Honda ECUs which were FlashPro compatible. This Civic Type R's Bosch ECU requires a "jailbreak" before it can be reflashed by the FlashPro. As of right now, in order to effect this, you have to physically remove the ECU from your car and send it in to Hondata's main office in Torrance, CA in order for them to "jailbreak" it. Without the "jailbreak" step, the FlashPro cannot communicate with the ECU and you won't be able to reflash it. The "jailbreak" costs $250 on top of the $695 price of the FlashPro. Fortunately, Hondata seems to be able to handle a pretty good volume of "jailbreak" orders, so you should have your ECU back within a business day or two of their receipt, as long as you reserve a jailbreak slot in advance, and they receive it by 10:30AM Los Angeles time.
ECU Cloning If you're concerned about reflashing your original ECU, Hondata can actually clone it to a brand new pre-jailbroken ECU, which you can then reflash. This would leave your original ECU untouched. As of the time of this writing, this still requires that you send your ECU in to their offices in Torrance, but stay tuned for updates. A cloned, jailbroken ECU is offered for $850, or if you can source your own spare ECU, Hondata will clone it to yours for an additional charge of $150.
JUST ANNOUNCED TONIGHT: Remote ECU Cloning. You can now image your original ECU with the FlashPro, send the ECU image to Hondata and then they will clone a brand new jailbroken ECU with your original ECU's image, so there is no need to ship your ECU to them. The price of this is $1100.
*Check back here after 7PM EDT on 4 May (or tune in live to the video below) for an update on the above paragraph. Hondata has more news to share on the Civic Type R FlashPro product
ECU Removal Procedure Removing the ECU is a straightforward process, and Hondata has a very good instructional video on YouTube, and we've embedded it here so you can see how it's done.
NOTE: While this is a fairly easy process, it's also very easy to accidentally drop the lower of the 2 bolts that are used to secure the ECU bracket to the chassis. Trust me, based upon personal experience, if you drop either bolt, it could be a real pain to retrieve it, but be ESPECIALLY careful with the one that's closest to the front of the car. Magnetic 10mm sockets (affiliate link) are HIGHLY recommended here. At the very least, keep a telescoping magnet tool in very close proximity to the bolts while you remove them. We're telling you this because we dropped one of the bolts and it landed somewhere that we could not see nor locate with our magnetic retrieval tool. Unfortunately we ended up having to remove the airbox, which isn't terribly difficult, but it's certainly an unwanted extra hassle. In our moment of impatience, we added probably 30 minutes to a 5 minute job. As you can imagine, once your ECU is returned to you, re-installation is simply a reverse process, and you should be good to go in approximately 5-10 minutes.
Once the ECU is back in place, the process for flashing the ECU is identical to the typical FlashPro process. You will need a computer running Microsoft Windows version 7.0 or later, and you'll need a working USB (1.1 or greater) port on that computer. For licensing reasons (one FlashPro per vehicle), the FlashPro needs to be locked to the vehicle, so for initial setup, the computer needs to be in close proximity to your Type R. After that, you're good to go and can commence the reflashing fun.
All of your work is done within Hondata's proprietary FlashPro Manager software. For brevity, we will henceforth refer to this as 'FPM'. The FPM software itself can be a little intimidating to the uninitiated, but the actual process is fairly simple if all you want to do is program one of the standard basemaps, and reflash your car. Without getting into all of the details, the basic process is this: 1) Connect the FlashPro to your PC via USB 2) Launch the FPM software 3) Ensure that the FlashPro is recognized by FPM. 4) Click "New Calibration". A menu will appear, and from here you can find a list of calibrations which are compatible with your car. Find the map that best matches your situation, select it, and click the "OK" button on the dialog box. 5) Now you can upload the calibration to the car. If your PC is connected to the FlashPro while your FlashPro is connected to your Type R, you can upload the calibration directly to the vehicle from FPM. While your car's ECU is being reprogrammed, you'll see a steady stream of error messages flashing on the dashboard – this is normal and nothing to be concerned about. Also, about a half minute into the process the LED DRLs will light up. The total reflash process takes about 6 minutes to complete.
You can see the entire reflash process in the video below.
Impressions Hondata's press materials make some fairly impressive claims regarding the gains provided by the FlashPro. Their own dyno testing suggests gains of 33hp and 39lb-ft with 91 octane fuel, and an even more impressive 47hp and 72lb-ft on 93 octane fuel. Fortunately we live in an area where Premium Unleaded is 93 octane, so we've been testing Hondata's calibrations that are optimized for 93 octane fuel and a stock engine.
For stock Civic Type R engines, Hondata offers two base tuning calibrations at the 91 and 93 octane levels. The difference comes down to the throttle mapping with respect to torque response. The standard calibrations uses rather aggressive throttle maps, while the alternative calibration that is labeled "Improved Throttle Response" dials back the torque response in the lower gears, making it easier to avoid unwanted wheelspin. When we first received the FlashPro, this is the map that we installed and tested, because who wouldn't want "Improved Throttle Response"? So when we first hit the street to test the reflash, we were a little bit surprised to find that it didn't feel much different than stock when accelerating in 1st and 2nd gears. But what we DID notice was a significant difference in torque in the upper gears. Take your pick - in ANY of the upper gears, the difference is quite noticeable. Out of curiousity, we went back and altered the throttle maps a little bit, and found that the response in 1st and 2nd gear improved noticeably, but there's clearly a limit with respect to traction. Even Honda's stock throttle maps limit torque in the lower gears for this reason.
As always, one of our key goals is to bring quantitative analysis to the TOV audience. We will be dyno testing our Type R with the FlashPro just as soon as we pass the first oil change milestone, which hopefully means within the next 4-6 weeks. For the time being, we decided to test some in-gear acceleration intervals and we came across a few challenges even getting these metrics.
One of the cool new features with this Bosch-based ECU is that you can tune the torque response maps (with respect to throttle input) for each gear, and in each drive mode - so you can essentially program 18 torque response maps (Gears 1-6; Comfort, Sport, +R mode). This is a really cool feature, providing a lot of flexibility. For example, you could tune the "Comfort" maps to be much softer in torque response, for driving in cold or rainy conditions. Sport mode could be tuned more aggressively, used for driving in good weather conditions, with +R being maxed out, in the case that you have especially grippy tires on the car. Over the past few weeks we've been working through iterations of torque maps to try to find a good balance of performance across the modes. We did a lot of validation of these maps for the first 3 gears on the roads in the immediate area (never breaking any speed limits, ahem). Of course when we were finally ready to perform actual timed tests, the weather cooled off a bit, which has a measurable impact on available grip. So initially, we encountered some wheelspin, even performing roll on 30-70mph tests in 3rd gear. The traction control system will forgive a mild amount of wheelspin, but in this case we were breaking traction at 45-50mph as the boost came on hard, and this resulted in a noticeable intervention from the traction control system. Even so, the tuned calibrations were showing an advantage of about 0.25 second in that 30-70 interval. Subsequently we were able to find another location which had superior grip on a slighly warmer day, and here we were seeing no measurable wheelspin in Sport mode (there was still a mild cut in +R), but the advantage grew to 0.45-0.50 seconds in that same 30-70mph interval.
Bottom line, the car is clearly much quicker with the FlashPro calibration, and the tools are there which will allow you to completely obliterate your front tires if you wanted to, but the beauty of the system is that the tools also allow you to carefully tune and optimize the throttle response to your preferences and driving circumstances.
Of course FlashPro manager allows one to tweak many more parameters, including cam phasing and ignition maps, but it's probably best for the "casual" tuner to leave most of those to the pros who know what they're doing.
EXTRAS For now the FlashPro is missing a few of the cool "extras" that other versions offer. For example, on the 1.5L Civic FlashPro you can enable a "Full Throttle Shift" (FTS) mode which implements a temporarily reduced rev limiter that's active between gears, but only when the clutch is disengage, permitting you to keep your right foot to the floor while shifting (speed shifting), without having the engine banging against the redline fuel cutoff. Hondata says this one is on their "to do" list, but they could not offer any sort of timetable as to when (or even if) it might appear. Another feature we would love to see would be some sort of valet mode that could quickly be engaged whenever you needed. We're thinking of something which would effectively neuter the car on an as-needed basis. It would also be nice if, like other FlashPro products, we could change the car's default drive mode and VSA status. For example, with the 1.5L Civic FlashPro you can force it to always start up in Sport mode with the VSA disabled if you like. With the Type R, for guys who like to do a lot of track days, it would be nice to have the ability to force it to start in +R mode with VSA fully disabled.
Hacking the DisplayAudio There is one cool little extra that you can implement if you like, and you don't mind "jailbreaking" your Type R's infotainment system. The Civic's DisplayAudio system runs a variant of the Android operating system, and in the past year, some folks have discovered some methods which allow you to install and run Android apps on the system. Hondata's own mobile app is one which can be installed, and since the FlashPro has BlueTooth built-in, you can connect it to the car's BlueTooth and take advantage of the features of Hondata's app right on your Type R's DisplayAudio.
DISCLAIMER: If this is a feature that intrigues you, PLEASE KNOW that by implementing this modification, there is a risk of "bricking" the infotainment system if you do something wrong, so PROCEED WITH CAUTION. If that warning doesn't scare you off, and you're confident in your hacking abilities, Hondata provides instructions
The following video shows a brief overview of how it works.
First Conclusions If you have an FK8 Civic Type R and want to expand the performance envelope, this should be one of the first purchases, especially if you're considering any other engine modifications. This one costs a bit more than a normal FlashPro due to the "jailbreak" requirement, but in our mind, it's still well worth it. The FlashPro is a very powerful tuning tool and yet through the Throttle/Torque maps, it provides the means for a casual tuner to fine tune the car to his or her specific preferences. Hondata has been in this business for a long time, and this is reflected by the quality of their software product. FlashPro Manager is frequently updated with new calibrations and new features, which is another huge plus. Be sure to check back here later for dyno test results.