Thursday, August 15, 2013

Super. Charge.

It's been a while since I posted, but I've this is a pretty big update.  "NO POWER" now has a bit more power, courtesy of an Innovate supercharger kit we installed.  This is a constant-displacement twin-scroll supercharger that makes a maximum of about 9 psi.  It bolts directly on the top of the engine using a custom intake manifold.  The setup we went with is called the "Tuner" kit, meaning the ECU tuning is up to you.  I did the tuning on our car and came up with a maximum of 218 horsepower at the rear wheels on our Dynojet dyno, up from 160 when the car was bone stock.  For the production tune packages I would expect around 210 rear-wheel horsepower.

 I chose the Innovate setup over one of the centrifugal supercharger or turbocharger options mostly because I liked the idea of a constant displacement supercharger -- for every turn of the engine, a constant-displacement unit also turns and compresses air.  Although it can be more limited in terms of top-end power, it's hard to beat the response.  In addition to having a twin-screw compressor, the manifold design and the finish details of the Innovate package are top-notch.

Installation of the supercharger is surprisingly simple.  You remove the stock intake manifold, then remove the port fuel injectors and throttle body from the manifold and transfer them to the new manifold.  Bolt the new manifold and supercharger assembly to the block, hook up a few hoses, and you're set.  It took us less than half a day.  We'd charge $400 for the install.

I spent a couple of weeks and many, many dyno runs developing our ECU calibration for the car.  I tried for stock-like smoothness and driveability, I think I managed that.  A few customers and friends that have driven the car have given us a lot of positive feedback.

This version of the kit is NON-intercooled, so horsepower gains are limited compared to a more elaborate intercooled system.  The Innovate manifold DOES have hose fittings for a future water-to-air intercooler circuit, so that is an option once that intercooler is complete and available to sell.  I have other plans, though...I'm thinking I will use water/methanol injection to perform the same function as the intercooler.  But we'll see.

So how does the car feel with the supercharger on it?  Like stock, but more.  The power delivery is instant -- you step on the throttle and you immediately have boost, so there's never a sense of any kind of lag or delay.  The torque comes on strong and carries all the way out to red line, so although the top-end power isn't massive, the car picks up speed very nicely.  The biggest difference to me is the throttle response.  Previously I felt like there was very little difference in part throttle and full throttle -- the torque was so low it just never felt like it was pulling very hard, even when you gave it the boot. Now it surges forward.  It's really fun.

Rear-end traction is more of an issue now.  Punching the throttle in a corner will slew the car sideways and get you a bunch of flashing orange tranction control warning lights.  If you happen to have the traction control all the way off, you can get yourself into trouble easily.  I'm still working on feeling out the limits of lateral grip while on-throttle.  I may have to take the car to a track for some play time in a safe environment.

To keep track of manifold pressure, we also installed a new Prosport Premium EVO boost gauge, in a vent pod from ATI.  I'll give some details about that install in my next post.

Products referenced in this post: Innovate Supercharger kit.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Shifter shortening, for sure!

The stock BRZ shifter is one of the tightest and most direct-feeling I've experienced, so I was kind of skeptical about putting a short shifter in it.  Does it really need to be any shorter?  Still, my friend Tom at Kartboy assured me that his short shifter would be an improvement.  I figured I could always take it back out if I didn't like it, so why not?

The Kartboy shifter is beautifully made.  Almost every part is a custom-machined of metal.  It's hefty and solid in the hand.  All the moving parts are pre-greased, and an additional syringe of grease is included for the install.

Installation was straightforward.  (There's a nice do-it-yourself guide over on the FT86club forms.)  We did install the included rear shifter stay.  We had previously installed Kartboy's transmission mount bushing, too.  The stock shift knob fits right on, or you can use any other knob that fits the stock shifter.  We already had a black Kartboy Delrin knob on there, so we transferred that one over.

I hopped in the car after it came down on the lift, and put it in reverse, then drove out into the neighborhood around the shop.  Hey, what do you know?  The feel is tighter, click-ier, more precise feeling.  I know it's a cliche, but it feels like a bolt-action rifle.  No slop, no give, just a tight, mechanical, direct connection to the gearbox.  The slightly (0.35") lower shift knob height feels just perfect to me.  The reduced throws make the shifting feel quick and sure.

So, to sum up, I'm sold!  It's an improvement over the stock shifter.  Good job, Kartboy.

Kartboy short shifter for FR-S/BRZ

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Sorting some details

T.I.C. steering rack bushings
Bushings halfway installed
We got the BRZ up on the lift recently to install some new goodies.  In the front we installed some Turn In Concepts solid steering rack bushings.  From looking at them, I worried a little bit that they would generate a whole bunch of noise/vibration/harshness, but I really couldn't feel any comfort penalty.  There's just a nice tight feeling from the steering wheel. The BRZ steering was never vague by any means, but it's just that much more tight and precise-feeling.

Extraction tool we made
Installation was pretty easy, but getting the stock bushings out took a little ingenuity on the part of our mechanics.  We ended up making a little extraction tool using a couple of bolts, some washers, and a section of tubing.  That allowed us to pull the stock bushing out by turning the bolt and using the bolt's leverage.

Master cylinder brace
Up on the top side of the car, we bolted on the Motive Auto Werks master cylinder brace.  This little item could not be simpler, both in terms of construction and in installation.  It's light, simple, and it completely stopped any excess motion of the master cylinder.  (Try taping a thin skewer or a coat hanger to your master cylinder so you can see it from the driver's seat, then watch as you press on the brake pedal!)  I confess I can't quite feel it in the pedal -- the brakes seemed pretty firm even to start with.  But I like that the master cylinder can't flex anymore.

While we were under the hood, we installed some very nice carbon-fiber-wrapped hood struts.  We really like gas lift hood struts -- they make working on the car so much easier.  Install on these was also easy.  The struts have just the right pressure to lift up the hood, but they don't spring it up so hard it's going to hit you in the chin.

The benefit is that you don't have to use the prop rod, and you don't have to worry about hitting yourself in the head with the rod and/or collapsing the hood down onto your head while working on the engine.  Not that that's ever happened to me, of course...

All the parts I mentioned above are available on our web site.  Click the hyperlinks above or below for more info.

Not everything is happy in BRZ Land.  I noticed a couple of weeks ago that the right tail lamp has a bunch of condensed water drops in it, and it's starting to get a little mossy-looking in there.  This is a known issue with these cars, and Subaru should replace the lamp under warranty.  We'll check back when we've resolved the issue.

Products mentioned in this post:
Turn In Concepts steering rack bushings
Carbon-wrapped gas lift hood struts
Motive Auto Werks brake master cylinder brace

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Audio system update

I promised to give an update on the audio system some many months ago.  If you've been holding your breath, you probably passed out long before now.  Sorry about that.

The new view from the passenger seat
To review, I didn't much like the interface on the stock head unit.  I don't really use nav much anyway, nor do I like satellite radio (the sound quality is crap, in my opinion).  So I looked for an aftermarket head unit that had a larger screen, better ease-of-use, and that would function well for playing music from an iPod or other external device.  I settled for a Pioneer AVH-P8400BH.  It's got a 7" touch screen, "App Radio" features that can sort of control an iPhone, and more goodies.

I also wanted a little more "oomph" to the sound system, but I didn't want to add two hundred pounds of gear, so I had CAS Designs install a lightweight JL Audio 500/3 amp, and a little
custom fiberglass sub box in the hatch area with a single JL Audio 8W3.

One of the problems I had with the OEM audio was it had a hard time overcoming the ever-present road noise.  There's just not much sound deadening in the car, and it's so low to the ground, you can always here lots of wind and tire noise when the car is underway.  We added some Dynamat to the doors and hatch area to try to reduce that.

New sub is compact and lightweight
The end results were pretty good -- the sound quality and volume level increased dramatically.  I hadn't realized how little bass response the OEM system had until we installed the new sub.  I do love the large screen and the crisp audio from the new head unit, and the ergonomics are FAR better.  It's intuitive to use, and answering the phone or changing tracks doesn't cause me to swear in frustration any more.

There are some disappointments, though.  For one thing, simply upgrading the sound system didn't make the car a better place for listening.  The car is still inherently loud inside at speed.  With the better sound system, I can certainly turn it up loud enough to mask the road noise, but after any extended period of time, it's loud enough to be kind of hard on the ears.  The moral is, there's only so much you can do; the car is not a Lexus.

The Pioneer head unit has its issues, too.  The App Radio functions sound great, but in practice they are kind of half-baked.  The system is fussy, and you have to set the phone to a certain app to enable the functions, and occasionally it doesn't work right. Sometimes I have to reboot the head unit to recover from errors.  That happens sometimes just when using the iPod, too.  Someday this will all be debugged and it will work perfectly, but we're not there yet.

Overall I'm happy with the upgrades.  CAS Designs gets a big thumbs up for the excellent quality work.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Winter Mode: Activate!

Mach V BRZ in Winter Mode
This blog has been quiet for a couple of months, but that doesn't mean we haven't been busy.  Obviously the BRZ wasn't meant as a snowmobile, what its low slung stance and rear-wheel-drive, but we think any car can be fun and useful in the winter, given the proper equipment.  That means winter tires.  We picked up a set of lightly-used Legacy GT wheels (17x7 +53) with some Blizzak WS60 tires in the stock BRZ size of 215/45R17.  It doesn't really snow that much here in the D.C. area, so we held our breath each time cold weather came around, but we didn't actually put the snow tires on until the snow was falling this past week.

Blizzak WS60. That snowflake means "Let it snow!"
The stock "performance" summer tires aren't what we'd call super-high grip in the warm weather, but they're next to worthless once the temp drops below about 40 degrees F.  The same is true for our Dunlop Direzza Z1 Star Spec track tires.  The Blizzaks, on the other hand, seem to work the same no matter how cold it gets.  That's not to say they're a great tire when it's warm.  The soft tread compound combined with the deep siping cut into each tread block means the dry-weather grip is very low.  We noticed some wheel spin just turning through an intersection -- something that never would have happened with the stock tires.  The tire feels normal in terms of sidewall stiffness and steering response, but the limits of adhesion are very low.

Who says you have to leave the sports car home when it snows?
Then it got cold, and this past week we finally got some snow.  The performance of the WS60 in the slush, snow, and ice, was a revelation.  In particular, braking performance is so good on packed snow or ice, it's hard to believe.  It feels about the same as driving the car on wet pavement.  It's amazing!  I found myself just doing braking tests anywhere I could find snow on the road, just to be astounded all over again.  Acceleration and cornering aren't quite as dramatic an improvement, but still are far better than any all-season tire we've ever used.  (Our 335i is currently shod with Continental DWS, so that comes to mind for an immediate comparison.)  I found myself thinking it would be a lot of fun to throw some skis or snowboards in the back and drive up to the mountains.  (For deeper stuff, factory ride height would probably be a better choice than the Mach V springs we've got on the car.)

That special Blizzak tread compound has a spongy composition that Bridgestone says is made of "thousands of microscopic tubes and cells (which resemble the consistency of Swiss cheese when examined through a microscope)". The tire tread can wick away water that would usually come between the tire and the snow or ice surface. That same light and fluffy compound isn't so resilient in the dry, though, so if you drive these tires around on dry roads for thousands of miles, the special tread compound will wear off. The manufacturer says at half tire life, you only have 10% left of the magic snow tread stuff.

Speaking of wheel and tire swaps, we've been experimenting with some different wheel and tire sizes to fit the BRZ.  I'll have more details in my next blog post.