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VW MK7 GTI Tuning Guide
When it comes to aftermarket mods and getting the most bang for your buck, tunes should definitely be at the top of your list, especially for any turbocharged engine. The MK7 GTI EA888 Gen3 engine is no exception to this. You can get anywhere from 45hp and 45lb-tq unless you choose to go Stage 2 or 3, then you can expect much higher numbers. However, when it comes to researching MK7 GTI tunes, it can be dreadful because there are so many to choose from with different added benefits. In this MK7 GTI tuning guide, we will be going over different brands based on performance benefits and risks.
Pre-Tuning: Ignition Coils & Spark Plugs
Before going into MK7 GTI tunes, we think it’s important to address upgraded ignition coils and spark plugs. When a vehicle is tuned, that means more power is made. More power requires more fuel resulting in hotter engine temps in the combustion chamber. Although OEM spark plugs are sufficient enough for GTI’s on stock boost, when tuned and running higher boost, OEM ignition parts are prone to pre-detonation and misfires. This is due to increased combustion temperatures since the stock spark plugs are too “hot”.
For anyone looking to tune their vehicle and increase boost levels, we highly recommend running 1-step colder spark plugs. These spark plugs burn cooler which keeps engine temperatures lower and prevents any misfires, knocks, or pre-detonation. They’re relatively inexpensive, so there is no reason not to run them to keep your engine healthier, running better, and free from any misfires.
Before tuning your MK7 GTI, we recommend installing the 1-step colder plugs. If you are planning on sticking with OEM spark plugs and your current ones are more than 15,000 miles old, we also recommend replacing them before modding.
Here are our spark plug recommendations:
- OEM MK7 GTI Spark Plugs: use these OEM spark plugs for stock or modified GTI’s that are running on stock boost. Recommended to replace every 40,000 miles.
- 1-Step Colder MK7 GTI Spark Plugs: any tuned GTI above-stock boost levels should be using 1-Step Colder MK7 GTI Spark Plugs. Install these before tuning and replace them every 15,000-20,000 miles.
- MK7 GTI OEM Ignition Coils: ignition coils provide power to the spark plugs. Bad ignition coils can cause rough idling, engine misfires, and so on. We recommend replacing these every time you replace your spark plugs.
Flash vs Piggyback Tune
When researching, you will mainly come across two different tunes: a flash and a piggyback tune. We want to jump into the differences before getting into the different types because it is a very hot topic when it comes to tuning a car. So what is the difference between a piggyback tune and a flash tune for your MK7 GTI?
MK7 Piggyback Tunes
A piggyback tune plugs directly into the ECU. Essentially if you have heard of a plug-and-play tune, you are dealing with a piggyback tune. These tunes don’t re-write the factory ECU. The piggyback tune “tricks” the factory ECU into producing more power by increasing boost or running a more aggressive ignition timing. People like these types of tunes because they are easy to install and get power from them immediately. However, some people question if these are safe for the engine. The short answer is yes. If you choose a reputable piggyback tune brand, like Burger Motorsports JB4, they’ve spent many man-hours perfecting these tunes and ensuring the safety of their products.
There are a few pros and cons we want to cover quickly. The pros for using piggyback tunes are the ECU remains stock, they generally offer advanced safety features, they usually provide on-the-fly map changes, and the best one is the ease of installation. The cons of piggyback tunes are that there are limited capabilities of using a stock ECU and they more than likely are less accurate than a flash tune. If you are looking for a tune that you can plug in and go, then this type of tune is for you.
MK7 Flash Tunes
The main difference between a flash tune and a piggyback is that a flash tune re-programs the factory ECU. Another big difference is that instead of being plugged directly into the ECU, flash tunes are essentially uploaded into the ECU. Now how does that work? Well, flash tunes are created on a computer, which then the software is “uploaded” into the factory ECU generally through an OBDII port. As you can imagine, there is a lot of personalization that can come with flash tunes, which is why these are more popular when it comes to MK7 GTI tuning. Unless you know what you are doing when you’re building your own engine tables, we would HIGHLY advise taking it to a shop to get it professionally tuned.
There are few a pros and cons we want to cover quickly. The pros for using a flash tune are customization, unlimited capabilities of the ECU, and it can possibly be safer than a piggyback, depending on the setup you plan on running. The cons are altering the ECU, bricking the ECU, and a flash tune CAN be riskier than a piggyback tune, again depending on how aggressive you plan on running your tune.
Best VW MK7 GTI Tunes
Since we’ve gone over the differences between piggyback tunes and flash tunes, we want to lastly highlight that there will be MINIMAL performance differences between the two with all other variables being the same. Now we know there are many different choices on the market, but we will give you our favorites with their own benefits and let you go from there. Also, to mention a tune is all personal preference. The list below is in no specific order and PLEASE make sure these tunes specifically fit your vehicle.
Burger Motorsports JB4 is the only piggyback tune we will feature on this list because we believe it is the best piggyback tune on the market. They have proven to be reliable, consistent, and safe. The plug-and-play install makes it popular with MK7 GTI’s because you can see instant performance gains of 35hp and 45lb-ft of torque without any additional modifications. Now if you are looking to use this tune with extra bolt-ons, you could be looking at performance gains of up to 90hp and 70lb-ft of torque. Take that for bang for your buck.
Price: $379.00 + Shipping
Buy Here & See Dyno Results: Burger Motorsports JB4 Piggyback Tune
Eurodyne produces one of the more popular flash tunes for the MK7 GTI. They pride themselves on their do-it-yourself ECU upgrade and created a video to illustrate how easy it is to upgrade and install the flash tune. Without adding any other modifications, you can expect to see performance increases of 45hp and 50lb-ft torque. Although this is the priciest tune of the bunch, you are getting an insane bang for your buck with this flash tune.
Price: $698.99 + Shipping
Buy Here & See Dyno Results: Eurodyne Reflash Tune
Arguably one of the most common flash tunes for the MK7 GTI is the APR ECU upgrade. What we like most about this tune is the amount of flexibility you have in the options they provide. For example, they have maps for up to stage 3, 4 different fuel variations, high and low torque options, and more. Without any modifications to your MK7 GTI, you can see performance increases of 54hp and 46lb-ft torque. With all the necessary bolt-ons and upgrades, stage 3 COULD get you up to 536hp and 475lb-ft torque.
Price: $499.95 + Shipping
Buy Here & See Dyno Results: APR ECU Upgrade
Volkswagen MK7 Tuning Conclusion
Tunes are one of the best ways to unleash more power from your MK7 GTI. When it comes to offering our opinion on what kind of tune is the best? In all honesty, it’s personal preference when it comes to piggybacks vs flash. Are you the type of person that would rather plug it in and go or do you want the ability to customize your tune to your liking? That’s really what it comes down to.
What we can do is offer our favorite of the two types. For piggyback, we would recommend Burger Motorsports JB4, and for a flash tune, we would recommend Eurodyne’s Reflash Tune. With that said, there are many different tunes on the market that you can go with that aren’t listed above. We try to provide information for the consumer to choose the right tune for them. So let us know down in the comments, which tune you plan on running or are currently running!
To read more up on what mods we suggest for your MK7 GTI, go to “The 5 Best Mods for the Volkswagen MK7 GTI“.