Chevy Cruze/Sonic Trifecta Performance Tune Reviewed

This is a review of the Trifecta Performance full tune available for the Chevy Cruze or Chevy Sonic. I’ll be discussing my impressions with the tune after 2 months of using it so you can get an idea of what to expect, from the obvious performance benefits, to fuel economy changes, and changes in driving manners.

The Trifecta Tune – A Performance Tune, or a Tune for Performance?

I was a bit hesitant to try the tune out for myself based on my experience with tunes in the past. It always seemed to me that as soon as you start deviating from the manufacturer’s design for the car, you run a high chance of reducing the engine’s longevity and causing potential problems down the road. This was especially true of those who tuned 3800 Supercharged engines back when I was first starting out. Truth be told, those who ran into issues were quite often those who knew just enough to be dangerous, but not enough to do a good job of their tuning. Many learned the hard way that tuning isn’t for the novice or even the backyard mechanic, and no amount of ambition is going to replace a depth of understanding and a decade of experience tuning cars. In my talks with Jerry @ Bad News Racing (http://store.badnewsracing.net), I began to discover that this tune was a bit different from what I was used to. Let me explain.

Trifecta has many years of experience tuning under their belt, across multiple platforms. Their supported vehicles list alone is enough to indicate that they’ve been around for a while and are successful at what they do. When individuals tune their cars with interfaces such as HPTuners, their intent as enthusiasts is usually to squeeze as much power as they can out of the car. They try to create a tune for performance, with performance being the highest priority. Trifecta’s full tune for the Cruze / Sonic is not a tune for performance. Rather, it is a performance tune. The difference between the two is that a tune for performance is created to squeeze as much power as it can out of the engine; comfort, fuel economy, and emissions be damned. While the end result will vary based on the tuner, what doesn’t vary is the fact that performance is usually the primary objective. Trifecta’s performance tune improves performance while maintaining the car’s fuel economy, driving manners, and reliability. It is an excellent all-purpose performance tune.

 

Dual-Mode Switching

If you’ve been around the CruzeTalk.com, you’ll see references to Trifecta’s dual-mode tune. This is by far my favorite feature. The tune is “switchable,” meaning you can swap between an “eco” mode, and a performance mode. On the manual transmission Cruzes / Sonics, this is done using the cruise control on/off switch, and on automatic transmission Cruzes / Sonics, this is done by switching between “manual” mode on the gear selector. This allows you to tap into the extra power only when needed, thus allowing you to run a more mild version of the tune with some enhancements during daily driving conditions.

The “Eco” Mode

The factory tune will run the stock turbo up to around 14PSI. Trifecta left that close to stock for the Eco mode, but did some optimizing of spark and enrichment tables to take advantage of the 91/93 octane that the tune requires. This provides a notable performance improvement while not compromising the driving manners of the car. Power delivery is very smooth and predictable, with a flatter power curve than stock.

One of the biggest questions people ask me is “does the Trifecta tune improve fuel economy?” My answer to that is: it depends on your driving habits, the driving conditions of your daily commute, and the transmission your car has. GM did a very good job with the engine to maximize fuel economy from the factory, and there wasn’t much that the tune could do to improve fuel economy. You will have the natural improvement from moving up to a premium/high octane fuel due to the engine’s ability to run a higher spark advance, but the benefits while cruising stop there. What Trifecta was able to do, however, is change the way the car responds to throttle inputs.

The power band is more optimized for fuel economy, causing the car to take longer to get into certain enrichment modes that are not optimal for fuel economy but necessary for power. These improvements will manifest themselves in in-town driving conditions. If your commute consists of almost entirely highway driving, you’re not likely to see a difference, but if you drive around town a substantial amount, you will. If you’re the kind of person to slams the throttle at every red light to pick up speed as soon as possible, you probably won’t see any improvement in fuel economy over stock, but if you drive more calmly, the tune is designed to more intelligently respond to your throttle inputs to maximize fuel economy. Specific to automatic transmissions, the tune also alters the transmission’s behavior to allow you to cruise a lower RPM. It alters the RPMs at which the transmission will shift given a certain throttle input as well as when the transmission will downshift. For owners of automatic transmission-equipped Cruzes / Sonics, the optimizations to the shifting patterns will have a fairly large difference in fuel economy, with reported numbers in the 2-5MPG range. Personally, I did not notice a notable improvement in fuel economy in my Cruze Eco Manual, but I also have a very specific driving style that does not leave much room for improvement, and was using 93 octane fuel with spark plugs gapped to 0.035 (had to change them to 0.025 for the tune) prior to installing the tune. Considering my fuel economy remained the same with such a significant reduction in spark plug gap (when increasing the gap to 0.035″ nets 1-3mpg improvement), I can almost guarantee a fuel economy improvement on a bone stock Cruze or Sonic, manual or automatic.

Throttle response is significantly improved, which is something I was able to appreciate immediately as I spent far less time slipping the clutch to get moving from a start. I noticed that it took far less throttle for the engine to create power from a stop, which actually made it easier to drive the car. In addition, low-end torque in the 1000-1300RPM range significantly improved, which effectively flattened some of the power curve and made the car much more comfortable to drive on a daily basis, especially in rush hour conditions. Lastly, it was far easier for me to make my shifting smoother and more comfortable with the tune than before, which says a lot when you consider the tall gearing on the Cruze Eco.

The Performance Mode

I don’t personally have a boost gauge, but the reports are that the performance mode of the Trifecta tune boosts turbo pressure to up to 22psi. I say “up to” because the method through which power is added is not by manually setting the maximum boost, but by manually setting the maximum allowed torque. In the winter when air is more dense, the tune may only cause your turbo to run up to 18psi under max load, while in the summer when the air is far less dense, the tune may run the turbo up to 22psi. This hard power limitation is set in order to maintain the reliability of the vehicle and consistently increase power under varying conditions. In my discussions with Vince (a Trifecta tuner), I was told that the reason the tune limits power on manual transmission-equipped Cruzes is to prevent clutch slipping at high loads and increase clutch longevity.

The driving manners of the car are completely changed under performance mode. Once you start to climb above 2000RPM, the power is delivered in a much bigger surge. If I’m not careful when switching form the Eco to the Performance mode in city driving, I will actually slip the clutch shifting into 2nd gear because of the change in the power band. The power increase is borderline phenomenal and really changes the way the car feels. It provides you the power needed for passing and merging into busy highway traffic. It is worth noting that Trifecta did not focus primarily on improving top-end power, but rather improving power where you need it the most; right in the middle of the RPM range. This is where you are expected to need the passing or merging power the most.

For those that prefer more performance than reliability, Trifecta will, at your request, alter the tune to your specifications. If you want to raise the maximum boost allowed to 24PSI, they can do that. If you plan on installing an aftermarket clutch, they can work with you to maximize the power on your car. The base tune, however, is designed with reliability in mind, so that your average Cruze or Sonic owner can purchase it and enjoy the performance benefits without worrying about something breaking.

Dyno jet tested numbers on a recent 2013 Sonic RS Automatic came in at 112hp/128lb-ft stock, and 148hp/197lb-ft with the Trifecta tune. That’s an improvement of 36hp/69lb-ft over stock.

 

Customer Support

This is a big one, and a factor that I think some people don’t consider until they’ve had to work with a company that fails miserably at it. Trifecta and BNR’s customer support is outstanding. Jerry @ BNR provides direct and immediate support on CruzeTalk.com, and actively participates as a member of the community to help you achieve your goals, even if he doesn’t make a sale off of you. To me, that speaks volumes of his business practices. Vince @ Trifecta runs a Facebook group around the tune for the Cruze and Sonic, where he answers questions directly and makes himself available to help within 24 hours of contacting him. Their customer support is a benchmark for other tuning companies.

When first installing the performance tune, the car may not feel 100% “right,” because every engine is slightly different from another. For example, the wastegates are adjusted rather haphazardly from the factory. Vince’s software allows you to take a “datalog” of your car, which essentially captures information that the computer is providing regarding the car’s functions and calibrations. You would then send the datalog back to Vince, and Vince would make a personalized and customized adjustment specific to your car in your tune and send you a new tune file to flash. If in a few months, you decide that you want to add a cold air intake, front mounted intercooler, or an exhaust component to improve performance, you can take yet another datalog, send it to Vince, and Vince will make adjustments and send it back to you. Should you have a dyno nearby, Vince can actually remote connect into your laptop and make adjustments on the tune based on the dyno results your car is producing.

 

Installation

The installation of the tune was very easy. The instructions provided are fool-proof, requiring only a Trifecta tune cable, a laptop (with a good battery), and a few key clicks within Trifecta’s tuning application. The initial tune took my car about 35 minutes, but updates thereafter take far less time. If you can send an e-mail, you can install a Trifecta tune. In addition, the tune is reversible, allowing you to flash the stock tune back to your car for any reason.

 

If you have any questions or are interested in purchasing a Trifecta tune for your Chevy Cruze or Sonic, contact Jerry at Bad News Racing:

http://store.badnewsracing.net/

Alternately, you can find him or myself on the CruzeTalk.com forums.

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