Project E90 M3: Part 1 – ESS Tuning’s E-Flash ECU & Performance DCT Software

After being very happy with the dyno results, we plugged back into the car and uploaded ESS’ Performance DCT Transmission software.

Purists tend to hate them but the dual-clutch 7-speed DCT transmission is a wonderful gearbox. With an added gear, better gearing, and its inherent design, it’s outright faster than a traditional 6spd despite its increased weight. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a video-game generation where F1 cars were shifted by paddles instead of through a dog-ring H-pattern gearbox, but I’ve always enjoyed driving paddle-shifted racecars more than traditional lever-actuated sequential transmissions, and the DCT really does have a race-caliber programming and feel to it.

Uploading the ESS Performance DCT Transmission software is identical to the ECU flash.

The DCT has always been great in manual mode but my only gripe is that it only blips on downshifts in the highest S6 setting and downshifts in any lower setting are not as smooth (the transmission has D1-D5 shifting speeds settings in automatic mode and S1-S6 settings in manual mode). The upshifts are lightning fast and just as good as any dual-clutch GTR, Porsche, or VW transmission that I’ve driven.

On the other hand, I have a lot of issues with the transmission in automatic mode. There seems to be a lot of clutch slipping or blending of the gears on upshifts in anything but the most aggressive D5 setting which is a bit jerky for an “automatic”. Another problem is the last few downshifts when decelerating to a stop in automatic mode are not smooth and actually quite a bit jerky. My biggest frustration with the gearbox is on the downshift to 3rd (or 4th) when you’re cruising in 7th gear on the highway and boot the throttle, the engine revs up but there is a huge delay before the clutches engages the lower gear for you to actually accelerate. There is no middle ground of response and performance with the smoothness of an automatic.

The transmission has 5 levels of Drive (automatic) modes: D1-D5, and 6 levels of manual modes: S1-S6. We are in 7th gear in setting S5.

The ESS M3 Performance DCT Transmission Software completely transforms the car. Based on the M3 GTS’ software, ESS further refines the programming and adjusts the clutch engagement for even quicker shifts. The first thing you notice is when you put the car in gear, it engages D2 instead of manual mode, which is nice since I usually drive the car in D. In manual mode, the upshifts are quicker and smoother. Seamless quick shifting would hit the descriptive nail on the head. Upshifts in all S modes just seem better programmed and refined and the car will chirp the tires all the way to 4th gear.

With ESS’ DCT Software, the transmission defaults to D2 instead of manual mode, which is a nice feature. This time we are in 4th gear in setting D2.

All of the little annoying issues that the stock software suffered from in automatic modes are addressed. The delay between the car downshifting on the highway and the clutch engaging the lower gear has been greatly improved. Boot the throttle and you’re met with a quick downshift and the car lurches forward the way it should. The downshifts coming to a stop are completely smoothed out and the upshifts in D2 are smoother and quicker than D4 in the old software. Whereas the old software felt like there was a lot of clutch slipping and delayed response, the new tune makes every gear change smoother and quicker with seamless power delivery. There is no longer a tradeoff between performance and automatic-like smoothness.

This software upgrade is a MUST HAVE for any DCT owner and it’s how the car should have been programmed from the factory. While these details may sound minute, it’s the little things that make a world of a difference in the feel of the car. The automatic shifting logic has always been good but now the execution is just as good and really has no drawbacks when compared to a true automatic while retaining all the advantages of being a twin clutch. If I had to choose between the transmission software update and the 24hp gain from the tune, I would choose ESS’ DCT programming over the extra power any day of the week. The improvement is that good and felt at all times, whereas you only feel the difference in power when you’re on it.

Stay tuned to see what happens when we throw Test Pipes into the mix.



ESS Tuning

Roush Yates Performance

READ MORE Project E90 M3

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