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Friday, April 6, 2012

40.000 km of experience with the E85 fuel

This post is inspired by the Saabsunited article about the Maptun E85 offers for several Saab engines as well as article about the same topic. I remembered about a guy driving a Saab 9-5 on E85 already for a longer time. Different from Maptun, but the point here is not to compare several software stacks (Maptun, BSR, trionictuning etc) but to get a direct experience with the Ethanol fuel itself.

It is the same guy, nicknamed Rass and the same car, featured on Saabism already with the custom mp3 Linux based player onboard. Since that we're in contact through Google Talk, so I've asked him for a chat about the topic.

Could you describe your Saab ?

It's a 9-5 Aero, combi, with manual transmission. Model year 2001, engine B235R, 2.3L on petrol.
When I bought him, he had 114.000 km, in cca 150.000 km I did the first chiptuning for E85, now he has around 190.000 km.

Which software do you use and how long ?

I use the software from or I have it for almost two years and 40.000 kilometers. It comes from the original BioPower software from Saab, which is great. So the philosophy behind is, why to reinvent the wheel, a good one, when you can improve an existing one. I've heard that many other chiptuners are doing the same and improving the code on their own, but I don't know it for sure.

Which other parts of the engine you had to change ? What about the costs ? 

Not too many. Firstly after 1.000 km a new fuel filter and after 5.000 km a new gas pump. Also I've changed the plugs to BCPR7ES-11 as required here. But it looks like it is nice to have instead of necessary, because the regular Saab BioPower versions are using regular plugs as well. 

The ethanol resistant gas pump costs about 80€. The original one is not ethanol resistant  but also survives for some time. But mine was old, so in order not to stay somewhere on the road, I've changed it anyway. The plug costs about 3€ / piece and are to be changed every 10 - 15.000 km.

So after all this what happened with the engine performance ?

My original performance was 230hp / 350Nm. After the changes I have 260hp / 400nm on petrol and cca 230hp / 400nm on E85.

Why the difference between gasoline and E85 ? 

Because of the injectors. Ethanol is a mixture of 85% ethanol and 15% petrol. It has weaker heating power (although higher octane number 109 against 95, 98 petrols) so for the same performance you need more Ethanol. But the injectors are designed for petrol, so in higher speeds they have a bit less throughput (simply speaking) to deliver the needed amount of E85. The software has a peak of 230 HP, but adds 50Nm of torque. The change of the injectors would bring also more horsepower.

But even without it the subjective feeling is much better than before. The car is faster and the torque comes nearly immediately in low rpm. Recently I tanked petrol for after a month or so and I had a feeling the Saab doesn't go properly, it was weak :) Of course it is a feeling, but the torque plays here a significant role.

How many times did you updated the software ? 

Around 10 times. At the start some experiments and versions, now it's very stable. I did also some open SID software tuning to see more live data on SID, so alltogether maybe 15 times. It's not necessary, but I liked to play with it. Once I burned the software update outside, in front of my house in -20°C, with a bit of fear, but everything was going fine.

What happened to fuel consuption ? 

Well this depends heavily on the driving style. But it increased. In the city traffic 13-15 L / 100km, outside of the cities it's better, around 11.5 L / 100km. The best I could achieve is 10.5 on the highway with 115 km/h on tempomat. But who drives a 200+ hp car like this ...

On petrol the numbers are 10 - 12 L, highways 8.7 - 10.5 litres.

It is more or less correct, that on E85 the  fuel consumtion increases on 20% - 30%. But still, when here in the Czech republic the Natural 100 Petrol costs 39 CZK (1.6€) and E85 25.50 CZK (1.04€) which is 56 cents on liter less, I am still saving good money.

Also when you drive fast and sporty, the fuel consumption of petrol increases at a higher rate than ethanol, so the fuel consumption difference is much less, maybe 5%.

There is one more thing. As mentioned E85 has less heating power, therefore the fuel consumption on cold engine shortly after the start is huge. The engine heatens more slowly. Because of this and the things mentioned before it makes much more sense to drive E85 on longer trips. My experience says more than 50 km long trips.

So is it also possible to use normal petrol ? 

Yes of course. The software allows that and you can drive also on mixtures between petrol and E85. It adapts itself and writes on SID how exactly the mixture is. It is a default feature of the software. After each fueling it writes messages about adaptation to the particular mix in the tank. So petrol doesn't hurt the system at all.

Actually the best feeling about performance you get when you have a mix of both. The software interpolates maps of petrol and E85, so in theory you can achieve horsepower of the petrol mode (260 hp) and the torque of E85 (400 Nm). Makes fun to drive :)

I have stage 1, but you can go up to stage 3, where you have to change several other parts of the engine than I did. For example the mentioned injectors.

Was there any failure in the car which could lead to the E85 adaptation ? 

No, nothing. In fact I had no failure for the 2 years with E85, which is great. Hopely it stays so for some time.

Something else notable to mention ? 

Well yes. Sometimes it smells after alcohol like hell :) When the police stops you, they get immediately suspicious and test you if you aren't drunk. It helps to have some receipts from the gas station, to show them where the smell is coming from. 

Thanks a lot for the talk.

I've been a passenger in this Saab and have to confirm, it drives really fast. I don't know if faster than mine 9-3 Convertible Aero + Hirsch, but the feeling was simillar.

Links for more information :

The Saab 9-5 (CZ) | (custom mp3 player in 9-5) | Saab BioPower FAQ | E85 | E85 Myths

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