SAFARI 4X4 Engineering is best known for its air-intake snorkels that improve the flow of clean, cool air to a 4x4ís engine and reduce the risk of water ingress when crossing and rivers. Over the years, Safari has also produced products to improve the breathing of the engine further downstream from the snorkel Ė turbocharger systems, intercoolers and exhausts have all been developed in-house at its Melbourne headquarters and continue to this day. However, times change and so do the products needed to improve and optimise the efficiency of an engine.
These days all new diesel engines are turbocharged, so thereís not the demand for aftermarket retrofit turbo kits there once was; and the engines are electronically controlled, so tuning them is done via a computer and not playing with injectors, pumps and turbo kits. A mechanic or qualified tuner can improve the efficiency of an engine using a laptop, without having to get his or her hands dirty.
We live in an age where engine tuning is done by recalibrating ECUs and fitting aftermarket ECUs or tuning Ďchipsí to improve performance and, as it has always done, Safari has entered this market cautiously to ensure it produces the best product for the consumer.
Enter the Safari ARMAX ECU, which is available to suit many popular modern diesel-powered vehicles, and with an increasing number of applications becoming available. So far, the ARMAX ECU is available for the Toyota Land Cruiser 200 Series, 70 Series, Prado, Hilux, and Fortuner models, with the new Ford Ranger, Everest and Mazda BT-50 applications due to be on sale by the time this is published.
The ARMAX ECU is not just another Ďtuningí product. The years spent researching and developing the product has ensured it is the most sophisticated and safest ECU for your vehicle. Safety is a key word here, as incorrectly playing with the tuning parameters on a modern diesel engine without protection systems can result in major, and very costly, engine damage. Itís not just a matter of dialling up the boost and wicking up the fuel anymore; thereís a lot more to it.
The ARMAX Performance ECU doesnít replace a carís original equipment (OE) ECU; instead, it works in conjunction with the OE unit to optimise efficiency and improve the performance, enhance the driving experience and fuel consumption of your vehicle, while still protecting it at all times.
WE SPENT a day at Safari HQ with the companyís Engineering Director, Duane Evans, as he showed us the ARMAX ECUís features. From the time you open the ECUís reusable hard case and pick up the ECU, you can tell this is not like any other product. Itís built on a billet aluminium base with a heavy duty reinforced plastic cover, so itís solid and dependable, and like all the components of the ECU the main unit is IP68-rated for protection against dust and water ingress. In fact, the unit can be submerged in water and withstand massive temperature shifts without any influence to its operation.
The included wiring harness is similarly heavy duty and exceeds the quality of the OE wiring, and it uses all OE-style connectors and plugs that have gold-plated terminals. The harnesses and mounting brackets supplied are vehicle-specific, so they will neatly and conveniently plug straight in to your vehicle.
Duane showed us how the ARMAX ECU worked by hooking up the companyís Land Cruiser 200 to its in-house chassis dynamometer. Plugged into a laptop via the ECUís ethernet port (USB was considered too slow) we were able to see what the unit was reading via its on-board telemetry displaying a variety of sensors including exhaust temperature, coolant temperature, throttle position, engine speed, injection information, manifold vacuum- and fuel pressure. Winding the LC200 up on the dyno showed these readings changing under varying load conditions and then Duane showed how they changed in each of the ARMAX ECUís five pre-set settings.
The five settings can be selected via an in-cabin button within easy reach of the driver. They are tailored to provide optimum settings for different driving conditions, be it off-road, towing, economy or performance.
The ARMAX ECU also operates as a throttle controller, optimising the actuation of the accelerator for each setting. Many owners use throttle controllers these days and many of them use them in addition to tuning chips or flash tunes. The ARMAX ECU integrates the engine and throttle tuning in the one unit to give you a perfect application of torque when driving off-road; or a more aggressive shove in the back when you need instant acceleration as soon as you mash the pedal.
The ARMAX ECU not only tunes the boost and fuel levels, but also the fuel timing and fuel pressure to give the best results. This also works toward sustaining injector life, as simply increasing the number of injector opening and closing cycles (as most aftermarket tunes do) can prematurely degrade the injectors; the ARMAX ECU simulates the same as the OE ECU to maintain fuel system life and ultimate durability.
Maintaining durability and engine operation was paramount in the engineering of the ARMAX ECU. The unit closely monitors EGT to keep heat under control, and it will limit the amount of fuel and boost adjustment to keep everything within safe workable parameters for overall engine longevity. We saw how it achieves this when the LC200 was loaded up on the dyno, and if anything should step outside safe operating parameters the ARMAX ECU will automatically adjust to look after the engine and drivetrain of the vehicle at all times.
In another clever failsafe, the unit can be remotely accessed by Safari headquarters anywhere in the world that has a phone/ data signal. The engineers at Safari can access the data on the unit and diagnose any faults, in most cases which are not related to the ARMAX ECU system but are vehicle faults, such as faulty injectors or blocked fuel filters. It could also pick up an injector that is on the way out, where an early diagnosis could prevent costly engine damage and repairs.
Using this remote access function Safari can also update the tune of your engine to accommodate any changes to it such as the addition of aftermarket components.
Say, for example, youíre doing the big lap of Australia towing a caravan and you had the Safari ARMAX ECU fitted to the vehicle before you left home, but the car remained otherwise mechanically standard. While travelling, a friendly campfire chat with someone convinces you to fit a bigger exhaust system or an ARMAX intake snorkel to your vehicle and you get it done on the other side of the country to where you had the ECU fitted. Safari can instantly send you an updated tune program via the ethernet port, to really make the most of the new modifications.
The programs and calibrations Safari provides are so precise that changing the exhaust without other updates can result in the ARMAX ECU system going into protection mode. The pyrometer which measures the exhaust gas temperature needs to be precisely mounted within the exhaust system, and when you upsize the diameter of the exhaust tubing the positioning of the pyrometer also needs to be adjusted to get the best results. When you order an ARMAX ECU for your vehicle, Safari gives you a detailed questionnaire asking about any other mods to the vehicles, and it tunes the unit to suit.
COMFORT Delivers smooth and progressive power and torque for everyday use.
SPORT Enhanced throttle response, with strong power and torque delivery.
TOWING Puts an emphasis on bottom-end torque, with reduced top-end power to protect your vehicle while towing.
TRACTION ASSIST Perfect for tricky off-road driving, it delivers slow and smooth throttle response whilst maintaining full power and torque.
STANDARD Restores the vehicle to OE power and torque settings.
Itís this precise level of detail that inspires Safari with the confidence to claim that the ARMAX ECU is the safest way to tune your modern diesel engine, and in-turn, that confidence in the product can be passed on to the consumer. It comes back to the no compromise attitude that underlies every aspect of the ARMAX ECU.
AFTER an enlightening time with Duane in the Safari workshop, we hit the road in the companyís LC79. We chose the 79 for the road test as, with its manual gearbox, it would be easier to feel the difference between each of the ARMAX ECUís five settings while holding the car in a single gear. The 79 is also equipped with an ARMAX intake snorkel and a larger exhaust system.
Leaving the shop with the ARMAX ECU in its Comfort setting, it was instantly obvious that this was considerably more responsive than a regular VDJ Cruiser; but we wanted more, so with the engine and driveline up to temp we switched to Sport mode. Wow. The response is instantaneous and had us quickly shifting gears as it pulled up in to the hills. This thing rocks.
Switching between the different settings highlighted the throttleís doughier feel when in Traction Assist mode and the reduced performance in the Standard setting. Itís not really reduced, but itís vastly different to the rocket-ship performance in the Sport and Comfort modes.
On mountain-road climbs the betterperforming Sport and Comfort settings were worth a gear over the Standard OE settings when pulling out of corners. That is, you needed second gear to pull out of them in the Standard setting, while in the Sport mode it comfortably pulled hard out of the bends and up the hills in third. Itís always great to have that extra gear when youíre pulling a heavy trailer or load, and itís better for fuel economy.
To say we were impressed with the ARMAX ECU would be an understatement. The difference in performance and driveability was mind-blowing, and knowing it could be had with the safety and security that Safari has built into the product is reassuring. Safari backs the product with a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, as well as a driveline warranty on the vehicle. The ARMAX ECU is also interchangeable, so provided the unit is suitable for your model of car, it can be unplugged and swapped into your new or replacement vehicle. Thatís the only reason we can think of to warrant removing it.