Kia Stinger JB4

Kia Stinger Tuning Guide

Chandler Stark

Meet Chandler

Chandler is an automotive expert with over a decade of experience working on and modifying cars. A couple of his favorites were his heavily modded 2016 Subaru WRX and his current 2020 VW Golf GTI. He’s also a big fan of American Muscle and automotive history. Chandler’s passion and knowledge of the automotive industry help him deliver high-quality, insightful content to TuningPro readers.

Utilizing either a single-turbo 2.0 liter inline-4 or a twin-turbo 3.3 liter V6, the Stinger looked classy and produced enviable performance. Yet, it’s well known that Kia detuned both engines from the factory and left a lot of performance on the table. One of the best ways to get increase power and performance is through Kia Stinger tuning. In this guide, we discuss Kia Stinger tuning, power gains, benefits, and some of the best tuners.

Kia Stinger Tuning Basics

By far, the most cost effective mod you can do to boost horsepower and torque is a Kia Stinger tune. With just Kia Stinger tuning and no other bolt-on mods, you can easily gain more than 15% horsepower and torque. It’s not the cheapest mod out there, but in terms of hp per $, it’s the best value.

The point of installing a Kia Stinger tuner is to gain horsepower and torque, and it can also improve fuel economy. In addition, if you have other mods — like downpipes, an intercooler, or an intake — tuning will allow for even larger gains. As long as your Kia Stinger tune is from a reputable and trusted company, they are safe and effective upgrades. 

Kia Stinger tunes work by either rewriting or manipulating signals from the engine control unit (ECU). On modern cars, an ECU controls pretty much every aspect of the engine and vehicle. This includes boost pressure, air-to-fuel ratios, ignition timing, camshaft timing, fuel pressure, and more. Tuners optimize these parameters to do things like increase boost pressure and ignition timing. These optimizations result in increased horsepower and torque output from the engine. 

It’s important to understand that when Kia tunes their vehicles they have a huge number of variables to account for besides performance. This includes emissions, which can be very hard to tune around and make power. Aftermarket tuners do not have to worry about these, and can almost purely work on performance gains. That’s why aftermarket tuning delivers so much power, especially on the Stinger. 

Flash Tuners vs PiggyBack Tuners

For the most part there are two main kinds of Kia Stinger tuning options: flash tuning or piggyback tuning. Both of them are effective and have their pros and cons, and both are very popular choices for the Theta II and Lambda II engines. 

First up we have flash tuning. Flash tuning is a more comprehensive method of tuning that involves the installation of new software on the car’s ECU. Using a handheld tuning device, the customer downloads a tuning file or “map” to their tuning device from their computer. Then, the customer plugs the tuner into the OBDII port on their car and installs the software onto the vehicle.

It’s a pretty simple process that allows for the ECU’s parameters to be completely changed and optimized by a tuning company. Of the two, flash tuning allows for greater and more precise control of the engine, but it’s more expensive. 

Piggyback tuning is significantly different from flash tuning. Piggybacks plug into the physical ECU (and various sensors) on your engine and manipulates the electronic signals as they come in and out. This allows for changes to boost pressure, timing advance, and many other variables. When you purchase a piggyback device it comes preloaded with various tunes, some of which can be adjusted. 

Both flash tuners and piggyback tuners are very popular on the Kia Stinger. You can even use both together: If you end up getting a flash tune and change your mods, you can add a piggyback on top to help compensate. Generally, we recommend flash tuners due to the increased control, but both are solid options.

Kia Stinger Tuning Benefits

  • 20+% horsepower and torque increases
  • Improved power band
  • Improved fuel economy
  • Datalogging
  • DTC Troubleshooting and Clearing

By far the biggest benefit to a Kia Stinger tune is the big increases in horsepower and torque. Depending on the specific tuner you use and your mods, you can easily add more than 20% horsepower and torque just with tuning. This equates to more than 60+ wheel-horsepower and torque without any bolt-ons.

In addition to having much better peak power, you’ll also notice a significantly larger overall power band. Both the Theta II and Lambda II will make more horsepower earlier and hold out for longer, meaning a much improved mid-range. Depending on the tune, you can also see some increases in fuel economy by a few mpg. Though keep in mind, the more you take advantage of the newfound power the worse mileage you will ultimately get. 

Another advantage of getting a handheld tuner is they allow for data monitoring, data logging, and DTC troubleshooting and clearing. If you want to be able to monitor things like boost pressure, air-to-fuel ratios, or fuel pressure, a tuner is a great tool that allows you to do those things. Tuners can also usually read and clear DTC codes, stopping you from paying a shop or buying another device. 

Kia Stinger Tune Power Levels

Kia Stinger Tune Dyno

While every tuner is different, most of them produce relatively similar performance as each other. Some people will swear by one tuner or another, but most of them come within a few horsepower of each other in the end. Based on the LAP3 tune, these are the power figures you can expect with different stages of tuning on the Stinger:

Lambda II: 3.3 liter twin-turbo V6 (Kia Stinger GT2)

  • Stock Baseline (365 horsepower): 310-330 wheel-horsepower @ 14psi on Dynojet
    • Stage 1.0: 380-410 wheel-horsepower (91+ Octane) 
    • Stage 1.5: 410-430 wheel-horsepower (93+ Octane)
    • Stage 2.0: 430-460 wheel-horsepower (95+/91+ Water/Meth Injection Required)
    • Stage 2.5: 460-500 wheel-horsepower (93+ Water/Meth Injection Required)

Theta II: 2.0 liter turbocharged I4 (Kia Stinger GT)

  • Stock (255 horsepower) 190-200 wheel-horsepower on Dynojet
    • Stage 1.0: 220-230 wheel-horsepower (91+ Octane)
    • Stage 1.5: 230-250 wheel-horsepower (93+ Octane)

That’s right, you can make 500 wheel-horsepower on the Kia Stinger 3.3 twin-turbo with just tuning alone. With the 2.0 liter single-turbo, you can gain as much as 60 wheel-horsepower over stock. That’s what makes it such an effective and popular mod, even more so than most bolt-ons. 

Kia Stinger Tune Risks

Now that we’ve talked about the benefits of Kia Stinger tuning, it’s important to also acknowledge the risks. Since you are taking your engine out of the factory calibrations you are also getting rid of some of the safeguards Kia/Hyundai put in place. Depending on how hard you push your car with modifications and tuners, they can lead to engine damage and potentially engine failure. 

This is why it is important to only use reputable tuners that are well reviewed and have made a solid name for themselves in the Stinger community. In some cases, your powertrain warranty can be effectively voided if you tune your car and something happens. As long as you use a good tune you will most likely be fine, but it’s still important to acknowledge the risks. 

Locked ECUs

Unfortunately, from the factory, Kia locks the ECUs on all versions of the Kia Stinger. This means that the ECU cannot be flashed until it is unlocked by a third party. Alternatively, you can get a new ECU that is already unlocked and use that instead. Though improvements are being made, most of the time unlocking the ECU requires it being sent out. The exception is the EK1 Lite from SXTH Element, which can unlock the ECU remotely. 

Upgraded Spark Plugs

It’s important to keep in mind that if you plan on tuning you will need to upgrade from the stock spark plugs. They are known to be prone to blowout, and can lead to misfiring and detonation. It’s best to consult with your tuner on which plugs they like, but usually for modified engines under 500whp, 1-Step Colder Spark Plugs are recommended. For those over 500whp, 2-Step Colder Spark Plugs are recommended. 

Best Kia Stinger Tuning

  • JB4
  • LAP3
  • SXTH Element

1) LAP3 Tuning

Kia Stinger 500whp

First on our list of top Kia Stinger tuners is LAP3 flash tuning. LAP3 is widely regarded as the standard for Kia Stinger tuning, and they have tuned some of the fastest Stingers in the United States. LAP3 offers tuning for both the Theta (LAP3 Stinger 2.0T tuning) and Lambda (LAP3 Stinger 3.3T tuning) engines, and their tunes make considerable power. In addition, LAP3 also offers Kia Stinger transmission control unit (TCU) tuning. TCU tuning allows for launch control, quicker shifter, raising of the torque limiter, and auto upshift logic at redline when TC & SC disabled to avoid the rev limiter limp mode

The drawback to LAP3 is going to be the price, as it is pretty expensive. It is already $1,500 for just a standard stage 1 ECU tune, and that does not include price hikes for higher stages and the price of the new LAP3 Stinger ECU. A TCU Tune is another $1,500 on top of that, so you’d be looking at $3,000+ at a minimum. With that being said, LAP3 Stinger tunes are the most powerful and most reliable, so you are definitely paying for quality. 

2) Kia Stinger JB4

Next up we have the JB4 for Kia Stinger. While somewhat new to the Hyundai/Kia community, the JB4 has made a considerable reputation for itself in the BMW community over the years. The JB4 is not a flash tuner, but is instead a piggyback tuner. It is by far the best piggyback for the Kia Stinger, and is much better and more reliable than its competitor, RaceChip. 

The JB4 offers several different maps for the Stinger that include pump gas, ethanol, and water/meth injection. In addition to the pre-loaded maps, you can also make your own adjustments (increasing boost, etc.) through their app. It’s a very easy system to set up and use, and it’s extremely popular for the Stinger. It’s also much cheaper than custom tuning by a wide margin, while still offering gains of 100 wheel-horsepower. 

3) SXTH Element Tuning

Our final suggestion for Kia Stinger tuning is from SXTHNK Tuning. SXTHNK is the tuning arm of SXTH Element, and they have recently been making a name for themselves with their EK1 Lite tuner. The EK1 Lite Kia Stinger tuner is SXTH’s proprietary tuning device, and it can be used to load their custom tunes onto your vehicle. 

Though they are not as established as the other three options, SXTH is quickly building a solid following in the Stinger community. They are one of the cheaper options for Kia Stinger tuning, though you do have to buy the tune and the EK1 separately. Still, it’s a cheaper option than either LAP3 or Lozic, and SXTH can unlock your ECU remotely, which is a huge bonus. 

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