Black Bear Tune Review

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BlackBearPerf

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Hi all:

I had an in-person Black Bear tune in Concord, NC this weekend, and wanted to share my experience. My truck is a 2012 Yukon Denali AWD with 100k miles on it. I elected not to purchase an AutoCal with my tune, reasoning that I had no need to return it to stock (no warranty), and no real plans to modify the engine any time soon.

My overall experience:

I met with Justin. He was right on time, having spotted my truck before I could text him to let him know I was there. We spent the first 10 minutes discussing what I wanted: disable the AFM, improve shifting and disable the downstream O2 sensors. He suggested that he could also disable the speed limiter. It wasn't on my list, but I figured why not? During this discussion, he did the programming changes, prompting me to turn the ignition key to run and back as needed. When that was done, he told me to start it for a road test. We went on an urban street loop and an interstate loop, transitioning through various driving scenarios from stop-and-go to WOT freeway blasts. He pointed out differences I would see in the performance of the truck. And he did some live monitoring of things like misfires and O2 sensor performance (more below). The whole thing took just under 45 minutes.

AFM delete and fuel economy:

This one is easy enough to confirm. I kept an eye on the instant fuel economy and driving mode all the way home (1-1/2 hour drive). As expected, it stayed in V8 mode the whole time. Whereas I could see 93mpg at times with AFM on, the best I saw was 53mpg with it off. However, these instant readings were for a few seconds at a time, at best. I typically only see this when coasting downhill. For 95+ percent of the time, it's in V8 mode anyway, with the hilly terrain in my area. So I don't expect any significant drop in mileage. Whatever I do see will be worth it for valvetrain longevity.

Transmission performance:

For me, the results are mixed. I'll start by saying that I think the ideal automatic transmission would be telepathic, by which I mean that it would understand my intentions and shift accordingly. Since we can't have that, I was hoping for shift programming that would do a better job of accommodating my driving style. To a large degree this did happen. The shift points seem to work out better, resulting in fewer times where the transmission was in the wrong gear for what I wanted to do with the truck. There is one particularly challenging part of my daily drive where I slow down to 5mph at the bottom of a hill, take a sharp turn, and accelerate back up another steep hill. This frequently causes a harsh, late shift just after the turn. After the tune, this happens less frequently. But it still happens about 1/3 of the time. I suppose this is unavoidable, though my other trucks (older, and "dumber") don't do it at all.

In addition to changing the shifting behavior, the speed and firmness of shift has been noticeably improved. In normal street driving, the shifts are detectable now, but not noticeable unless you're paying attention to it. Under full throttle, the shifts are significantly faster and firmer; bordering on harsh. I'm okay with this, now that I've driven it for a day. But it took some getting used to. I would say, it certainly is fun! On a smooth, dry road my truck feels much faster than before. I think a large part of this is due to the rapid shifts. On wet pavement, I'm pretty sure the full-throttle shifting would trigger traction control. I don't think that's a bad thing. But it's something to be prepared for.

Just to summarize, the transmission performance is better than before. It still doesn't quite meet my expectations. But BB has to work with what GM allows. In the vast majority of driving scenarios, it is much better. And in a few scenarios, it's about the same, maybe slightly worse due to the faster, firmer shifting.

Engine performance:

Justin and I didn't discuss it. But the BB website talks about horsepower increase. Justin did say I should stick to 93 octane, which I already planned on. Clearly, the factory tune will likely be more conservative. So I'm sure there are a few more horsepower than before. But I couldn't really tell in normal driving. Under full throttle, it feels noticeably faster. But I think this is more due to the shifting improvements than actual horsepower increase. This doesn't bother me. From a philosophical perspective, I satisfied my need for more power by buying the 6.2L engine in the first place. If I ever want more, I still have options. And future re-tunes are free!

Downstream O2s:

Not much to say here. I have no plans to remove the cats any time soon. But now if they get plugged, I don't have to replace them. I can just get a replacement "off-road" Y-pipe. Keep in mind SC has no inspections or emissions monitoring. So this is a no-brainer.

Live performance monitoring:

In my opinion, this is an undersold feature of the live tune. Justin could watch for misfires and monitor things like O2 sensor response to gauge the health of the engine. This was important for me because I just bought this truck with 99k miles on it. So I don't know the history of its maintenance. In my case, he was able to detect a very minor random misfire, which he attributed to likely carbon buildup. In addition to the fuel cleaner, and AFM clean I already did, his advice was to "drive aggressively" for a while. Okay. No problem, lol. Had the misfire been localized to one cylinder, it might have indicated a plug, wire or coil going bad. He also monitored the O2 sensors, which by now are probably about due for replacement. He confirmed that they weren't tracking together exactly right, and opined that they are probably original. So now I know to replace them soon. Beyond those things, he didn't see anything else wrong. So there is some peace of mind in that knowledge.

Summary:

Did I get my money's worth? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Without hesitation. Justin was great to work with. He was very knowledgeable. My truck drives better. And I have significantly more peace of mind about its condition. Lastly, if I need to make changes down the road, I can either ship my ECU for a re-tune, go back to Concord for a re-tune, or buy an AutoCal and download tunes. Plus...sticker!

Thank you Justin, and Black Bear Performance!

View attachment 212480
Thank you John for the kind words, and taking the time to write such a detailed review of our in person tune service. We really appreciate it. We are happy you are enjoying the tune. Let us know if you need anything else.
 

Fosscore

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Great BBP review. Best upgrade to both my 06 (in-person 93 octane) and 13 (AutoCal 89 octane). The 13 will scare you a bit if you hammer that downshift from 1-2 for sure. Or maybe that was my MIL that got scared as we had to get going fast.....I cannot recall, but it sure is fun and yes MPGs drop from the spirited driving, even at a casual clip. lol. Enjoy it man!!
 
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Tim Quigley

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Hmm it’s definitely a great review to ready though, I’m always hesitant on tuning a GM again. I had an edge programmer in my 2009 Sierra 1500 and I blew the pumpkin apart and the spyder gears too. It was covered under warranty but I’m convinced that it was the programmer. I have a 2012 Tahoe now and I just hit 110k on it. Very worried about doing a tuner
 

M3kanic

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Hmm it’s definitely a great review to ready though, I’m always hesitant on tuning a GM again. I had an edge programmer in my 2009 Sierra 1500 and I blew the pumpkin apart and the spyder gears too. It was covered under warranty but I’m convinced that it was the programmer. I have a 2012 Tahoe now and I just hit 110k on it. Very worried about doing a tuner
The g80 is known not to be reliable on the GMT800. It seems they did a better job with the GMT900. As long as you have maintained your vehicle properly I would not hesitate to tune it.

Sent from my SM-G955U using Tapatalk
 
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the_tool_man

the_tool_man

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Quick update. I like the shifting of the transmission much better than before the tune; subtle and firm under part throttle, nearly chirping the tires at full throttle. The one intersection that fools it still does, but not as often. Unfortunately, when it happens, the shift is pretty abrupt. My wife commented on it the other day. It seems to be something I'll have to live with.

My long term fuel mileage before tuning was 14.1mpg, in a combination of about 25% highway and 75% stop-and-go driving. After the tune, I went on a couple of road trips which had the average over 17mpg. But as I've been driving it locally and settling back into my normal driving pattern, the long term average is trending toward 14.5mpg.
 
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the_tool_man

the_tool_man

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I saw some recent activity on this thread, so I thought I'd provide an update, now three years after the tune. All is well so far. The truck drives and shifts as described above. I still enjoy the drive every time. I changed my O2 sensors (just the fronts since the rears are deactivated). Mileage has improved to about 15mpg average.

Some advice; be warned if you get this tune, you WILL tear a DS motor mount soon, lol. The already torquey 6.2, combined with firmer shifts and my enjoyment of the performance killed it in short order. I've replaced mine with an H2 mount as many others have done.

Lastly some bad news. BB no longer offers lifetime free retunes; reducing that to one year after initial tuning, I think. Also, they've suspended in-person tunes for an indefinite period. I suspect both of these changes were to reduce expenses, and motivate buyers to purchase AutoCal units which help their bottom line. I don't begrudge BB the right to change their business model, though it would have been nice to be grandfathered on the re-tunes. I'm still happy I went to BB. But I couldn't edit my review for some reason, and wanted to update everyone on their policies.
 

Joseph Garcia

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Yes, IMO, a BB tune is the single most worthwhile mod you can make on these trucks. I agree with @the_tool_man on the disappointment/dismay of the BB changes in re-tune policies. I also agree that BB has the right to change their business model and policies, as they see fit.
 

Geotrash

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+1. I'm okay with them changing their busines model too, but when I bought my tune, the published deal was lifetime tunes, so that figured into my purchasing decision. To find out that those of us who bought under that policy are no longer eligible for free tunes makes me not want to recommend them any longer. Maybe they will "tune" in here and set the record straight if we're misunderstanding the policy.
 

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