Saturday, May 4, 2019

Driving a Porsche GT3

A friend of mine bought a 2018 Porsche GT3.  His has the PDK trans and PCCB brakes, along with many other options as Porsches often do. We took a short trip to a car show about 90 miles away.  Our drive was all freeway.  He let me drive the car on the way back.  Here are some of my thoughts about this car.

On the trip there we were cruising along with traffic.  The GT3 lacks a back seat and sound dampening so it is louder than other 911s.  However, it is not bad at all while cruising.  I could take this car on long trips just fine.  The ride is very firm of course but even on our terrible roads it was quite livable.  On the trip back I drove the car.  When I started merging on the freeway was the first time I had used much throttle and that is when I noticed the sound.  I only used about 1/3 throttle maybe but the engine responded with a very crisp wail. I had very high expectations for this car as far as the engine sound and was shocked that it far exceeded them already.  It is addicting.  It makes you want to hear it again and again.  The engine is so responsive and the sound so fantastic.  Every time I would give it a bit of throttle I was rewarded with that fantastic sound.  This is the pinnacle of Porsche flat 6 sound right here.  It is something you can't record and play back.  I heard all the professional in-car videos from GT3s at tracks but it does not come close to the real experience.  You not only hear it but you also feel it.  I also noticed the difference between being the passenger and driving it. 

Since we were driving on the street I was not able to get anywhere close to this cars potential. You really need a good road course for that. I was able to do a few short bursts of acceleration and a few on and off ramps though and that gave me a hint of what this car can do. The high revving, high compression engine has a solid punch with zero delay.  The bite matches the bark too. I found myself really wanting to take this car to a track. Luckily Speed Vegas has a GT3 and a GT3RS so I will add that to my to-do list next time I am there.

The GT3 is a car that is not only focused on delivering fantastic lap times on a road course but also engaging the driver in a way very few cars can match.  It is the total experience.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Driving Speed Vegas in a Ferrari 488

Speed Vegas

We visit Las Vegas about once a year or so.  I don't gamble and I am not much into the night life either but Vegas has many more things to do than that.  One great example is Speed Vegas. I found this a few years ago and it has been on my list to try for a while.  I finally did it.  I would recommend it to others.  They have a nice selection of cars and you get to take them on a track at speed, where these sports cars belong.  While you can rent cars like these and drive them around on the street, that is actually more money and you will never (legally anyway) feel what they can really do.  At Speed Vegas though you do get to feel the car at speed on a track.  They have great instructors and the process is simple.  If you have never been on track at speed, this is a great way to get introduced to it.  If you have done track days, this is a great way to see what those cars you have been pining away for are really like without having to buy one. While the cost is about the same as entry to a track weekend, this is a different thing being able to drive their cars.

Looking at the selection of cars the two I wanted to drive most were the Ferrari (458 or 488) and the Porsche GT3 RS.  Since I had never even driven a Ferrari, I chose the 488 with their 5 lap package.

They start with a drivers meeting like any other track event.  There they explain the track layout, basic cornering and braking, explain the cones, passing, etc. They fit you with a helmet, pair you with an instructor and out you go to the car. Heading out to the track you test the brakes, wait for clearance, and enter the track.  The instructor talks very quickly showing you the line, braking and turning points, shift points, etc.  For the next 5 laps you just keep correcting mistakes and improving.  At the end you get a photo of you with the car you drove.

The track is a collection of small corners along the back and a decent mostly straight on the front.
Its not my favorite track but it does the job well to let you feel the cars. The first time to drive a track it is clumsy.  It takes a while to learn the track and get good at it.

If you have never done track days before, I would recommend starting Speed Vegas with the Cayman.  It is less money and it would be a blast at this track.  When I was there they had a Cayman GTS and 5 laps in it was under $200.  I would think this would be the best bang for the buck your first time here.  Then once you are familiar with the track in the Cayman, try one of the more exotic cars next time, or add another car right after (which has a discount).  For me I plan to try the GT3 RS next time, presuming they still have it then.

If you are interested in cars that Speed Vegas does not have, or you want to try a different track, there are another places very similar at the Las Vegas Speedway Commerce Center North if Las Vegas.  For instance Exotics Racing and Dream Racing.

The Ferrari 488

This is the first Ferrari I had ever driven.  I rode through town in a 430 once but that was my total time in a Ferrari up to now.  This car makes about 660HP.  My Cayman S makes less than half that. The Ferrari does weigh about 300lbs more than the Cayman S though. The brakes were great.  They were steel rotors for track duty but had a solid feel and you could push them very hard.  They were easy to modulate and not prone to lockup.  Honestly, it was similar to my Cayman S with moderate track pads.  We had it in sport mode the whole time.  The traction control was too aggressive in this mode.  I am pretty sure the delay in power was much more than turbo lag.  At times under hard cornering when you wanted to apply the power and track out it was very slow to respond.  It had more under steer than I like too.  As far as cornering, it did not feel like it had anything over my Cayman S.  In fact, the Cayman feels more connected and agile. Once the power came on full it accelerated nicely but was never a handful.  The car was great to drive but honestly I still love my Cayman S.  Maybe if I drove the car much more, and took it to a few track weekends I would change my mind but I doubt it.  I left still loving my Cayman S which is a good thing.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

2006 Porsche Cayman S Fabspeed Headers

When I bought my Cayman S it had a check engine (MIL) on because of a catalyst efficiency fault, meaning the catalyst was no longer passing a test the OBDII system does to ensure it is working properly.  I was able to trick it by moving the downstream O2 sensor but that would occasionally give another fault.  I researched what options I had for replacing the catalyst.  On this car the catalyst is part of the header assembly.  I started looking into high performance headers.  There are some options out there from a few different manufacturers but the best appeared to be Fabspeed.  They were also the most expensive.  When I started looking in 2014 they were $3500 a set.  Yikes.  That seemed pretty high so I waited.  They finally dropped to $2,895 a few years later.  Then I got a coupon for 10% off through Pelican parts and I was very close to buying.  Then one day in early December 2018 I saw an ad for a Fabspeed sale right at the Fabspeed website.  I figured it would be hats and shirts but my headers were on sale for 15% off.  I immediately added to cart and bought them.

I made a short video to hear the old exhaust as I started the car cold to compare later.

They came in after Christmas and I made an unboxing video.

I was impressed with what I saw.  They were like art, but much more useful.  It was cold and the roads were salty so I waited to install them.  Finally March began to warm up so I put them on.  It took me an afternoon.  I had a few complications as can be expected when working with older exhaust.  I had to cut the bolts for the 3-bolt flange and I had to replace one of the downstream O2 sensors (longer story).  Since I had taken the right side muffler off before, the rusted flange bolts had already been replaced.  I had the right side out in 30 minutes.  The headers fit very well.  I did not upgrade the rest of the exhaust, except the muffler outlets I had done just after buying the car.

While most cars are a big hassle to replace headers, the Cayman is very simple since everything is really under the car with nothing in the way.  You can easily see and access all of the head flange bolts.

The other end has a simple 3-bolt flange which is easy to access after removing the wheel and the small plastic panel.

 The factory nuts rust to the bolts and almost never come out.  Some will break off, others you have to get out the cutting tools.  That is the hardest part of the whole job.

Here are some shots comparing with the factory headers.

Notice the equal length mandrel bent primaries going into a nice 3 into 1 collector on the Fabspeed headers.  The factory has each tube connecting into a single tube into the catalyst.  Also notice how the Fabspeed has a more straight shot through the catalyst whereas the factory hits it at an angle.  I also noticed the inlet side of the factory headers looks very restrictive.

I am surprised how bad the factory headers look for performance.  The Fabspeed design is far better.

Here is what they look like installed.

Here is a video of the very first cold start after the header upgrade. Since I changed only the headers you might expect the sound to be about the same.

It could be my imagination but it seems to rev quicker now.  It does seems to have slightly different sound on acceleration too.  At idle is seems about the same (as expected).  Driving the car after the header install is only slightly different than before.  It seems smoother and it does feel like the power is smoother and a bit higher everywhere.  Some have said they lost a bit down low and gain at the top.  In my case it seems like it gained a bit everywhere.  My case is unique since I left the stock mufflers and downstream cats in place.  As I mentioned before, I had already replaced the very restrictive outlet "T" with mandrel bent tubes back when I got the car.  I also removed the intake sound snorkel and panel and installed a K&N air filter around the same time so both of those mods were done well before.

I plan to install an intake plenum and 82mm GT3 throttle body next.  I am also considering what to do with the mufflers.  Sound is a personal thing.  I don't like a raspy sound or a drone, nor do I like cracks and pops, so I want to be careful to not do that.  I like the sound I have now but would not mind turning the volume of it up a bit.  I am more interested in power than loud.  I also like the induction sound at wide open throttle more than exhaust sound.

Update 3/24/2019: After driving the car a week through several warm-up cycles and some good highway runs I re-torqued the headers per the instructions.  Some bolts were a tad loose so this is a good thing to do and it is very easy (literally a 15 minute job). As expected the headers do change color with use.  Now they look gold (aligning with the price I suppose).

Update 3/29/2019: Now that I have been driving it for a couple weeks I have noticed more about the performance and driveability.  There is a hill on my way home that has a 45mph speed limit.  Before the headers I would have to downshift for that hill, now I don't.  The performance at low RPM is smoother and it has more power there.  Light throttle operation is crisper than before.  The engine is a bit more responsive to throttle input.  The power seems to be a bit more everywhere.  The difference is not huge but it is noticeable. 

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Mercedes E350 LED Headlights

My 2010 E350 does not have the HID option.  It has the old halogen headlights.  My other cars have HID and now I am spoiled.  I had upgraded to brighter halogens but that also means shorter life. LED headlights are now becoming more common so I looked into converting the E350.  Unfortunately I was not able to find a reputable light manufacturer that makes these yet.  I was hoping for Osram, Hella, GE, Philips, Bosch, or someone to make these but could not find any from them.  I ended up on Amazon and after reviewing ratings I settled on these:

Lasfit H7 

I also had to get some Tomall adapter clips to put them in (these clips were awful).  It took a bunch of bending and modifying to make this clips work and they still don't work well.  The E350 uses H7 bulbs.  They are unpleasant to work with as they have these metal retainers that cut you to ribbons when you work with them.  The factory integrates this retainer into the connector making it easier.  The passengers side is easy to access but the drivers side is very tight.  I am able to get my hand in there somehow but its hard to work with the retainer.  To make it easier, I welded the retainer to the collar that comes with the Lasfit bulbs, installed the retainer clip and collar assembly, then pushed the bulb into place.

I had my passenger side headlight burn out so I changed it first.  It was cold so I did not spend the time to change the drivers side at that time.  This gave the opportunity to compare them though.  A week or so later I finally changed the drivers side too.  The videos below were shot with an inexpensive Yi Compact Dash Camera.

Here is a video of the old headlights.

Here is a video with a mix of headlights.  At this point I had upgraded the passengers side (right) to Lasfit LED but the drivers side was still halogen.

Finally, both headlights upgraded to Lasfit LED.
I am interested to see how these last.  I will post an update later.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Owning a Mercedes GL450

We finally sold the aging Volvo XC70 and upgraded to a 2013 Mercedes GL450 in the fall of 2018.  We wanted a vehicle that could comfortably travel 5 adults and luggage, be able to tow the Cayman on a trailer for track days, drive great in the Illinois winter, and haul stuff.  While I am not a fan of SUVs generally, they do have their purpose and the U does stand for utility (although I often refer to SUVs as silly urban vehicles).  We bought it certified pre-owned (CPO) from Isringhausen in Springfield with 64k miles.  We had considered several vehicles including Audi Q7, Lincoln Navigator, Ford Raptor, Volvo XC90, and more before deciding a GL fit us best. We had been looking for a GL for about a year.  We came close to buying a 2007 in 2017 but found it had issues.  Most of these prior to 2013 also had the air bag recall and no fix in sight. While I was hoping to spend less on an SUV we went ahead and stepped up to the 2013 and I think it was a good choice.  While we were looking at this one, Isringhausen also had a 2012 GL550 and we drove that one as well.
Left: 2012 GL550, Right: 2013 GL450
The 2012 GL550 (X164) is the last of the older design and we really liked the improvements that came with the 2013 (X166).  The 2012 had around the same miles and was also white.  We did not want black (which over half seem to be) and silver was not our favorite color either.  It was nice to have 2 while ones that were both in the year and price range we were looking for.  While the GL550 always gets more power than the GL450, the GL550 has other nice features like real leather and heated rear seats.  Between these 2 vehicles, the GL450 has a wider powerband and more torque due to turbocharging and direct injection.  It has only 20HP less than the 2012 GL550.  Acceleration to 60 is actually the same for these 2 vehicles but fuel economy is 2mpg worse for the GL550.  I also preferred the 19 inch rims of the GL450 to the 21 inch rims and wider tires of the GL550.

Ours has the panorama sunroof (3 glass sections) which makes for a very open feel.  We also have lane tracking, Parktronic, trailer towing, lighting package with Bi-Xenon adaptive headlights, Keyless-Go, and more.  While it did not have heated back seats, we just put a regular heated blanket back there and plugged it into the existing 115V outlet under the back seat.  Works great actually.  

Ours has the 4.7L twin turbo intercooled direct injected V8 engine (M278) which was only in the GL450 for 2013 and 2014.  Later models used a 3.0L V6 twin turbo and ealier models had a naturally aspirated 4.7L.  This powertrain is the same as the GL550 in 2013 and 2014 which was rated at 429HP but in the GL450 it is derated to 362HP.  I can get a flash file and rate this GL450 up to 500HP and 580ft-lbs if I really wanted more power.  No hardware changes needed.  However, I am very satisfied with the power it has.  The nice thing is that this powetrtrain should be very robust and durable with this lower rating.

Just shortly after buying it we took a 1000 mile trip in it.  Gas mileage was as expected, 19.9 on the highway but we were moving along briskly with 70MPH speed limits the whole way. The total trip also included in-town driving as we made many stops and spent time at the destination.
It drove great for an SUV.  Like our E350, there was very little driver fatigue.  Very comfortable.  

Friday, August 24, 2018

Porsche Cayman S Car Stereo Head Unit Upgrade

As I discussed in my Car Stereo Head Unit Wish List post a while back, I wanted to upgrade my stereo to add some features such as navigation and backup camera. I finally did it.  Here is a summary of that installation.

Head Unit Selection

I finally chose the Pumpkin AE0273B-08A. I liked this one because it had:
  • A volume knob (a must have)
  • Android 8.0
  • 4GB RAM (so multiple apps can run smoothly)
  • 32GB internal memory (because apps and app data does best here)
  • Google Play store (so I can install any apps I want like Waze, Google Maps, etc.)
  • Capacitive tough screen (versus resistive or other)
  • Backup camera support
  • External GPS and WiFi antennas (for better GPS accuracy)
The way I will use this when I am on the road is just hotspot my phone and let the unit connect to it via WiFi (for internet) and Bluetooth (for hands free calling).  This way the head unit does all the heavy lifting for navigation,Waze, etc. I can also run Spotify, Amazon Music, Play Music, etc., right in this unit and control it without having to mess with my phone.

I purchased this from Amazon for $299.  However you can also buy it directly from Pumpkin for that same price.  By the time you read this it will likely be even less as things like this often drop fast.  When I first saw this unit it was $349.

Electronics Integration

My 2006 Cayman S has the Bose system which makes this upgrade much more complicated and expensive.  The Bose system uses a MOST fiber optic network to communicate between the head unit, CD changer, and amplifier.  The car has a 10 speaker system which uses very low impedance speakers as well. There are several paths you can take when making upgrades to this system but here are the most likely:
  1. Replace pretty much everything. Since the speakers are non-standard you would really need to replace all of them except the sub woofer.  The Sub woofer has its own amp and you can connect a standard low-level output to it with some modification.  Everything else though would need to go.  
  2. Get a MOST gateway to connect into the factory amplifier and retain the amp and speakers. This way you can just replace the head unit and not have to change the rest.
  I chose option 2.  This sounds like the simpler and cheaper way to go until you see the cost of these gateways.  I found some as cheap as $99 and others over $600.  There is another complication: the factory stereo only has battery power and ground.  Pretty much everything else is handled with data link messages over CAN or MOST.  You could work around the CAN stuff by just running wires to the signals you need (key power, park brake, illumination, reverse gear, etc).  I chose a $300 kit that included both the MOST and CAN gateway modules. One of the differences between the lower priced kits and the most expensive ones is the support of fader.  The Axxess kit I chose only has 2 channel (stereo) inputs so you lose the ability to fade front to back.  In the Cayman this is not a big issue as there are only 2 seats and a very small cabin.  In a larger 4-door vehicle you may want to choose differently.

I used a terminal strip to connect the Axxess kit to the Pumpkin wiring as shown in the photos below.

I got the system installed in the car to find that the CAN module (labelled STK760) did not work.  That module is responsible for energizing the key switch input to the system and it was not being energized.  I called Axxess who makes this kit.  They had me measure voltage in the CAN wires.  Both wires were at 2.5V.  They said this means this CAN network is a slow/symmetric network and so the module in the PO904 kit would not work and I needed the PO90052 instead which has a CAN module labelled STK758.  These modules look the same but support the different CAN types.

I received the PO90052 and installed it.  Now the CAN module worked.  The unit would power up and it supplied the park brake and reverse inputs I needed.  Great, except there was still no sound.  The MOST module did not work.  Rats.  I connected my factory stereo to confirm everything else was still working and it was.  I messaged Axxess tech support with my problem.  He had me send a photo of the wire connection at the MOST module.  From that he determined that they had made the wiring incorrectly and that the amp power ON wire (blue/white) needed to be moved over 2 places.
I figured out how to release the terminal and move it over and it worked! Finally. The terminals are released using a small pin from the front (the side that plugs into the module).  I pushed the pin into each side of the terminal carefully bending the retaining tabs in to release the terminal.  Once you get the terminal out, bend the tabs back out so they will catch when the terminal is placed in the correct spot.

One other thing.  The AXXESS adapter did not include the power antenna power wire in the connector for some reason. Since I did not use any of the speaker wires, I just used one of them (green/black) to go into position A5 of the ISO10847 main power connector and wired it to key ON power coming from the AXXESS CAN module.  Without this the radio reception is poor.

These modules don't have mounts so you need to wrap them in foam before placing them in the dash or else they will rattle around. These modules do not produce much heat. I happened to have some Alcantara headliner material from a few weeks ago when I replaced the headliner in this car. It's perfect for this as it has foam and the Alcantara is actually a durable covering.
Fitting all of this into the dash in a way that will not rattle around and where you can also fit the stereo is a challenge. I put the CAN module into a opening on the left (US drivers) side.  I fit snugly and tucked away clear of the head unit.  I put the MOST module directly behind the head unit towards the left.  It's important to not king the MOST fiber optic leads as they sharp bends can cause problems and these can break.  The bulky ISO connectors also need to be wrapped and tucked out of the way of the head unit.  Unfortunately I ended up with 2 ISO connectors: one from the Axxess integration kit that is used for power and ground, and the other from the Pumpkin wiring that has all the speaker level outputs (which I am not currently using).

Installation into dash

Dash Bezel

This was the biggest challenge.  I purchased a American International POR911S kit.  This kit is actually not good.  The plastic side mounts are too thick to fit the Pumpkin head unit.  They have little mounting tabs that won't compress to fit the opening because they hit the stereo.  If you ever did manage to get a head unit installed, removing it again would be a bear.  The only part I used was the dash bezel itself and even that required significant modifications.  The opening was too small to fit the Pumpkin properly so I had to trim it, a bunch. I used a router with a very small bit to carefully trim the opening.
Trimming the bezel with a router

I did the trimming by carefully setting the depth and trimming the back side of the opening.  Then I finished with a file.  I had to trim in many places to make this fit correctly.  I think I spend about 4 hours just on the bezel.
Bezel trimmed and set in place
Now I needed a way to retain the bezel.  The bezel kit was set up to have the side mounts also hold the bezel but this will not work in my installation with custom mounts. I needed to make clips that had some spring to them that would fit into the slots in the bezel and behind the side panels that fit on either side of the center console.  These side panels clip and screw in place well so these clips would hold the bezel firmly in place once the side panels were installed.  I bought some 90 degree speed nuts from the hardware store and began modifying them into retention clips.

These will fit in the bezel slots in the sides and then catch behind the center stack trim panels of the Cayman to retain the bezel.  I also attached felt pads like the ones you use on kitchen cabinets to create for constant pressure to hold the bezel tight.

Head Unit Mounts

Now I needed to fabricate mounts for the Pumpkin since the ones in the kit were not going to work.  I started with raw sheet metal from the hardware store.  I used the plastic mounts from the POR911S kit as patterns.  I used a sheet metal cutting blade on the table saw to carefully cut the metal for the mounts.

Significant drilling, bending, and shaping ensued.  I also had to add screws and nut to fit into the slides to hold the back of the head unit.  Of course this made it too thick to fit so I had to grind them down.  I then set the unit in place in the dash with the bezel in place to find the right depth.
I marked it in the image above.  I then removed the mounts and carefully bent this front edge.  This limits how deep the stereo goes into the dash to meet the bezel properly.  I also had to trim the bent edge to eliminate interference with the bezel.  I trimmed the back of the bezel to also allow proper clearance.  Once I got everything to fit, I cleaned, primed, and painted these new mounts so they would not rust. Obviously I was not going for pretty here.
Next I needed to figure out how to actually retain the radio and the bezel.  The factory mount had a set screw on the passengers side.  I noticed the drivers side also had a spot for a set screw so I installed one.  Now I had set screws on both sides.  I set the head unit in place and ran the screws in until they left marks on the mounts.  I then drilled small holes right where these screws contacted so the screw would not lock into the holes.  

Great, now the head unit mounts firmly in place.  I do track days and solid mounts are very important.

Backup Camera

When I first got the Pumpkin I powered it up on the table and set it up, installing the apps I wanted and configuring it.  I connected an old camcorder to it to test the backup camera and video inputs.  The Pumkin did not recognize the signal.  I also noticed that Pumpkin says to use their backup camera to ensure compatibility.  So fine, I bought their camera for $15.  When it showed up I immediately noticed how huge it was.  
I went ahead and mounted this one in the front for a front facing parking camera.  It fit in the pocket under the front license plate.  Since this and the pocket are all black, it blends right in.
The Pumpkin has a video in you can connect this to.  I put a quick link to this video in on the bottom row of the main UI screen.  Tap that button and the camera pops right up.

Then I started searching for a better place to mount this and route the wires.  It was looking very grim.  There is really not a good place on this car for a camera and even if I could find a spot, how would I route the wires?  It was looking like I would have to remove the whole bumper cover or something to route the wires.  The exhaust system spans the whole back of this car so running wires from underneath was not going to work.  Then I found this thread on Planet 9.  I also found a better and much smaller backup camera on Amazon from TOPTIERPRO.  This had a mounting bracket that went behind the license plate instead of in top and the camera was much smaller.

I removed the taillight assembly on the right side and the right side license plate assembly.  Now you can actually see right through from the taillight opening to the license plate light opening.  Nice.
I used a coat hanger, cut it and bent it straight with a hook on the end and pulled the wires right though.  I used a small round file to make a notch in the back inner corner of the license light opening for the wires and snapped the license light back in place.
I connected the camera power and ground wires to the backup light wire and taillight ground as shown below using a terminal block. Note that this connector is inside the car, protected from weather.
I tucked the camera wires under the taillight seal which is a thick foam.  I also taped the wires in place and tapes the connectors which are outside the interior and not fully protected from weather.
It works very well.  This camera has very bright white LED lights to assist the backup lights.

The backup camera function does not require that Android be booted up to work.  When reverse is selected the unit directly feeds the camera to the screen.  

Parts and Tools Needed

Parts List

  • Pumpkin AE0273B-08A Android stereo head unit if found on Amazon.
  • American International POR911S dash kit.
  • Axxess  PO90052 or PO904 head unit replacement kit. There are other options and this is only needed if you plan to retain the Bose amp (and that you have the Bose sound system).
  • Sheet metal stock.  I used 22 gauge steel.  
  • 90 degree angle speed nuts to be modified to retain the bezel.
  • Screw to retain head unit similar to the one on the right side.
  • Small screws and nuts for mounts to slide into opening.
  • Terminal strip to connect Pumpkin wiring to the Axxess integration kit.
  • Primer and paint to paint the fabricated mounts so they don't rust.
  • Antenna adapter for the AM/FM antenna lead. 
  • TOPTIERPRO backup camera if found on Amazon. Others will also work.

Tools List

  • Screwdrivers.
  • Torx drivers.
  • 7mm wrench.
  • wire cutters and strippers.
  • Router with 3/16" straight bit.
  • Table saw with sheet metal cutting blade.
  • Hammers and chisels to make mounts and bezel clips.
  • Plastic prying tool to remove trim.

Using the System


At low to mid volume the sound seems very similar to before, as expected.  From about 3/4 volume to max it seems like it may not get quite as loud as before.  It still gets plenty loud for me.  I would guess it is maybe 15% less loud at max.  As I mentioned, I can't fade the sound since the Axxess kit has only 2 channels for input.  

I could easily wire the subwoofer output from the Pumpkin to the Bose subwoofer since this has its own amplifier with line inputs.  This would enable the subwoofer control from the Pumkin so you could adjust the subwoofer level.  I did not bother with this as it seems fine running the subwoofer through the factory Bose system. I doubt this would improve sound quality but it would give the user a bit more control.

9/7/2018 update:  I installed an AXXESS AX-LDBK Universal Line Output Converter Power Converter between the head unit and the MOST adapter.  This gives the ability to add some gain to the line level signal going to the MOST box.  I was able to completely restore the sound level and quality to match the factory head unit. This little $35 unit is well worth it. 


The UI is good.  It seems very responsive.  The launcher they provided seems good too.  This has less system apps than most Android devices and this makes sense.  The use cases for a car stereo head unit are of course different. The apps they provided are simple and functional.  You can of course install different launchers, some focused on car stereos like this.  I have VLC Player installed and it gives a bit better experience for navigating a large music and video library than their apps.  The great thing about having Android in the dash is flexibility.

The screen resolution is 1024x600.  Apps with a light theme, such as Google Maps, look a bit washed out.  Dark theme apps look great.  There is no contrast adjustment in the UI either but it can be done by disassembling the unit.  It has a dash illumination input that will dim the dash a predetermined amount (could not find any adjustment for this) when the dash lights are turned ON.  This can also be used to turn ON the button illumination but you can also configure it to illuminate the button with key power too.

The Android 8.0 OS is very bare bones and focused on being a car stereo head unit.  It reports as a Rockchip PX5 tablet.  It lacks several common Android settings such as developer settings.  You can put it in developer mode but still no developer settings are shown.  It seems the only widgets that work are the ones that are pre-installed.  I installed several apps that generally have widgets yet none are available.  Some apps like Google Contacts will load but when you open them and it asks for an account it will not log in to the same account the connected phone has.  After I tried this though I realized there is not really a use case where I want to use the contact app.  If you go to the Phone app in the Pumpkin it does sync your phone contacts there.  I am not able to get any apps to start at boot.  I have Tasker installed and set up to start at boot but it never does.

Unlike many, I really don't like a touchscreen while driving.  I actually really like the Mercedes Benz Command UI where it has buttons to get to things like radio, navigation, etc., and a center console knob as well as dedicated volume knob, next/last buttons and more.  You can feel and control them without taking your eyes off the road.  This Pumpkin can be controlled with Bluetooth or USB input devices such as a mouse, trackball, or media controllers.  I connected a standard PC USB mouse and it worked fine.  I found many simple Bluetooth media controllers that should also work giving physical buttons for play/pause, previous/next, and more.  There is this thread on XDA Developers though which indicates this may not work. Ideally I would like to make a controller that is similar to the Command control and this should be very doable. Besides USB and Bluetooth, I could also set up dedicated buttons using the steering wheel control inputs.  This can be done with simple switches and resistors and the Pumpkin has a mapping utility in it already.


Powering up from completely OFF takes about 15s to 20s.  It has a mode where it suspends instead of completely shutting down and waking from that mode is pretty much instant.  The downside of that instant mode is it will use more of your cars battery.  You can set how long the key is OFF before it fully shuts down.  I found that the Axxess MOST module takes several seconds to power up and start delivering sound anyway, something like 8s.

This unit has 32GB on-board which is more than enough space for all the apps and their main data.  It has 2 micro-SD card slots as well as 2 USB ports.  The documentation says "Support SD card/ USB drive up to 128GB".  I presume this means each can have 128GB?  Not sure but it is more than enough anyway.  I have one 8GB and one 16GB micro-SD cards in it now.  I also had a 64GB USB drive connected.  All worked fine.

I set up my phone as a WiFi hotspot that the Pumpkin connects to for a network connection when driving.  I used Tasker to automate this so that when my phone connects to the Pumpkin for hands-free calling, it also enables the WiFi hotspot on my phone.  When my phone Bluetooth disconnects from the Pumpkin at key OFF the hotspot is returned to its previous state (OFF in my case). 

Tasker profile to see the car connected and turn ON hotspot

It is interesting how focused Android is on battery powered mobile devices.  I guess I didn't think about it much until I got this device.  Unlike phones or tablets, this device has infinite power available (the cars charging system).  Things like battery optimization features are not useful here.  

Final Thoughts

This installation was more difficult than I expected but I would do it again.  I just got it done so I have not used it much yet.  I may add a follow-up in a few months.

I noticed deep in the "factory settings" menu that there are CAN (car data link) settings for many manufacturers including Porsche.  I asked on the Pumpkin support site about this and hope to get some info from them.  

Short demonstration after the installation 
(if the video does not play click "YouTube" to open it in YouTube app or separate browser tab)