Mark X the spot

Automotive rivalries have existed from centuries. Ferrari versus Ford at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Audi versus Lancia in the World Rally Championship, and Subaru versus Mitsubishi on the streets of Japan.

Over the past year one battle has erupted, spreading like wildfire on social media across the Caribbean, with Linstead, Jamaica as its ground zero.

That rivalry, albeit friendly, is Toyota versus BMW, more specifically between owners of the Mark X and BMW 3 Series sedans.

Kick-starting the battle several months ago was Roland Crawford, CEO — Elite Performance.

His automotive services business sits unassumingly off the Linstead Bypass in St Catherine.

“I actually created that niche little market right there,” joked Crawford.

Elite Performance is one of the few places on the island with a dynometer, a device used to measure the horsepower of a vehicle.

It’s normally used in motorsports or performance vehicles to extract as much power out of an engine as possible, but with COVID-19 closing down the racing calendar in 2020, Crawford had to devise another way to drum up business. He began to hold friendly dyno races, where cars would compete against each other, using the horsepower numbers as generated on the dynometer.

One function of the dyno is the ability to get top speed data, and while the German brand grabbed the horsepower honours, Crawford noticed something one day, that the Japanese sedan was within reach of the BMW’s top speed numbers, usually three per cent, or 5mph lower.

“BMWs are known for their mile-per-hour. The problem with the Mark X is that from factory it comes restricted at 180km/h, so once it reaches 180km/h the car dies out.

You can do that in fourth gear, and it’s a six-speed transmission. So by the time the guys reach there in fourth gear, the BMW has a restriction of let’s say 260km/h, they would always be destroying the Mark X.”

Having looked over the Mark X, Crawford recognized the model’s Lexus roots from his experience in the United Statesand eventually came up with his own solution, he managed to unlock the deemed uncrackable Toyota Electronic Control Unit (ECU).

“Basically I focused my energy, coming from an IT background, understanding how to tune cars and how to unlock ECUs, and I realized that this is XML language, this is JavaScript, and it’s C++. These are programming languages I’m used to. So if I can understand these languages then why can’t I unlock this car?”

Developing his own software, Crawford now had full access to the Mark X’s ECU and his first act was the remove the speed limiter. This was the first shot across the bow of the BMW fanboys according to Crawford. He continued his analysis, breaking down the vehicles in their respective engine trim levels. He explained that 3 Series come with turbocharged four-cylinder and six-cylinder engines. The Mark X is naturally-aspirated and is equipped with either a 2.5-litre V6 or 3.5-litre V6 engine.

“What you have is a turbocharged power band that goes up very quickly and plateaus versus a linear power band that is not stopping. A Mark X is constantly making power and that is a linear power band.”

With a Mark X free of the Japanese market ECU enforced 180km/h speed limiter it could take full advantage of this linearity in its power delivery to keep up with the peaky turbocharged BMWs. The news spread and Crawford found himself tuning and modifying Mark Xs for owners wanting to show their taillights to their Euro-brethren. Videos of Mark Xs drag racing, and sometimes winning over their German counterpart began to flood social media channels.

“I got kicked out of the BMW group. I was a BMW person. I have two BMWs. The BMW guys might have thought that I took sides, which I really didn’t. I actually proved that we can take a car for half the value of a BMW, and make it compete with a BMW.” laughed Crawford.

As the Mark X owners traded friendly banter and race wins with 3 Series owners, the heavier BMW guns took notice. Proclaiming that a Toyota shouldn’t be anywhere close to Germany’s sport sedan Crawford soon found himself with his biggest battle yet. The BMW community had called in its M card.

“I said let me put nitrous oxide on this car, and I really don’t know how the transmission is going to respond to it.”

The nitrous oxide was in response to the 473bhp from the turbocharged in-line six-cylinder in the X3M he eventually raced, as Crawford figured he’d need to even the odds. However, his tuning experience and access to the Mark X ECU were the real advantages.

“Coming from a racing background I know that when a transmission shifts, you don’t want it to shift on the power band, you want to relax the power, allow the transmission to shift then you hit it back with the power.”

Using his custom software he was able to programme the factory ECU to control the nitrous system allowing it to work in conjunction with the Mark X’s shifting logic. The result was total domination. The rear-wheel drive sedan walked away from the all-wheel drive super SUV. When videos of Crawford besting the BMW X3M, it sent the Mark X/BMW rivalry into overdrive. Social media went wild as this round of the informal contention between the brands went to the Toyota.

“It gave him about four container lengths,” Crawford smirked.

As of date there hasn’t been much of a response out of the BMW camp according to Crawford, but he’s not sitting still. In preparation of what’s to come he’s drawing on his modification skills to turbocharge a Mark X. Right now he’s philosophical about the issue as it’s continued to remain more of a fun discourse, than an unfriendly rivalry.

“The Mark X owners have a home now. BMW has always had many tuning shops out there, but there hasn’t been a lot of tuner shops out there targeting the Mark X community.”