In addition to the movement towards EVs, car manufacturers have also been migrating to smaller engines with forced induction. The old saying “there is no replacement for displacement” doesn’t quite hold true anymore in the world of turbocharged cars. Turbo engines are smaller, more fuel efficient, and more powerful than the big naturally aspirated engines of the past decade.
However, just because your car has a turbo doesn’t necessarily mean it is fast. Fortunately, making additional power out of turbocharged cars is a lot easier than naturally aspirated ones. This guide is going to cover the best performance modifications and engine upgrades for turbo engines. If you’re looking to increase horsepower and make your car faster these upgrades are must-haves.
Mods can vary slightly by vehicle and engine, but for the vast majority of turbo engines, these mods are going to be the go-to. Just keep in mind you might also need some supporting mods depending on how far you push the power levels.
Best Turbo Engine Mods
– Engine Tuning
– Cold Air Intake
– High-Flow Downpipes
1) Engine Tuning
Engine tuning, also sometimes referred to as chip-tuning is the hands-down best bang-for-the-buck mod for any engine. Tuners connect to the engines ECU and override its factory tune, altering various engine parameters to increase power and torque.
On turbo engines tuners primarily increase power by increase the amount of boost, or psi, that the turbo is producing. Essentially, it controls how much the turbo compresses the air before it enters the engine. The more compressed the air is the more combustible it is and therefore the more horsepower it creates.
Tuners can add anywhere from 20hp to upwards of 150hp depending on what engine you have. However, one of the biggest benefits is optimizing your engines horsepower and torque powerband which is a lot of the time more important than peak horsepower gains.
Additionally, there are a range of options from off-the-shelf tunes to custom tunes. Off the shelf tunes come in the form of either flash tuning or piggyback tuning. Flash tunes actually alter the engine’s factory tune, whereas piggyback tunes simply trick the engines computer instead of altering the ECU, which makes it undetectable for warranty purposes.
2) Cold Air Intake
Tuners increase boost which means air is compressed further. To make sure the engine is getting adequate amounts of air, it is important to now bring more air to the turbo. The best way to do this is with an upgraded intake system, most commonly referred to as a cold air intake.
Bringing more air into the intake system reduces stress on the turbo and allows it to flow more freely. The increased turbo efficiency results in additional power gains. Intakes on turbo cars that are tuned usually provide anywhere from 10whp-25whp power gains.
The point of an upgraded intake isn’t really for the colder air. Increasing the volume of air is more important than the temperature of the air in turbo engines. Therefore, we always recommend open intakes where the filters are exposed to the direct engine bay air. Closed intakes will have 1-2 degree lower intake air temps, but they also have less airflow increases. More airflow = more power which is why we recommend open intakes.
3) High-Flow Downpipes
Once you have a tuner and an intake, you are producing a lot more power and bringing a lot more air into the engine. Downpipes bolt directly to the turbocharger and are the first exhaust system pipe in turbo cars. Additionally, they usually house a catalytic converter, or sit right in front of the catalytic converter.
Because they have, or are close to, catalytic converters they create a ton of exhaust backpressure. Exhaust backpressure is bad for turbo spool. The pressure acts against the turbo, making it more difficult to spin the turbine wheel. This increases turbo lag and reduces turbo efficiency which ultimately restricts power.
Upgrading the factory downpipe for an aftermarket high-flow downpipe can add 10whp-20whp.
4) Bigger Intercooler
Turbochargers produce a ton of heat – which is partially why we don’t care about intake temps on turbo cars. They heat up the air significantly as they compress it. But hot air is bad for combustion and internal components. Enter the intercooler. Once the air is compressed by the turbo it is sent to the intercooler where it is cooled down before it gets sent to the engine.
Stock intercoolers are usually pretty small. And more power requires more air. Combine that with an intake that is bringing a lot more air into the engine and it is very easy to overwhelm the stock intercooler.
When the intercooler gets overwhelmed it creates heat soak which sends hot air into the engine. This actually causes you to lose horsepower and can damage internal engine components. Intercoolers do usually add about 5-15whp through colder air temperatures. However, their biggest benefit is preventing power loss caused by heat soak.
Best Turbo Engine Mods Summary
Turbochargers compress air before it enters the engine. The more compressed air is, the more combustible it is. Therefore, the more horsepower the engine creates. Cars have been moving from big V6 and V8 engines to smaller inline-4 designs coupled with turbocharging. This allows for a smaller, lighter engine that creates just as much power as the big engines but is more fuel efficient.
Turbochargers are awesome because they allow for you to add additional horsepower very easily. Turning the boost up on the turbo and adding a few additional mods can result in power gains north of 50hp and even up to 200hp+. The best mods for turbo engines are ECU tuning, cold air intakes, downpipes, and intercoolers.