What is the best engine for a tuning project?

Japanese engine comparison test:
RB25 vs RB26 vs VR38 vs SR20 vs FA20 vs 1JZ vs 2JZ

There are some favorite engines out there and people are passionate about which one is the best so we will give you a good side by side overview of the most popular engines to help you decide.

It is possible to put any engine in nearly every chassis out there with a little ingenuity so the trend of putting only Nissan engine in your Nissan is over. This opens up a world of possibilities allowing you to build the very best project car out there.

Nissan RB25

RB25 – quite an old engine now but you'll still see around 300-450 with fairly low cost modifications. The stock engine fuel pump can handle around 500bhp but the injectors will top out around 350bhp.

This engine is quite easy to pick up now and there are a range of cheap turbo and fuel upgrades you can fit. This makes the RB25 a great contender for our budget engine choice for your tuning project.

Tuning the RB25DET engine

Nissan RB26

RB26 – We probably see more RB26 projects than any other and there are plenty of parts for this straight 6 engine and it loves to rev. Your aim is always to get the power on early so a twin scroll turbo is the part of choice.

Standard blocks handle around 600bhp (some are claiming up to 800bhp) but with a large turbo and engine management upgrades you can see around 600-800 bhp, but you should specify forged engine parts and components. Aiming at over 500bhp and you should really increase the engines capacity with a stroker kit.

Tuning the RB26DETT engine

Nissan VR38

VR38 – 2.8 litre v6 is a beast and offers around 550bhp in stock form. 600Bhp is easily handled by the engine requiring only basic modifications including a tune/remap and boost controller.

Over 600bhp and you should upgrade the rods, pistons, and fuel system and fit a larger turbo. (transmission will also need upgrading.)

We are seeing cars used daily pushing out 800bhp on this engine and specialist tuners are turning out conversion kits for 1200bhp and some tuners have hit a dyno breaking 2000bhp on the VR38 block making this our top power engine from this selection.

Tuning guide for the VR38DETT

Toyota 1JZ

1JZ – 2.5 litres and came with a turbo if you get the 1JZ GTE version. Stock power ranges from 180 NASP to 280 bhp on the turbo variants.

1JZ power gains – Turbo and boost controller will hit around 365bhp ig you uprate the fuelling you can see 400bhp with the right turbo and 550bhp with engine management. The engine power comes on quite low so makes for a great daily driver.

Tuning the 1JZ engine

Toyota 2JZ

2JZ – 3.0 litre 6 cylinder engine, The stock block can handle power of around 600bhp reliably with the right supporting mods. On the standard turbo with a boost controller you'll see around 400bhp.

The stock gearbox and fuelling will handle around 350bhp, uprate the fuelling and fit a boost controller to see an easy 400 bhp. Drop in a larger turbo and engine management and you can see around 700bhp but will need better fuelling and stronger valve springs.

The low power spool up and nature of this free revving 6 cylinder makes it a great candidate for a tuning project and makes it to the top of our recommended engines for your project car.

Tuning the 2JZ GTE engine

Nissan SR20

SR20 – a 4 cylinder 2.0 engine fitted to a wide range of cars. The DET turbo version is clearly the one to go for and simple turbo and fuelling upgrades you'll make a nice easy 300bhp.

Stock fuelling tops out around 390bhp and the MAP sensor is good for 300bhp. Add in a turbo for 400bhp plus power gains and with stronger engine parts you'll see around 600bhp.
A firm favourite in the world of drifting and fits easily into quite a range of cars making it a good first project engine choice.

Tuning the SR20DET

Toyota/Subaru FA20

FA20 – a relatively new engine from Subaru on their joint venture with Toyota and utilized the Toyota D4's direct injection.

A 2.0 4 cylinder engine in boxer configuration. The stock engine is really well setup and tuned nicely. A tune/remap on the stock engine will yield around 215bhp. Things get interesting when you add a turbo kit or supercharger. A reasonable target for forced induction is 280bhp but we see some tuners getting around 450 from these blocks.

The boxer configuration makes the engine quite low and squat so is suitable for most types of car including kit cars with limited engine space.

Toyota FA20 Tuning

Conclusions RB25 vs RB26 vs VR38 vs SR20 vs FA20 vs 1JZ vs 2JZ

All engines have their strenghts and weaknesses, read the full guides for more in depth tuning advice.

If you have a budget project and want to hit the highest power figure as cheaply as you can then the 2JZ from Toyota is the one to go for. The RB25 and RB26 are also good candidates for this as the parts you need are readily available and relatively low cost.

The SR20 is a good cheap option if you want around 300bhp from very low cost modifications but still have a reliable fun car. It doesn't produce higher power gains cheaply though.

If you want to go for the maximum power for a drag strip or track day car then the VR38 as fitted to the Nissan GTR is the beast to go for.

Pure cylinder capacity is always the winner when it comes to choosing a project engine.

Please join our forums to discuss engine choices with our enthusiastic and friendly members who can answer your questions and give you advice to help you decide on the ultimate project car engine choice.

We will shortly be adding a few more engines to this guide in the next month or so, please come back and check for updates.

We would be very grateful to hear your comments, opinions and suggestions on this topic. Please use the feedback form below to add to the discussion.

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One Response to “Best engine for your tuning project”

  1. John Koplin says:

    It was pretty informative. I always enjoy new information especially about hot rods and turner builds. Keep up the good work. Peace

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