Daihatsu Sonica Tuning

"All you need to know about performance parts and tuning the Daihatsu Sonica engine!"

We get emailed and see posted questions for some tips on improving the Sonica and which tuning modifications we rate as the greatest, so this guide has been assembled to take you through what we feel are the main modifications and methods of modifying and tuning on the Sonica engine.

In this article we examine the options for your Sonica tuning and report on the greatest modifications. Daihatsu Sonica offer good returns when tuned and with the optimum uprated parts like a remap, turbo improvements and camshafts you will noticeably enhance your driving experience.

History of the Sonica Engine

658 cc KF-DET I3-T (petrol) June 2006 – April 2009

Tuning the Daihatsu Sonica and best Sonica performance parts.

Best Sonica upgrades

The best Sonica parts on an engine are in our opinion the ones that give the biggest return for your cash.

We won't be swayed by popular Sonica parts, they need to be cost effective.

Please watch our video which covers the 5 principles of tuning your Sonica. Be sure to keep up with our latest YouTube content and subscribe.

Best mods for your Sonica

  1. ECU Tunes - A remap provides the most advantage in terms of cost, replacment ECUs, and piggyback ECUs are all alternatives.
  2. Fast road Camshafts are generally the biggest mechanical mod upgrade, but they must be fitted by someone who knows what they are doing and they are not always easy to source but you might find a local firm to regrind a stock camshaft.
  3. Intake and Sports Exhausts - NB: on their own these mods won't ADD POWER in most cases, but they can help enhance power after other mods by removing the restriction.
  4. Upgrades to turbochargers and superchargers - Adding a turbocharger is the most efficient approach to increase air supply, allowing you to burn more fuel and make more power. It is one of the most costly upgrades it offers big gains.
  5. Internal engine mods - crank, pistons, conrods & compression ratio including balancing and blueprinting

Sonica Tuning Stages

Typical stage 1 mods often include: Drilled & smoothed airbox, Remaps/piggy back ECU, Fast road camshaft, Intake manifolds, Panel air filters, Sports exhaust manifold.

Typical stage 2 mods often include: fuel pump upgrades, Ported and polished head, Sports catalyst & performance exhaust, high flow fuel injectors, Fast road cam, induction kit.

Typical stage 3 mods often include: Engine balancing & blueprinting, Internal engine upgrades (head flowing porting/bigger valves), Adding or Upgrading forced induction (turbo/supercharger), Competition cam, Crank and Piston upgrades to alter compression, Twin charging conversions.

Sonica Camshaft Upgrades

Performance camshafts work better at top end power so are more suited to petrol engines, than diesel ones. Most cars will see top end power hikes through performance camshafts on most engines

The cam profile plays a big part in the engines power output so cam upgrades make quite a large difference. The intake and exhaust durations will alter depending on the chosen cam profile, so large engines power gains are on offer for cam upgrades.

Fast road cams normally boost the torque across the rev band, you could sacrifice a little low end bhp but the high end rpm power will be better.

Motorsport cams, boost the high end rpm power band but as a result the car will not idle smoothly and low end power nearly always suffers.

On a road car it makes a lot of sense to match your bhp range to your usage of the car.

I would be surprised if you have found a Sonica Motorsport camshaft is a pleasure to live with when driving around busy urban areas.Because your low end power will be very lumpy. Competition cams are designed to lift the maximum power at the top part of your RPM range, a place that most daily commutes will not usually permit!

Some Sonica engines respond differently primarily due to the airflow when cams are fitted depending on the cam being more or less aggressive cam durations and cam profile as unique due to manufacturing tolerances and quality variations so set your engine up on a rolling road.

The ECU mapping and fuel delivery and fuel pump and injectors also will say much on the torque gains you'll make.

A longer valve duration can alter the torque curve, and on most engines there are some advantages to extending the intake or exhaust durations and valve lift.

Plan your options and then source your parts and set yourself a power target to void expensive mistakes.

ECU Mapping Improvements for the Sonica

Mapping should help to fully realize the full potential of all the upgrades you've fitted to your Sonica.

(Sometimes chip tuning the ECU is not an option, so an aftermarket ECU is the route to take, and most of these exceed the specs and performance of your factory ECU's but make sure it has knock protection and that you get it installed right.) It will usually give around 30% more power on turbocharged vehicles and you can expect to see around 15% on NA (naturally aspirated) engines, but power output usually depend much on the upgrades you've done and the condition of your engine.

Air Flow improvements on the Sonica

Pushing air into each cylinder is vital to any engine modification task.

Intake transmit the air during the suck phase from the filter and allow it to be sucked into the engine and mixed with fuel.

The size of bore and shape and flow rate of the Intake manifold can make a big change to fuel atomisation on the Sonica.

I usually find air intake manifolds are in dire need of aftermarket parts, although some OEM provide fairly well optimized air intake manifolds.

Fitting big valve kits, getting 3 or 5 angle valve jobs and porting and head flowing will also increase performance, this will permit a greater performance increase on other upgrades.

Sonica Turbo upgrades

NA (naturally aspirated) engines need quite a lot of work when you add a turbo, so we have a separate guide to help you take into account the pros and cons of going this route on your Sonica

The more air you can get into an engine, the more fuel it can burn and uprating the induction with a turbocharger upgrade makes superb power gains.

When your motor is fitted with a turbocharger mods are going to make more power and turbocharged engines will have stronger components.

There are reliable limits for every engine, with some being over specified and some only just able to handle stock power. Discover these limits and install stronger pistons, crank and engine components to handle the power.

We've seen people spending a stack of money on turbo upgrades on the Sonica only to have the motor throw a rod on its first outing after it's been enthusiastically driven.

Larger turbochargers often experience a bottom end lag, and small turbochargers spool up quickly but won't have the high rpm power band gains.

Thanks to new tech the world of turbochargers is always improving and we commonly find variable vane turbochargers, where the vane angle is altered according to speed to lower lag and increase top end power.

Twin scroll turbochargers divert the exhaust gases into a couple of channels and push these at differently profiled vanes in the turbocharger. They also boost the scavenging effect of the engine.

It is not unusual that there is a limitation in the air flow sensor AFM/MAP on the Sonica when considerably more air is being fed into the engine.

Going up you'll find 4 bar air sensors coping with quite large power gains, whereas the OEM air sensor limited power at a much lower level.

Adding a supercharger or additional turbo will make large bhp gains, although more complex to get working. We have this feature on twinchargers if you want to read more.

Sonica Fuelling Upgrades

Don't omit to raise the fuel delivery when you are increasing the power - it makes the car more thirsty. Performance fuel pressure regulators can offer improved throttle response.We strongly recommend you to over specify your injectors flow rate.

The rule of thumb is to add 20% capacity when specifying an injector, which takes into account injector deterioration and affords a little spare capacity should the engine need more fuel.

We think this one is common sense, but you'll need to match your fuel injector to the type of fuel your car uses as well.

Sonica Performance Exhausts

Only look to increase your exhaust if your exhaust is creating a flow problem.

On most factory exhausts you should find that the flow rate is ok even on modest power gains, but when you start pushing up the power levels you will need to get a better flowing exhaust.

Sports exhausts can help balance the flow of gases through the engine.

But if your exhaust is too big, ie: it's over 2.5 inches bore, you will lose a lot of your flow rate and end up sapping power and torque.

Common exhaust restrictions are traced to the catalyst and filters installed, so adding a faster flowing high performance aftermarket version unlocks that lost power, and instead of doing an illegal test pipe mod, will keep the car road legal. We should explain that performance catalysts perform similarly to catless exhaust mod and have the added benefit of keeping your car street legal, as decat or catalyst removal is not a street legal modification.

Weak spots, Issues & problem areas on the Sonica

The Sonica engines are not bad as far as reliability goes as long as they are regularly serviced.

Carbon build up in the head, particularly around the valves which will reduce power, this is a larger issue on direct injection engines but should be looked out for on all engines. We have tips on removing carbon To minimize this risk only use quality fuel and don't short journeys.

Frequent oil changes are essential on the Sonica, especially when tuned and will help maintain the long life of the engine.

If you want to disover more, or just get tips on Tuning your Sonica engine please join us in our friendly forum where you can discuss Sonica tuning options in more detail with our Sonica owners. It would also be worth reading our unbiased Daihatsu tuning articles to get insights into each modification and how effective they will be.

Please help us improve these tips by sending us your feedback in the comments box below.

We love to know what our members have got up to and which mods work best for them on each model of car. We use your comments and feedback to improve the accuracy of these Sonica tuning guides which get regular updates and revisions.

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