Guide to performance tuning the Zetec engine from Ford

Ford Zetec Tuning

"Tuning the Ford Zetec and best Zetec performance parts."

The later SVT version had a higher compression ratio and better setup on the VVT control to make more power.

The Zetec is a long running engine block and as such enjoys popularity in many projects today.

There are lots of parts around for them and plenty of mods that can be done from Turbocharging to Camshafts and head work.

See our video which provides a complete introduction to Ford Tuning, it contains some tips on performance and handling modifications.

History, Power & Specs of the Zetec Engine

  • 1.6 Ford Mondeo 90 bhp (Engine codes: L1F, L1J) 1992-05/1998 -
  • 1.6 Ford Mondeo 1.6 88 bhp (Engine codes: L1N, L1Q) 05/1998-2001
  • 1.6 Ford Fiesta Si 90 bhp
  • 1.8 Ford Fiesta S/XR2i 105 bhp  16V
  • 1.8 Ford Fiesta 130 bhp
  • XR2i 16V/RS1800 1992–1995
  • 1.6 Ford Escort Si (Europe) (90 bhp)
  • 1.8 Ford Escort XR3i  105/130 bhp
  • 1.8 Ford Escort 115 bhp Si/GTi1992–1998
  • 1.6 Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique 1995–2000
  • 1.6 Mercury Cougar 1999–2002
  • 1.6 Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute 2000–2003
  • 1.6 Ford Focus 2000–2003
  • 1.6 Ford Escort ZX2. 1998-2003
  • Formula Ford 2000 series (2003 – present)
  • 2.0 Ford Escort ZX2, 130 hp  127 lb·ft  1998-2003
  • 2.0  Ford Escort ZX2 S/R, 143 hp 46 lb·ft 1999-2000
  • 2.0  Ford Focus, 128 hp  135 lb·ft 2000-2004
  • 2.0 SVT Focus, 170 hp 145 lb·ft  2002-2004
  • 2.0 Ford Contour 1995-2000
  • 2.0 Mercury Mystique 1995-2000
  • 2.0 Ford Escape 2001-2005
  • 2.0 Mazda Tribute 2001-2005

Best Zetec parts

Just because a tuning mods is popular with Zetec owners it doesn't mean it is good, we will outline only what we have found to be the best tuning mods that will give your Zetec the biggest power gain return for your cash.

Altering your Zetec camshaft will make a dramatic difference to the engine engines power. Choosing a higher performance camshaft profile raises the engines power accordingly.

Fast road camshafts usually push up the performance throughout the rpm range, you could drop a little bottom end bhp but higher rpm power will be better.

Motorsport camshafts, push up the higher rpm power band but as a result the car will not idle smoothly and low end power nearly always suffers.

For a typical daily driver should ideally to match your bhp range to your usage of the car.

I would be surprised if you have found a Motorsport cam is a pleasure to live with when in heavy traffic because low end power will be very lumpy. Competition cams are designed for maximum power at the top end of the RPM range, a place that most daily commutes will not permit!

Some Zetec engines respond better to less aggressive camshaft durations check your engine on a rolling road.

The map and fuelling also have a large bearing on the torque gains you'll make.

A longer valve duration can alter the torque band and on most engines the exhaust and intake durations do not need to match, although most cams and tuners use matched pairs there are some advantages to extending the intake or exhaust durations.

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

Best mods for your Zetec

  1. Air Induction kits and Exhaust - Please note that on their own these mods will NOT ADD HP , but they can help release power after other upgrades by lessening the restriction.
  2. Forced induction upgrades - Adding a turbocharger is the most dramatic method to increase air supply, which permits you to use more fuel and make more power. It is one of the most costly mods it offers big gains.
  3. Lightened Flywheels - a reduced weight flywheel will improve the engines ability to rev freely. Not always not a great upgrade for all Zetec engines.
  4. ECU Tunes - Zetec engine tuning/remapping offers the most advantage compared to your outlay, aftermarket ECU upgrades, and piggyback ECUs are all alternatives.
  5. Fast road cams are one of the most significant mechanical changes, but ideally be installed by someone familiar with setting them up on your car and tracking one down may be hard but there might be a local firm to regrind a stock camshaft .
  6. Flowing and porting the Head - Head

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

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

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

The Zetec power trains respond well to mods and we're happy to report there are increasing numbers of mods and performance parts about.

Gas flowing the head is very important on most Zetec units if you are serious about hitting large power gains.

ECU flashing helps fully realize the full potential of all the upgrades you've fitted to your Zetec.

(In some cases, as the factory ECU is locked flashing is not an option, so an aftermarket ECU is the route to take, and many of these will outperform factory ECU's but make sure it has knock protection and that you get it setup properly.)

It will usually give you around 30% more power on turbocharged vehicles and 15% on NA (naturally aspirated) engines, but you mileage will vary depending on the upgrades you've done and the condition of your engine.

It is the aim to any car tuning task to pull fuel and air into the Zetec engine

Intake Manifolds carry or channel the air from the filter and allow it to be pulled into the engine cylinders with fuel for the squish phase.

Design and rate of flow of the Intake manifold can make a substantial change to fuel engine efficiency on the Zetec.

I usually find intake are ripe for aftermarket tuning parts, although a few makers provide reasonably good intake.

Increasing the Zetec valve size, getting port matching and head flowing will also improve power, and significantly will afford you increasing the power increase on other mods.

Zetec Turbo upgrades

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

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 Zetec.


There are weak spots for every engine, with some being very over engineered and some only able to handle stock power

Discover these limitations and upgrade to better quality crank and pistons to utilize the power.

There are many car owners spending a lot of money on turbo upgrades on the Zetec only to suffer the humiliation of seeing the engine go up in smoke soon after it's completed.

Larger upgraded turbos commonly suffer no power at low rpm, and little turbos spool up quickly but won't have the high rpm bhp gains.

In the last 10 years the world of turbochargers is always evolving and we now see variable vane turbochargers, permitting the vane profile 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 flow these at differently angled vanes in the turbo. They also boost the scavenging effect of the engine.

You'll commonly see there's a limit in the air flow sensor MAP/MAF/AFM on these engines when a lot more air is being drawn into the engine.

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

Adding a supercharger or additional turbo will make large bhp and torque gains, although more complex to install. We have a twincharger bhp and torque adding guide if you want to read more.


When you boost the performance you will need to uprate to the fuel delivery.

More performance needs more fuel.  Most tuners we speak with say to be generous with your injector capacity.

The rule of thumb is to add 20% when specifying an injector, this allows for injector deterioration and allows a little spare capacity should the engine require more fuel.

Zetec Exhaust

You only need to improve your exhaust if your current exhaust is creating a flow problem.

On most factory exhausts you'll find the flow rate is still good 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 increase the flow of air through the engine.

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

Common exhaust restrictions can be traced to the catalyst installed, so adding a higher flowing race alternative such as a sports catalyst pretty much removes this restriction, thanks to it's larger size and surface area, and will effectively raise the performance to levels you would expect without having a catalyst installed, but keeps the car road legal.

Weak spots Issues & problem areas on the Zetec

The Zetec engines are generally reliable and solid units, as long as you follow the manufacturers service schedules, and use a good quality oil to ensure longevity. Few problems should happen as long as they are regularly serviced and maintained.

Carbon build up in the head, particularly around the valves which will sap power or create flat spots, this is a larger issue on direct injection engines but should be looked out for on all engines. We have tips on removing carbon build up.

Some of our members have had issues with flat spots or glitches after applying mods and upgrades or tuning, this is not usually related to this engines design, so instead see our article on diagnosing flat spots and problems after tuning which should help you get the bottom of this issue.

Regular oil changes are vital on the Zetec, especially when tuned and will help extend the life and reliability of the engine.

If you would like to know more, or just get some friendly advice on Tuning your Ford engine please join us in our friendly forum where you can discuss Zetec tuning options in more detail with our Zetec owners. It would also be worth reading our unbiased Ford tuning articles to get a full grasp of the benefits and drawbacks of each modification.

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2 Responses to “Zetec Tuning”

  1. jannie says:

    i am happy i have ford focus 1.6l zetec

  2. mark smith says:

    I’m about to buy a 2001 Ford Puma 1.6 16v Zetec. This article was very informative and well set out.I may wish to increase it’s performance in future, together with rear disc brake conversion. Many thanks.

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