Nissan MR20DD Tuning

"All you need to know about performance parts and tuning the Nissan MR20DD engine!"

In this comprehensive guide, we explore the numerous tuning options for the ever popular Nissan MR20DD engine, pinpointing the most effective modifications.

Known for its dynamic capabilities, the MR20DD serves as an excellent foundation for enthusiasts.

Through strategic upgrades such as engine remapping, turbo kits, and internal engine modifications, you can really unlock the engine's full potential.

Developed through a collaborative effort between Nissan and Renault under the M5R project, the MR20DD features advanced variable valve timing technology that optimizes engine performance and efficiency.

This 2.0-liter inline-four engine is not just about raw power; it's designed for responsiveness and adaptability across various driving conditions.

The MR20DD's architecture allows for significant enhancements in power output and torque, with potential modifications that can substantially increase these metrics.

For example, implementing a turbo kit can dramatically boost the engine’s horsepower, elevating it from a factory setting of around 147 horsepower to much higher levels, depending on the specific setup and accompanying modifications.

Additionally, the engine's variable valve control system further assists in fine-tuning the performance, ensuring that power delivery is both smooth and efficient.

This article will not only outline the top performance modifications but also provide detailed insights into how each component can transform your MR20DD into a more powerful and exhilarating ride.

Whether you're aiming for sharper acceleration or a higher top speed, these modifications are designed to maximize your car's performance and driving pleasure.

History, Power & Specs of the MR20DD Engine

  • 147 PS (145 hp) at 5600 rpm and 155 lbft (210 Nm) of torque at 4400 rpm JDM
  • 137 hp (139 PS) at 5200 rpm and 147 lbft (199 Nm) at 4400 rpm Export
  • 106 kW (144 PS) at 6000 rpm and 200 Nm (148 lb⋅ft) at 4400 rpm. AU & NZ Quashqai

This engine block was also used in the Hybrid format, with the electric motor providing around 40hp

  •  144 PS (142 hp) at 6000 rpm and 147 lbft (199 Nm) of torque at 4400 rpm
  • 150 PS (148 hp) at 6000 rpm and 147 lbft (199 Nm) of torque at 4400 rpm


  • 2010–present Nissan Serena
  • 2013–present Nissan X-Trail
  • 2014–present Australian & New Zealand Markets Nissan Qashqai
  • 2016-present Renault Kadjar (China)
  • 2016-present Renault Koleos II
  • 2017-present Renault Samsung QM6
  • 2017-present Nissan Rogue Sport
  • 2013–present Nissan X-Trail Hybrid
  • 2012–present Nissan Serena S-Hybrid

Tuning the Nissan MR20DD and best MR20DD performance parts.

Best MR20DD mods

When talking about the best modifications for your MR20DD engine, we are going to concentrate on the upgrades that give the best power gain for you spend.

With the Nissan MR20DD engine's advanced variable valve timing (VVT) system, the need for performance camshafts is often reconsidered.

The VVT system intelligently adjusts the timing of the valve lift events, enhancing both the power output and efficiency across different engine speeds.

This makes the MR20DD a versatile engine that adapts well to various driving conditions without the mechanical adjustments associated with traditional camshafts.

While fast road camshafts were popular upgrades 20 years back, the MR20DD's VVT system already optimizes this aspect.

However, it's important to consider how the VVT system on the MR20DD already enhances high-end power, potentially reducing the necessity for such a modification.

These cams are less suited for everyday driving, especially in urban environments, as they can cause the car to stall or jerk in stop-and-start traffic. A competition camshaft, while offering significant gains in power, can make daily driving challenging due to its lumpy idle and tendency to stall.

For those who primarily use their MR20DD-powered vehicle as a daily driver, sticking with the engine's inherent VVT system might be the best choice.

This system not only enhances the driving experience by automatically adjusting valve timings based on current driving conditions but also maintains a smoother ride at low speeds and better fuel efficiency.

If additional tuning is desired, focusing on other areas such as remapping or turbo upgrades might provide more noticeable benefits without the drawbacks associated with aggressive cam profiles.

The map and fuel pump and injectors also have an effect on the power gains you'll make.

Altering valve durations can alter the power 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.

Sumary of Best Engine Mods for your MR20DD

When seeking to elevate the performance of your vehicle, understanding the scope and impact of various modifications can guide you to make informed decisions that align with your performance goals and budget.

Engine Tuning and Remapping

Engine tuning and remapping are foundational to unlocking performance, offering substantial cost savings compared to more invasive mechanical upgrades.

Utilizing aftermarket ECUs or piggyback ECUs allows for greater control over engine parameters, tailoring the engine's response to suit specific needs and optimize output.

The Role of Intake and Exhaust Modifications

It's crucial to recognize that while intake and exhaust modifications alone generally do not increase power, they are instrumental in supporting other enhancements.

By reducing airflow restrictions, these mods ensure that the engine can breathe more freely, thus facilitating better overall performance when combined with other upgrades.

Maximizing Power with Forced Induction

Incorporating turbochargers or superchargers represents the most effective way to increase the volume of air entering the engine.

This increase in air allows for more fuel to be combusted, significantly boosting the engine's power output.

Although costly, the performance gains from forced induction are unmatched, making it a favored option for enthusiasts looking to push their vehicles to new heights.

Cylinder Head Improvements

Porting and flowing the cylinder head are critical in maximizing the efficiency of air intake.

By smoothing out the internal surfaces and removing any obstructions, these modifications help to enhance airflow and reduce turbulence within the engine.

Such improvements are essential for achieving a more responsive and powerful engine.

Internal Engine Modifications

Deeper internal modifications, such as installing a lighter flywheel, porting and polishing the head, performing valve conversions, and increasing the compression ratio, further refine engine performance. Each of these modifications contributes differently:

  • Lighter Flywheel: Reduces rotational mass, allowing the engine to rev more quickly.
  • Porting and Polishing: Enhances the smoothness of the airflow, increasing efficiency.
  • Valve Conversions: Improve the engine's ability to intake air and expel exhaust, enhancing breathing.
  • Increasing Compression Ratio: Boosts power output by allowing the engine to extract more energy from the combustion process.

Popular Stages Of Tune On the MR20DD

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

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

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

Carefully think through your options and then acquire your upgrades and set yourself a power target to avoid wasting your time and money.

Engine Tuning On the MR20DD

ECU flashing allows a tuner to fully realize the full potential of all the tuning mods you've done to your MR20DD.

When the factory ECU is locked and unable to be flashed, shifting to an aftermarket ECU becomes an essential step for tuning your engine.

These aftermarket units often surpass the capabilities of factory ECUs, offering features like knock protection which are crucial for maintaining engine health. It's imperative to ensure that these ECUs are correctly configured by professionals to fully utilize their potential.

Notable brands offering reliable aftermarket ECUs include Haltech, Link ECU, and AEM, all of which are renowned for their robust performance enhancements.

Power Gains from ECU Tuning

With the right setup, you can expect significant power improvements—approximately 15% for most MR20DD engines.

However, the actual gains will vary based on the specific tuning modifications implemented and the current condition of your engine.

Enhancing Air and Fuel Delivery in the MR20DD Engine

Effective engine tuning involves optimizing how air and fuel are introduced to the engine.

The intake phase is critical, as this is when air is drawn from the filter into the engine and mixed with fuel. The design and efficiency of the intake manifold play a pivotal role in this process.

Upgrading the Intake Manifold

Many vehicles could benefit from an upgraded intake manifold, especially if the factory version doesn't meet the demands of higher performance tuning.

While some manufacturers equip their cars with adequately designed manifolds, often, an aftermarket performance upgrade can make a significant difference in how effectively the engine breathes and, consequently, performs.

Improving Engine Efficiency with Valve and Port Enhancements

Installing larger valves, enlarging the ports, and enhancing the head flow in the MR20DD engine are also crucial steps for increasing torque.

These modifications not only boost torque directly but also enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of other tuning parts by improving the overall airflow within the engine.

MR20DD 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 MR20DD. It is a fairly high compression engine, but does have direct injection allowing a little more flexibility when adding forced induction.

Adding a turbocharger to your engine is an effective way to significantly enhance its power, but it requires careful planning and consideration. This upgrade is not only complex and costly but also comes with substantial risks if not done correctly.

Understand Your Engine's Limits

Before embarking on a turbo upgrade, it’s crucial to identify any potential weak points in your engine.

Each engine has its own limitations, with certain components potentially under-spec for increased power outputs on this it is generally the crank, rods and fuel system.

Upgrading to higher quality, more durable components is essential to handle the additional stress and prevent catastrophic failures, like those seen with the MR20DD engines where upgrades led to engine explosions.

Choosing the Right Turbocharger

Turbochargers come in various sizes and types, each with its pros and cons:

  • Larger Turbochargers provide significant power at high RPMs but can suffer from turbo lag, meaning there’s no power boost at low RPMs.
  • Smaller Turbochargers spool up quickly, offering better performance at lower RPMs but may not deliver as much boost at high RPMs.
  • Variable Vane Turbochargers are a more advanced option, adjusting the vane profile based on engine speed to minimize lag and optimize power across a broader RPM range.
  • Twin Scroll Turbochargers use the exhaust gases more efficiently by channeling them into two separate pathways, which enhances low-end torque and improves the overall scavenging effect—this can be particularly beneficial in maintaining consistent power delivery.

Adding a supercharger or additional turbo will make large torque gains, although harder to install. We have this article on twincharging if you want to read more.

A common issue when upgrading turbochargers is the limitation posed by the engine’s airflow sensors, such as the AFM/MAP sensors. These sensors often cannot cope with the increased volume of air, limiting performance.

Upgrading to a high-capacity sensor like a 4 bar air sensor can help manage larger power gains and ensure the engine operates within safe parameters.


When you raise the bhp and torque you will need to look at to the fuel system.

More bhp and torque needs more fuel. Don't forget to be generous with your injectors flow rate.

The accepted safe increase is to add another 20% when fitting an injector, this accounts for injector deterioration and provides a bit of 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.

All the following flywheel power targets will assume an injector duty cycle of 80% and a base of 58psi of fuel pressure at idle.

4 Cylinder turbocharged engines

      • 58 PSI 340cc/min 200hp
      • 58 PSI 511cc/min 300hp
      • 58 PSI 682cc/min 400hp
      • 58 PSI 1022cc/min 600hp

5 Cylinder turbocharged engines

      • 58 PSI 273cc/min 200hp
      • 58 PSI 409cc/min 300hp
      • 58 PSI 545cc/min 400hp
      • 58 PSI 818cc/min 600hp

4 Cylinder NA (naturally aspirated) engines

      • 58 PSI 285cc/min 200hp
      • 58 PSI 426cc/min 300hp
      • 58 PSI 568cc/min 400hp
      • 58 PSI 853cc/min 600hp

4 Cylinder supercharged engines

      • 58 PSI 312cc/min 200hp
      • 58 PSI 468cc/min 300hp
      • 58 PSI 625cc/min 400hp
      • 58 PSI 937cc/min 600hp

MR20DD Performance Exhausts

Only look to improve your exhaust if the current exhaust is actually causing a flow problem.

When upgrading your vehicle for higher power output, evaluating and potentially upgrading the exhaust system becomes essential.

Factory exhaust systems are generally adequate for modest increases in power. However, as you enhance your engine's performance further, the limitations of the stock exhaust can become a bottleneck.

To accommodate higher power levels effectively, upgrading to a more efficiently flowing exhaust system is advisable.

Sports exhausts are designed to optimize the flow of exhaust gases, which is crucial for maintaining efficient engine performance. Please focus on velocity rather than bore size, some of those large exhausts create quite a lot of low end lag on the MR20DD due to restricted scavenging.

Choosing the right size for your exhaust pipe is critical. While it might seem that bigger is better, an overly large exhaust pipe can actually be detrimental. For most, an exhaust bore over 2.5 inches can lead to a significant loss in flow rate, resulting in decreased power and torque.

. This is due to the reduced exhaust velocity and the loss of necessary backpressure which helps the engine to expel exhaust gases efficiently.

By improving the exhaust flow, these systems help ensure that the engine breathes better, thereby supporting higher performance levels.

Cat Upgrades/Catalyst Removal?

One common source of restriction in an exhaust system is the catalyst. While essential for reducing emissions, stock catalysts can impede flow.

Upgrading to a high-flow performance catalyst can alleviate this restriction without removing the catalyst entirely.

Performance catalysts are designed to offer flow rates similar to decats (de-catalyzer systems), yet they keep your vehicle compliant with emissions regulations.

Removing or decatting the catalyst, while effective for performance, is illegal in many areas for street-driven vehicles.

Weak spots, Issues & problem areas on the MR20DD

The MR20DD 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.

Timing Chain Issues

One of the more frequent complaints with the MR20DD engine concerns the timing chain.

Noise from the timing chain area, especially on cold starts, can indicate that the chain may be stretched or the tensioner is failing. If not addressed, this could lead to more serious engine damage.

Oil Leaks

Oil leaks are another issue that some MR20DD owners have reported. The source of these leaks can often be traced back to the valve cover gasket or the oil cooler seal.

Regular maintenance checks are vital to catch these issues early and prevent further engine complications.

CVT Transmission Problems

While not directly an engine issue, the MR20DD is frequently paired with Nissan’s CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), which has its own history of complaints.

Problems such as shuddering, hesitating, and even failure of the transmission can impact the overall performance and reliability of vehicles equipped with the MR20DD engine.

Carbon Build-up

Direct injection engines like the MR20DD can experience carbon build-up on the intake valves.Carbon build up in the head, particularly around the valves which will sap power or create flat spots. We have tips on removing carbon build up. Over time, this can lead to decreased engine performance, rough idling, and stalling. Regular cleaning of the intake system can help mitigate this issue.

Engine Mount Wear

Engine mounts on vehicles with the MR20DD can wear out or break, leading to excessive engine vibration and noise. This typically becomes apparent during acceleration or when starting the engine.

Idle Irregularities and Misfires

Idle irregularities and misfiring can also occur, often due to issues with the ignition system or fuel injectors. These problems can also be exacerbated by the aforementioned carbon build-up.

Other problems...

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 MR20DD, 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 MR20DD engine please join us in our friendly forum where you can discuss with our MR20DD owners. It would also be worth reading our unbiased articles to get a full grasp of the benefits and drawbacks of each modification.

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