Nissan RB20DE Tuning

"All you need to know about performance parts and tuning the Nissan RB20DE engine!"

The Nissan RB20DE are popular engines and with the ultimate performance upgrades like remapping, turbo upgrades and camshafts you will greatly increase your driving opportunities.

This pages aim is review RB20DE tuning and outline the premier modifications.

History, Power & Specs of the RB20DE Engine

  • RB20DE
    twin-cam NASP
    Power: 148 to 153 hp @6400 rpm 133 to 137 lbft @5600 rpm
  • RB20DE NEO
    twin-cam NASP
    Power: 153 hp @6400rpm 138 lbft@5600rpm

Tuning the Nissan RB20DE and best RB20DE performance parts.

Best RB20DE tuning mods

When talking about the best modifications for your RB20DE engine, we are going to focus on the tuning mods that give the best value for money.

Most people will do a swap from the RB20 to the RB25 as this is generally regarded as a better starting point for serious power gains where your aim is over 450bhp.

The internals on the RB20 usually need upgrading around the 350bhp region in your tuning projects depending on which version you have.

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 torque gains are on offer for cam upgrades.

Fast road cams normally push up the bhp across the rpm range, you could drop a little low down torque but high end rpm power will be lifted.

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

For a road car one must carefully try to match your torque band to your usage of the car.

You will never have ever asserted that a RB20DE Race camshaft is a pleasure to live with when driving in heavy traffic. The low end idle will be very lumpy and irregular, so something you would notice on a track when you drive in the upper third of the rpm band, but on roads this is a serious issue and we've heard from lots of drivers lamenting their decision to add an extreme competition cam profile to their engine.

Each engine responds better to different cam durations so set your engine up on a rolling road.

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

A longer valve duration can alter the bhp 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.

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Best Engine Mods for your car

  1. Engine Tunes - engine tuning/remapping provides the most advantage in terms of cost savings,  aftermarket ECUs, and piggyback ECUs are all alternatives.
  2. Fast road cams are one of the most significant mechanical changes, but they must be installed by someone who knows what they're doing and they are not always easy to source but you might find a local firm to regrind a stock camshaft.
  3. Intake and Exhaust - Note that on their own these mods will NOT ADD POWER in most cases, but they can help enhance power after other mods by removing the restriction.
  4. Upgrades to turbochargers and superchargers - forced induction 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 but provides the best gains.
  5. Head work - The goals of porting and flowing the head are to get air flowing into the engine while removing flow restrictions and turbulence.
  6. Typical stage 1 mods often include:
    Intake manifolds, drilled & smoothed airbox, Sports exhaust header/manifold, Fast road camshaft, Panel air filters, Remaps/piggy back ECU.

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

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

    The RB20DE power trains are fantastic to work on and we're happy to report there are plenty of modifications and performance parts about.

    Remaps should help to fully realize the full potential of all the mods you've done to your RB20DE.

    (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 you can expect to see around 15% on NA (naturally aspirated) engines, but figures achieved usually differs on the mods you've applied and the condition of your engine.

    Feeding more air into each cylinder is the main goal to any car tuning job.

    Intake flow the air from the intake filter and allow it to be drawn into the engine cylinders.

    The size of bore and shape and flow characteristics of the Intake manifolds can make a substantial improvement to fuel atomisation and engine efficiency on the RB20DE.

    On popular production engines plenum chambers are in dire need of performance upgrades, although a few makers provide decently flowing plenum chambers.

    Big valve conversions on the RB20DE, doing some RB20DE port enlargement and head flowing will also improve bhp and torque, and significantly will permit increasing the bhp and torque increase on other parts.

    RB20DE 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 RB20DE

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

    If an engine has forced induction parts are relatively easy and we find turbo engines are made using many forged and stronger components.

    There are tuning limits for every engine, with some being extremely strong and some just sufficiently able to handle stock power. See where you'll find these restrictions and fit better quality components to cope with the power.

    Apexi and Megasquirt are popular ECU's to use on the RB20 projects and offer quite a range of options and settings to suit mild road to motorsport upgrades. Also the E-Manage Ultimate piggyback ECUs are also used a lot on RB20 tuning projects where power exceeds what the stock ECU can handle.

    We've seen drivers spending a lot of money on turbo upgrades on the RB20DE only to experience the whole thing go up in smoke when it's used on the roads.

    Large turbos commonly experience no power at low rpm, and low capacity turbos spool up much more quickly but won't have the peak end torque gains.

    Thankfully the choice of turbo chargers is always developing and we commonly find variable vane turbo chargers, permitting the vane profile is altered according to speed to lower lag and increase top end power.

    Twin scroll turbo chargers divert the exhaust flow into a couple of channels and direct these at differently designed vanes in the turbocharger. They also improve the scavenging effect of the engine.

    It is not unusual that there is a limitation in the air flow sensor (AFM/MAF/MAP) on the RB20DE when loads more air is being drawn into the engine.

    We see 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 difficult to get working. We have this feature on twinchargers if you want to read more.


    Don't overlook the need to ramp up the fuel delivery when you are increasing the performance - it makes the car more thirsty.

    The stock engine can handle around 350 bhp but you'll need to have added at least a turbo from the RB25 to get there.

    Increasing the fuelling and turbo will see around 400-420bhp still on stock internals but the mapping must be spot on .

    We strongly recommend you to be generous with your injector capacity.

    The rule of thumb is to add 20% capacity when buying an injector, this takes into account injector deterioration and provides some spare capacity should the engine require 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.

    6 Cylinder NA (naturally aspirated) engines

    • 58 PSI 189cc/min 200hp
    • 58 PSI 284cc/min 300hp
    • 58 PSI 378cc/min 400hp
    • 58 PSI 568cc/min 600hp

    6 Cylinder turbocharged engines

    • 58 PSI 227cc/min 200hp
    • 58 PSI 341cc/min 300hp
    • 58 PSI 454cc/min 400hp
    • 58 PSI 682cc/min 600hp

    RB20DE Performance Exhausts

    You may need to boost your exhaust if your exhaust is actually causing a flow problem.

    On most factory exhausts you'll find your 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 usually air flow from the engine but avoid an exhaust that is too big or you might just stuff your flow rate and make things worse. So generally speaking, keep to a size of 1.5 to around 2.5 inches to maximise flow rates, and this should take into account the amount of air your engine is moving.

    Typically exhaust restrictions come around the catalysts installed, so adding a higher flowing sports alternative is the answer. This keeps the car road legal and will flow much better due to it's higher internal surface area and design, so has the added benefit of keeping your car road legal. The alternative decat should be considered an off road only mod, as removing a catalyst is illegal in most territories and regions for road registered cars..

    Weak spots, Issues & problem areas on the RB20DE

    The RB20DE 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 RB20DE, 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 RB20DE engine please join us in our car forums where you can discuss with our RB20DE owners. It would also be worth reading our unbiased articles to get a full grasp of the benefits and drawbacks of each modification.

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

    We love to hear what our visitors have got up to and which upgrades work best for you on your car. Which helps us keep our guides and tips up to date helping others with their modified car projects. Your feedback and comments are used to keep this page up to date, and help improve the accuracy of these RB20DE tuning guides which get regular updates and revisions.

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