Nissan RB20DET-R Tuning

"All you need to know about tuning the Nissan RB20DET-R engine!"

One engine that keeps cropping up in emails and questions we get sent, is the RB20DET, and what mods work best on it. So this guide has been assembled to cover the primary areas you should tune and outline which mods we feel are the best.

Let us review and look at RB20DET-R tuning and provide tips on the best upgrades. Nissan RB20DET-R are good project engines and with a few sensible tuning upgrades like remapping, turbo kits and camshafts you will positively improve your driving fun.

History, Power & Specs of the RB20DET-R Engine

  • RB20DET-R
    twin-cam, turbocharged
    Power:  207 hp at 6400 rpm 181 lbft at 4800 rpm

Tuning the Nissan RB20DET-R and best RB20DET-R performance parts.

Best RB20DET-R parts

Just because particular parts are are common on RB20DET-R it doesn't mean it is good, we will concentrate on the best parts that will give your RB20DET-R the best power gain for you money.

Altering your RB20DET-R camshaft will make a dramatic difference to the engine torque. Choosing a higher performance camshaft profile raises the torque accordingly.

Fast road cams usually raise the torque over the rpm band, you may lose a little low end bhp but higher rpm power will be higher.

Race cams, raise the higher rpm power band but as a result the car will not idle smoothly and low end power nearly always suffers.

In a car driven daily you need to match your engines power to your cars usage.

I'd never think that a RB20DET-R Motorsport and race 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 RB20DET-R engines respond better to extreme camshaft durations check your engine on a rolling road.

The ecu map and fuelling also will make differences on the torque gains you'll hit. Apexi and Megasquirt are popular aftermarket ECU's to use on the RB20 projects and offer quite a range of options and settings to suit mild road to motorsport upgrades.

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.

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Best Engine Mods for your RB20DET-R

    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.

RB20DET-R Tuning Stages

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

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

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

The RB20DET-R engines respond well to mods and we're happy to report there are quite a few choices of mods and tuning parts out there.

A remap should help to establish the full potential of all the tuning mods you've done to your RB20DET-R.

(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 your results usually rely on the tuning mods you've carried out and the condition of your engine.

It is vital to any engine tuning task to force more fuel and air into each cylinder

Intake manifolds transmit the air from the filter and allow it to be drawn into the engine cylinders with fuel for the squish phase.

The bore size, shape and rate of flow of the Plenum can make a noticeable difference to fuel atomisation and engine efficiency on the RB20DET-R.

I usually find intake are in desperate need of an upgrade, although some manufacturers provide decently flowing intake.

Increasing the RB20DET-R valve size, doing a bit of RB20DET-R port enlargement and head flowing will also raise power, and as an added benefit will permit a better power increase on other tuning mods.

RB20DET-R Turbo upgrades

A front mounted intercooler and Walbro fuel pump are usually high on the list of mods for the Turbo versions of the RB20.

      • HKS 2835 380hp
      • HKS2530 380hp (better for low end power)
      • HKS GT3037 / 3037S 400-450hp
      • GREDDY TD06-20G comes as a full kit

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. The RB25DET turbo provides more power and is relatively simple to mate to an RB20 block requiring only oil and air line rerouting.

If the engine is fitted with a turbo parts are more reliable and you'll see that turbo charged engines are built using stronger components.

There are common areas of failure 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 upgrade to better pistons and crank to survive the power.

We see many car owners spending a a stack of money on turbocharger upgrades on the RB20DET-R only to see the motor literally blow up when it's used in anger.

The E-Manage Ultimate and the Power FC piggyback ECUs are also used a lot on RB20 tuning projects where power exceeds what the stock ECU can handle.

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 .

Big capacity turbochargers will usually experience low end lag, and smaller turbochargers spool up much more quickly but don't have the high rpm power band gains.

Thanks to progress the selection of turbochargers is always improving and we are seeing variable vane turbochargers, allowing the vane profile is altered according to speed to lower lag and increase top end bhp.

Twin scroll turbochargers divert the exhaust flow into a couple of channels and feed these at differently designed vanes in the turbo. They also help the scavenging effect of the engine.

It is common that there is a restriction in the air flow sensor MAP/MAF/AFM on the RB20DET-R when a lot more air is being drawn into the engine.

We note 4 bar air sensors coping with quite large power gains, whereas the OEM air sensor was restricting bhp and torque at a much lower level.

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


Don't omit to ramp up the fuel system when you are increasing the bhp - it makes the car more thirsty. It is important to over specify your flow rate on the injectors.

The accepted safe increase is to add 20% when fitting an injector, this accounts for injector deterioration and affords 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

RB20DET-R Performance Exhausts

Only look to upgrade your exhaust if your current exhaust is actually causing a restriction in flow.

On most factory exhausts you'll see the exhaust flow rate is still fine 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 generally help improve air flow through the engine but avoid an exhaust that is too wide 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.

Common exhaust restrictions come around the catalyst and filters installed, so adding a better flowing high performance aftermarket one will improve air flow, and rather than doing an illegal decat, will keep the car road legal.

Weak spots, Issues & problem areas on the RB20DET-R

The RB20DET-R 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 RB20DET-R, 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 RB20DET-R engine please join us in our car forums where you can discuss with our RB20DET-R 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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We love to hear what our visitors have got up to and which tuning parts 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 RB20DET-R tuning guides which get regular updates and revisions.

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