Getting the most power for Corolla tuning projects

"Thank you for reading our Corolla performance mod guide"

When you think of a Toyota Corolla, you might envision a reliable and efficient compact car that gets you from point A to point B without much fuss.

But what if I told you that beneath that unassuming exterior lies the potential for a thrilling and exhilarating driving experience? Welcome to the world of engine and ECU tuning, where you can turn your trusty Corolla into a pocket-sized powerhouse, a baby GR in the making.

Please note this article has to be very general in nature as there have been so many revisions to the Corolla over the years. Please let me know in the comments if you have a tip to pass on or would like me to cover specific model years in more detail.

The Corolla is very popular, and it can be tuned. Where to start with modifications is what we will consider in this tuning guide, and we'll discuss the best mods and upgrades for your Corolla. Handling improvements work well on most models, and tuning depends on the engine you have and your local availability of performance parts.

Sadly many parts and upgrades don't live up to the claims on the box, and as we are unbiased and not selling things we are free to be honest about the merits of each modification and upgrade for your Corolla.

An overview of the Corolla

In the world, the Toyota Corolla is one of the longest-running cars on the road. It has sold more units than the VW beetle. When the Corolla was first made in 1966, it quickly became the best-selling car in the world. Since then, it has been one of the best-selling cars in the world, and it is now on its 12th Generation.

During this article, we're going to look at the more recent models of the Corolla that were made in the 1990s and afterward.

The Corolla was made to be long-lasting and economical, and it was usually sold to people who were older. As a result, it has only been recently that people have started to change and tune the Corolla.

Which are the best Corolla engines for a tuning project?

The early 1.3 engines from before 2000 don't have a lot of room for tuning and should be avoided if you're looking for a project. You can, however, make the car more fun by making it handle and brake better.

We are have covered the awesome AE 86 in a separate article, as this really is a special classic Corolla.

The Toyota Corolla is one of the most popular cars in the world looking at units sold.

The 1.6l engine gets interesting when it's paired with a six-speed gear box. If you have a five speed gearbox, you will be able to go faster and get more out of a six speed gearbox thanks to the gear ratios.

After 2000, things start to get interesting. By the 11th generation in 2012, we see some really nice-looking cars that can be tuned well, even the 1.3 and 1.5 petrol engines, if you do the right things.

Tuning tips and articles

Engine tuning Transmission tuning Care care Intake & exhaust mods Improve handling Forums

Building the best Modified Corolla

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 Corolla

  1. Brake Upgrades - improving your Corollas stopping power should be a high priority.
  2. Suspension Upgrades - a set of coilvers, a modest drop and correct alignment can dramatically improve cornering.
  3. Fast road cams are one of the most significant mechanical changes but this only really applies to pre variable valve timing equipped engines. Also 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. Often quite hard to source, but worth the effort.
  4. Engine tunes/remaps - again not something that can be done on early models, but recent models boast an array of upgrade options, from piggyback devices, to boost controllers to ECU replacements & ECU flashes/tunes.
  5. 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.
  6. Head work - The goals of porting and flowing the head are to get air flowing into the engine while removing flow restrictions and turbulence.

Corolla Stage Tuning

Typical stage 1 mods often include: Panel air filter, Sports exhaust, Alloy wheels, Engine Tunes/Remapping, Suspension upgrade (drop 28mm - 37 mm), Lighter flywheel.

Typical stage 2 mods often include: Ported and polished head, Power/Sport clutch, high flow fuel injector, Fast road cam, fuel pump upgrades.

Typical stage 3 mods often include: Engine balancing, Adding or upgrading forced induction (turbo/supercharger), Internal engine upgrades (pistons/head/valves), Competition cam, Sports gearbox.

Corolla Brake Upgrades

Upgrades to the brakes are a smart idea. Don't forget about the brake pads, which are more important than the discs, and selecting an improper pad material may have a significant influence on your Corolla's braking capacity and disc longevity.

The brakes on the standard car are pretty sharp but this can be improved with the addition of vented disks and sports brake pads. Choose a pad which has a good low temperature friction if you are using the car as a daily runaround.

How do brakes work?

Brakes are necessary because going quickly needs the capacity to stop quickly! A brake converts kinetic energy into heat by pressing a friction pad on a disc.

This head's dissipation reduces the car's forward motion. Brake heat is produced by excessive braking.

The brake fluid itself may get rather hot towards the hot brake pad end, putting additional demands on the brake fluid; consequently, specify a good brake fluid, with glycol-based dot 5.1 filling the bill perfectly.

Simple Corolla brake improvements

There are a plethora of alternatives to pick from, including vented, drilled, and grooved models, as well as conversions to 4 and 6 pot callipers.

A somewhat bigger set from Toyota's sportier GR automobile line will be more than adequate for most drivers of a high performance modified Corolla (but don't expect a direct bolt on swap in most cases), and since they can be acquired from breakers yards and on the secondhand market, will not cost a lot when compared to an aftermarket arrangement.

choosing the right brake components can significantly improve your driving experience. Here's a list of recommended brands known for their quality and performance in brake upgrades:

D2 Racing

D2 Racing is renowned for offering reliable and efficient braking solutions. Their products are a great choice for drivers looking for enhanced stopping power and improved brake feel.


Ksport is another excellent brand for brake upgrades. Known for their high-performance brake kits, they offer a range of products that cater to different driving styles and needs.

Black Diamond

Black Diamond excels in producing brake components that not only improve performance but also last longer. Their brakes are designed for durability and consistent performance under various conditions.


Ferodo is a trusted name in the automotive brake industry. Their brake pads and discs are known for superior quality, offering exceptional stopping power and reduced brake fade.

EBC Brakes

EBC Brakes is a popular choice among car enthusiasts. They provide a wide range of brake pads and discs that suit various driving styles, from street driving to more aggressive track use.


PowerStop specializes in brake upgrade kits that are easy to install and offer immediate improvements in braking performance. They are ideal for drivers looking to enhance their vehicle's braking capabilities without extensive modifications.

Hawk Performance

Hawk Performance is renowned for their high-quality brake pads, which are widely used in both street and track environments. They offer a great balance between stopping power and longevity.


Brembo is arguably the most well-known brand in the world of high-performance braking systems. Their brakes are used in various motorsport applications and are known for exceptional quality and performance.

When selecting a brake upgrade, consider factors like your driving style, the typical conditions you drive in, and your vehicle's specific requirements. Each of these brands offers distinct advantages, and choosing the right one can significantly enhance your driving experience. Remember, a good braking system not only improves safety but also adds confidence and enjoyment to your drives.

Don't go overboard with your braking enhancements; you simply need to stop your Corolla efficiently, and you won't need to install a parachute!

The effectiveness of your braking system largely depends on the temperature of the brake discs. Cooler discs provide better performance, as the heat from braking is effectively transferred by the pads. Installing larger discs can significantly improve your vehicle's stopping power, but this usually requires new calipers and pads to accommodate the increased disc size.

Benefits of Upgrading to Larger Discs

When upgrading, you typically replace both the discs and pads. The advantage of larger discs is immediate: they offer more surface area for friction and are more efficient at dispersing heat. This means enhanced stopping power and better heat management during intense braking.

Vented Discs: Improved Cooling and Performance

Vented discs feature a central channel that increases the surface-to-air ratio, leading to faster cooling. This design is particularly effective in maintaining optimal braking performance.

Drilled Discs: Keeping Pads Effective

Drilled discs contribute to keeping the brake pads clean and efficient. They improve air flow and reduce gas vapor build-up between the pad and disc, ensuring consistent braking performance. While larger discs offer better cooling, they may require different alloy wheels to fit properly.

The Advantages of Bigger Brake Discs for Your Corolla

Larger brake discs excel in heat dissipation, handling higher temperatures more effectively than smaller discs.

The addition of vents and grooves further enhances cooling, although this slightly reduces the surface area.

With bigger discs, you gain more precise control over braking, leading to improved lap times on the track and a more responsive driving experience. Many drivers find that larger discs also tend to last longer, likely due to less aggressive use.

Selecting the Right Brake Pads

Improving Braking with New Pads

Simply replacing your Corolla's brake pads can lead to better braking performance. Over time, pads can lose friction due to repeated heating and cooling.

Waiting until they are completely worn is not cost-effective.

Racing Spec Pads: High Performance with a Trade-off

Racing spec pads are designed to perform at high temperatures, maintaining effectiveness during intense track use.

However, they lack initial bite when cold, leading to longer braking distances initially. This makes them less suitable for regular road use.

Environmental Considerations and Brake Dust

Brake dust is not just a nuisance for keeping your rims clean; it's also an environmental concern. There's growing awareness and potential regulatory attention on the amount of dust produced by car brakes.

While there are low dust pads available, they often come with trade-offs like increased noise or reduced performance.

Materials and Composition of Brake Pads

Despite the challenges, high-friction brake pads are crucial for optimal performance.

Racing brakes, which use a high-temperature compound, may be less effective at lower temperatures and can be noisier, but they provide the necessary grip and responsiveness for high-performance driving.

Because racing grade brake pads only work when they are very hot, they are unsuitable for use on the road, where braking is normally done on cold pads or in short bursts.

TorqueCars has discovered that fast road pads from Brembo, HKS, Pagid, Green Stuff, and Black Diamond offer a good mix of braking and wear.

Always check the brake fluid and test any modifications to your bakes; if you are hesitant about mechanical maintenance on your Corolla, the brakes should be left to a professional.

The most harmful upgrades we encounter involve brakes or a poorly setup/balanced braking system.

Corolla Handling/Suspension upgrades

I would describe the handling on the Corolla as comfortable. It has a tendency to wallow over lumps in the road. One of the first modifications I would recommend (even on the 1.3 models) is to uprate the suspension. Get 28mm - 37 mm lower springs and adjustable dampers and you will have a much better handling car.

Many Corolla owners uprate the handling of their cars with suspension kits as a priority, this will certainly increase your enjoyment of the car.

Fully adjustable suspension allows you to fine tune the handling of you Corolla substantially improving your drive.

Corolla Handling and suspension improvements

We'd go up to a maximum drop of 35mm on most of the Corollas over the years. In this case, your tires shouldn't rub against the arches but it depends on your rim size.

In car tuning projects, improving the handling of a Corolla is often the first thing people want to do. But we see the same mistakes made over and over again.

You need to think about these things if your car is also used as a daily driver.

The condition of the bushings

Bushes are rubber mounts that rotate, allowing the parts of the Corolla suspension to attach and move around the car's frame. The rubber ones will break down over time.

A new set of rubber bushings made by the manufacturer can make your car much more stable.

Polyurethane bushes that are made of polyurethane last longer and keep the steering much tighter, but they might make the ride a little bumpier because they are stronger.

They may also speed up the wear and tear on other parts of the suspension because of the vibration and play.

A set of new poly bushes will make your car more stable by cutting down on the excessive play that rubber bushes cause.

Most aftermarket bushing kits come with a full set of suspension bushes. Some rare models and older models only have the main bushes in polyurethane.

Most of the time, custom-made bushes can be made to meet your needs if a set is not available so seek out local specialists who can create a set with the flex and characteristics you need.

A lot of people wrongly think that if they buy a non-adjustable suspension system that lowers the car 50mm from a local parts store, they'll have the best set up.

There are also a lot of Corolla suspension kits on the market that aren't very specific, and some vendors say that they can be used on any or all of the car's models.

A One-size-fits-all suspension kit isn't ideal, because different engine weights, wheel sizes, and vehicles need different suspension characteristics.

Remember that speed bumps will not slow down a lowered car. Instead, they will grip the sump and pull off the bottom of the engine and most of the front skirt. Lower doesn't always mean better control.

TorqueCars says that most cars on the road should not be dropped more than 35mm. Hot hatches with upgraded suspension should only be dropped 30mm, the website says.

If you changed the size of your wheels, these tolerances could be much lower. With a conventional suspension and 16" rims, a car would be fine. If it's lowered as well, you might run into a lot of problems, though.

Keeping the vehicle stable should always be the goal, and because the vehicle is lower, there is less air moving under it, which could help with that. It's important to keep in mind that lower springs should be used with shocks that match them.

Adjusting your Corollas suspension

Fronts with a little negative camber can help your Corolla be more stable. Toe in on the fronts can also help with cornering, but this isn't always the best option as the tradeoff is stability in straight lines and lower tire wear.

Drop the car as far as 27mm - 36mm and put in stiffer dampers from a racing class. Most cars with bigger drops will need other changes.

Check the fueling and try a higher octane fuel as well if you start having flat spots and power surges after you make changes to the way your car runs. To get enough fuel, you might need to change the injectors on your engine. The bigger the injectors, the bigger the fuel pump you'll need to keep up with them.

We suggest that you fit motorsport suspension and lower the car by 28mm - 37 mm. Larger drops require arch work - especially on models already equipped with performance suspension.

Don't just look at the peak power figures, you need to see the whole torque curve when determining if a mod is right for you Corolla.

Smaller engines do not provide much of a return in terms of power so start with a bigger engine. Engine swaps are a good option if you have a small engine size.

Corolla Power Modifications: Transforming Your Drive

Taking Your Corolla to the Next Level with Modifications

Modifying your Corolla is an exciting journey, allowing you to tailor the vehicle to your driving preferences. It's crucial to plan your modifications based on how you intend to use your car. This approach not only saves time and money but also ensures you get the most out of your modifications.

Understanding the Limits: Street vs. Track

Be mindful that high-level modifications, like Stage 3 motorsport mods, may not be suitable for everyday road use. They can make your car challenging to handle in regular traffic. Your modification goals should aim for a balanced torque curve, enhancing performance without compromising drivability, especially if the car is not solely for competition use.

Engine Swaps: A Bold Move

Swapping the engine is a significant modification, and many enthusiasts are turning to the Celica as a donor vehicle. This type of modification is substantial, but with a Celica engine combined with handling tweaks, your Corolla can become an impressive track day contender.

Corolla Fast road camshafts

Understanding Camshafts and VVT in Corollas

The Role of Camshafts in Engine Performance Camshafts are crucial in controlling the opening and closing of an engine's intake and exhaust valves. The timing of these actions directly influences engine performance, power output, and fuel efficiency. In traditional engines, upgrading the camshaft to a "fast road" profile can be an effective way to enhance performance.

VVT: Advanced Valve Timing Technology However, for Corollas equipped with Variable Valve Timing (VVT), the scenario changes. VVT is an advanced technology that automatically adjusts valve timing. This system can optimize performance and efficiency across different engine speeds and conditions. Essentially, VVT does what performance camshafts do, but dynamically and automatically.

Why Camshafts Upgrades May Be Redundant in VVT-Equipped Corollas In Corollas with VVT, the need for aftermarket camshaft upgrades is significantly reduced. This is because the VVT system already optimizes the timing for various driving conditions, providing a balance of power, efficiency, and emissions. Upgrading the camshaft in a VVT-equipped engine might not yield the same level of benefit as it would in a non-VVT engine.

Performance Enhancement with VVT The beauty of VVT lies in its ability to offer both performance and efficiency without manual intervention. For those driving a VVT-equipped Corolla, focusing on other areas of modification, such as the exhaust system, air intake, or ECU tuning, might be more beneficial and cost-effective.

One of the best mechanical mods you can do to your pre VVT NA (naturally aspirated) engine is to fit a performance or "fast road" camshaft.

A regrind on a stock cam profile is in any areas the only option where off the shelf performance cams are not available.


You will need to ensure that the engine is not starved of fuel so will need to uprate the fuelling.

Frequently power losses, and erratic idling after tuning kits are done can usually be traced to timing or fuel delivery issues.Uprating the injectors is another beneficial modification and will deliver sufficient fuel.

A fuel pump will only deliver a finite amount of fuel, so you may need to uprate this if your injectors are demanding more fuel.

Corolla Air Intake and Exhaust Mods.

Optimizing Airflow for Peak Performance

The intake and exhaust system plays a vital role in your car's performance. However, we generally advise against induction kits unless your car has seen a significant power increase. For most Corolla engines, a cotton sports panel air filter is an ideal choice.

Induction kits can work well on turbo engines and larger engines (if supplied with a suitable cold air feed or air box), generally, though we'd just recommend for Corolla engines you should just fit a sports panel air filter preferably made from cotton.

A sports exhaust can significantly improve airflow but choosing the right size is crucial. A general rule of thumb is to stick between 1.5 to 2.5 inches in diameter. Pairing a racing header with a quality induction kit and cold air feed can yield excellent results.

Exhaust - get a racing header for the best flow rates and mate this to a good quality induction kit with a cold air feed pipe. There are a number of tailpipes around for the Corolla - we like the sound of the HKS legamax but most aftermarket exhausts will produce a better sound.

Getting the cylinder head ported and polished will further help more air into each cylinder. This is definitely a job for a pro with a flow bench. When you tune up your Corolla you will see that the standard clutch starts to complain so get an uprated clutch. The best mods in our opinion for your Corolla are fast road camshaft, remap, induction and exhaust, suspension.

Can you tune/remap a Corolla?

ECU Tuning: The Heart of Your Corolla's Transformation

Unlocking Potential with ECU Remapping Remapping the ECU should be viewed as giving your Corolla a performance makeover. It optimizes crucial parameters like ignition timing and fuel delivery. This is especially effective in turbocharged models, enhancing power output and responsiveness.

The Evolution of Corolla Tuning Older Corolla models were challenging to remap, leading many to opt for aftermarket ECUs. These replacements allow for comprehensive adjustments and are often necessary with extensive engine mods. Fortunately, newer models offer more straightforward tuning options, with remaps providing significant power boosts.

The Benefits of Tuning Your Corolla

Tuning your Corolla's engine unlocks hidden capabilities, offering a more exhilarating driving experience. This optimization maximizes power and responsiveness, making each journey more enjoyable.

Improved Acceleration and Control A tuned Corolla isn't just faster; it's more responsive and controlled. The throttle reacts more sharply to your inputs, providing a driving experience that's both exciting and precise.

Seeking Professional Assistance When considering tuning your Corolla, it's advisable to consult with specialists. Their expertise ensures your car is modified correctly, balancing performance enhancements with reliability and safety.

Remaps offer significant power gains on all turbo charged cars. The ecu was traditionally very hard to tune/remap in the Corolla, so owners looking to change the ignition timing will usually choose an aftermarket ECU. This completely replaces the standard ECU and allows for full mapping and in most cases offers more flexibility.

Thankfully more recent models have a choice of mapping specialists and upgrades, and you can expect around 10% more power on NA (naturally aspirated) engines, and 20-30% on turbocharged models, particularly the diesels.

Increased Engine Performance

Picture this: your Corolla's engine, already a workhorse, now roaring with newfound vigor. Engine tuning takes your car's performance to the next level, extracting untapped power that adds pleasure to every drive. With optimized parameters, the engine's capabilities are maximized, delivering a surge of energy that's bound to put a smile on your face.

Improved Overall Acceleration

The improved acceleration is not just about speed – it's about commanding the road with confidence delivering power and response where you need it most which for most of us Corolla drivers is in the mid part of the RPM range.

Tuning isn't just about raw power; it's very much about finesse and control. With a tuned engine (ECU mods), your Corolla becomes an extension of your intentions. The throttle responds crisply, and every input you make is met with precision.

To unlock the true potential of your Corolla, it's advisable to seek specialists locally, over the years we've moved from pretty much locked ECUs with no tuning options to an array of ECU mapping devices, tuning boxes, flash tuners and piggyback options.

Exploring Your Options, please let me know which you've found to be most beneficial.

When it comes to tuning, a world of possibilities awaits. Among the esteemed names in the tuning realm, a few shine particularly brightly.

AEM stands tall as a performance giant, offering engine management systems that bring out the best in your Corolla.

COBB Tuning is renowned for its innovative approach to tuning, providing a range of solutions that cater to different needs.

And let's not forget about HKS, a name synonymous with performance excellence, known for its precision-engineered tuning solutions that push boundaries with a range of options for most recent plate Corollas.

With engine and ECU tuning, the possibilities are endless, and the rewards are undeniable.

Corolla Alloy wheel upgrades.

The benefits of alloys include lowering your unsprung weight and better brake cooling via the extra air flow they allow.

If you are serious about performance then you will need to carefully choose your tires - ideally with a directional tread pattern tire. Large Corolla alloys can decrease performance. If you get big alloys you will be changing your final drive ratio.

For this reason we would advise sticking to a maximum wheel size of 16 inches, although we know some of our members have installed larger rims with no problems on more recent models.

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

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3 Responses to “Corolla Tuning”

  1. Kellon says:

    i have done a bit more than that, i mated a 4spd manual to me 1.5l (once auto) head swap, stage 2 copper ACT clutch, hand build external induction. no exhaust work yet running on 13s still managed to hit 160kmph(100mph) from around 60kmph in around 200 meters :. I still have a lot to do.

  2. CATO says:

    What head did you use? Can anyone help with simple mods for 4age 20valve silver top that you can feel the difference?

  3. Paul says:

    Good over view of reality most people dont think of, Ive been servicing and working on all the vehicles i own, mostly Toyota and various motorbikes ive owned since being 11 owning a Vespa 1952 Great to hear some common sense information thats true.. Well done. and keep up the good advice, Paul from OZ yes Ive done the circuit of Australia in a 1974 Corolla panel van in the 80’s !!

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