As car enthusiasts, we can never surely turn down the opportunity of extra power and quicker lap times. Indeed, your daily driver may already be something quite sporty, but the thought of taking it to the next level with performance modifications crosses all of our minds from time to time.
So, whether you want to raise your top speed or simply increase the g-force of your car’s cornering abilities, there is a car modification or five out there for you. Let’s explore what car upgrades you can make to turn your beloved machine into a back road and track weapon.
First of all, let’s start with car performance modifications that straight-up improve the speed and acceleration of your car. With that in mind, you really cannot go wrong with adding some forced induction to your pride and joy.
Forced induction can feature either turbochargers or superchargers and are particularly popular as Euro performance car upgrades – where cars typically come with small displacement for the sake of fuel economy. They work by compressing the air that your engine uses to ignite with the fuel, and, as the name suggests, forces it into your combustion chamber at a far greater rate than atmospheric pressure.
Turbochargers work by spooling up a turbine powered by the exhaust flow of your car. The spinning turbine sucks in air and pushes it to your engine, creating more power as your engine injects more fuel to keep the air-fuel ratio correct. The higher pressure you run your turbo, the more boost (i.e. more horsepower) it’ll produce.
Turbos are infamously regarded by some car enthusiasts to be full of lag and creating a non-linear throttle response. While true for the most part, there is enjoyment to be had from the ‘nothing… nothing… nothing… BOOST’ sensation, and some modern systems have clever electronic tricks and mechanical workarounds to eliminate lag.
If you want to keep your engine feeling as naturally aspirated as possible, though, then you’ll want to look at a supercharger. Unlike turbos, these run off a belt directly from your engine’s crankshaft, meaning they are constantly spinning in direct correlation with your engine RPM. Throttle response is instant, and boost takes no time to build. They do mean your engine uses more fuel, but it’s a small price to play for all that extra power.
To make your forced induction appliance even more effective, you may want to consider adding an intercooler to your induction system. An intercooler’s role is simple: it cools the air that gets heated up in the compression stage from a turbo or supercharger. Cool air is far more effective in your engine than hot air, and an intercooler gives you breathing room to crank up the boost pressure for even greater horsepower figures.
Upgrading your exhaust system to a performance exhaust is another great car upgrade you can make if your aim is to get more power out of your engine. Effectively, the standard exhaust system on your car is quite a large bottleneck, with the various mufflers, twisting pipes and catalytic converters restricting the airflow from exiting your vehicle – and thus creating backpressure.
Performance exhausts from manufacturers such as the well-known outlet Capristo Exhaust systems, all have a common goal: let the engine breathe easier. The lack of backpressure from a more direct and simple exhaust system means more fresh air can enter the engine as the exhaust air exits quicker. More air means more power; more power means more speed.
On top of all the horsepower and efficiency benefits, an exhaust can turn your perhaps boring-sounding engine note into something naughty and fruity. Exhaust systems can be tuned by specialists to create all kinds of sounds, from a rally-like popping and banging affair to a more tuneful and exotic note; perhaps even imitating your favourite supercars, such as a Lamborghini exhaust with the right engine.
ECU Remapping is an increasingly common and easy method of extracting extra power – especially if your car comes with forced induction from the factory. It’s a very popular method in the European car tuning community (where the vast majority of new cars sold are now turbocharged), but it’s also common across the world thanks to its ease of application.
Simply put, a remap taps into your car’s ECU and rewrites the software with a different ‘map’, with the overall result of your car behaving differently from what it was intended to do at the factory. It’s such an effective performance modification because cars are tuned conservatively from the factory in order to be able to tolerate different climates, fuel qualities, and for the sake of durability. An ECU remap effectively unlocks the capabilities your engine had all along, with very few – if any – downsides to reliability and character.
Best of all, remaps are typically very cheap for the performance you can get out of them, since they often only typically involve plugging a laptop into your car for minutes. You certainly don’t need to see your local expensive Melbourne Porsche mechanic or Mercedes mechanic for this upgrade – there are countless independent specialists out there. The downside is you typically see smaller returns if your car is naturally aspirated, but all-in-all, a remap is one of the easiest and cheapest ways of getting into the tuning world.
Cold air intake
Whilst slightly less impactful than major performance parts such as forced induction, you can still find tangible performance increases for relatively little cost with a good quality cold air intake upgrade.
Following very similar principles to intercoolers, the way cold air intakes work is following the principle that cooler, denser air works better for your engine, since it allows for more aggressive tuning setups from other components that may cause the engine to generate extra heat from the increased workload. They are designed to keep air resistance down to an absolute minimum, as well as having an optimal route to your engine that keeps the air as cool as possible for as long as possible.
On their own, cold air intakes have fairly modest performance improvements, but when paired with other car upgrades such as the aforementioned sports exhaust, they help to create the most efficient breathing system physically possible for your engine, which only helps to boost the peak power.
As we know, straight-line speed is not the complete answer if you want your car to be a track weapon. Handling agility is just as important to upgrade for any car outside of a drag strip, and we start with one of the most obvious and simple car upgrades: improved tyres.
Tyres are the only contact your car has with the road, and therefore they have a very large influence of how positive your car feels around the bends, and in more adverse conditions such as snow and rainwater. Softer tyre compounds grip onto the road stronger, can reduce your braking distances, increase stability mid-corner, and can provide you with more ‘feel’ through the steering wheel. All of these benefits play into the effort of shaving down your lap times.
Slicker tyres also have poorer wet weather performance, and many sports-focused tyre compounds need a period of warming up before they provide optimum grip, so consider your vehicle usage before settling for a set of tyres that may be potentially too track-focused for you. The good news is that there’s a set of tyres for everyone’s preferences out there from dozens of different brands – and most will offer a substantial performance upgrade over a standard set of rubber.
It’s all well and good having sticky tyres for your track and back-road blast, but if your car still leans and bounces through the corner, it will continue to affect the positive impact of other performance modifications you may have installed.
Factory-installed suspension, much like regular tyres, are designed with all forms of driving conditions in mind. That means your car is tuned to be peaceful for a motorway cruise and non-intrusive when you go over a sharp pothole on the road. That’s all well and good for daily driving, but for sports driving, a soft suspension setup compromises handling.
Sports-tuned springs and shock absorbers are typically much stiffer than factory offerings and are therefore far more capable of dealing with the sudden changes in weight transfer in hard cornering. Your car will handle more predictably and will inspire confidence in you as a driver.
Brakes are one of the most essential safety components on your car, and they can become one of the most essential car upgrades, too. Standard braking systems are designed to provide enough stopping power to keep you out of trouble within speed limits, but on the track, you’ll likely be going a lot quicker.
Stronger sports brakes mean your stopping distance will be shorter, which in turn means you’ll spend more time speeding up than slowing down. On top of that, sports braking systems are specifically designed to resist fading, no matter how many hard laps you pound round your favourite track. This is mainly due to their improved thermal resistance – important when you’re consistently stamping on the brake pedal every twenty seconds.
Improved braking systems vary a lot in price and performance. Just like tyres, do your research into what you believe will be the best compromise between track performance and daily drivability for you.
Limited Slip Differential
Lastly, another fantastic car modification you can make to really turn your pride and joy into an athletic toy is the installation of a limited slip differential, or LSD for short.
LSDs work by reducing torque given to a spinning wheel. For example, if you turn a tight hairpin and your inside wheel lights up spinning when you floor it, an LSD will send more torque to the outside wheel instead. It means you have fair greater traction coming out of bends compared to a standard open differential. By comparison, a standard open differential has no restrictive limit on how much one wheel can spin when torque is applied. LSDs also allow for easy drifting since both tyres will spin instead of just one, if that’s more your thing.
Limited slip differentials are another way of further transforming the sporty handling of your car on and off the track. This, combined with all the other performance modifications listed above, can transform even the most unassuming civilian vehicle into a force to be reckoned with. Be sure to do your research on your local area’s safety standards, your vehicle’s warranty, and your vehicle’s insurance before applying modifications. But most importantly of all, have fun and enjoy your new, next level, driving machine.