The LS family is a series of engines that are actually really similar to each other. The architect of the Gen III and Gen IV Chevy V8 is extremely similar. The Gen IVs are supposed to have a slightly stronger block, but not by much. The main difference between the engines in the LS family is the displacement, intake, camshaft, and various small details. The LS1 and the LS3 have a lot in common. But, the most obvious difference between the two is the displacement.
The LS1 has 5.7L of displacement, and technically was the first Gen III Chevrolet engine. The LS3 on the other hand has 6.2L of displacement, and is a Gen IV Chevrolet engine. But I’m sure you’re wondering if there is other things that are different between these two, other than the displacement. With the given age gap between these two engines what was Chevrolet able to improve upon? So, let’s dive in, and compare LS1 vs LS3.
LS1 vs LS3: Cylinder Heads
One of the most important parts to any performance engine is the cylinder head(s). Things like port shape, size, and length have a massive effect on the performance output. Luckily when Chevrolet built the LS family they knew how to make really good cylinder heads. As a matter of fact, LS7 heads flow nearly as well as Nascar heads! But what about the LS1 and LS3?
LS1 flow numbers: 244 cfm intake, 206 cfm exhaust. Pretty impressive for completely stock production heads.
LS3 flow numbers: 293 cfm intake, 244 cfm exhaust. As you can tell, Chevrolet continued to innovate and design better heads throughout the LS family’s lifetime.
So it’s not really a huge surprise to LS enthusiasts that the LS3 heads are pretty amazing. They outflow LS1, LS2, and LS6 heads by 50 cfm on the intake side. Thats a massive amount. But, unfortunately you can’t really just bolt LS3 heads onto an LS1 due to the LS3 heads needing a minimum cylinder bore of 4″.
LS1 vs LS3: Intake
Just like everything else in this comparison, the later engine was better in nearly every single way. The LS1 and LS3 intake are somewhat similar, but have quite a few differences. First of all, the LS1 intake manifold is designed for the cathedral port heads (LS1, LS2, LS6, and truck heads). So unfortunately you can’t just bolt an LS3 intake onto an earlier LS.
Chevrolet also increased the LS3’s intake manifold flow by straightening out the intake runner, and optimizing the flow path to the heads. The LS3 intake is designed for the later rectangle heads. The LS3 intake produces about 10-20 horsepower more than the LS1 intake. But, if you want the LS3 intake you also need LS3 heads, and a 4.0″ bore block.
LS1 vs LS3: Cost
So by now I’m sure you know that the LS1 was the first engine to be released in the LS family. It was also produced in fairly large numbers. It was C5 Corvette engine until the LS2 came around, it can also be found in the Camaro SS.
The LS3 on the other hand didn’t come around until 2008. Much like the LS2 it replaced, it was the new base Corvette engine. The LS3 also came in 2010-2015 Camaro’s, and various other Chevrolet vehicles.
Why am I telling you what cars the LS1 and LS3 came in? Because thats a large factor when it comes to pricing. The LS1 is more abundant than the LS3, which brings the price down quite a bit. The LS1 is also older, which also makes it cheaper.
So, to no ones surprise, the LS1 is cheaper. An entire LS1 drivetrain can be picked up for about $1000+ less than an entire LS3 drivetrain.
LS1 vs LS3: Which One Should I Swap?
The Chevy LS is pretty much the go-to swap when you’re looking to upgrade your engine. But which LS should you swap? The LS1 or the LS3? This can be pretty dependent on your budget. If you’re willing to cut some corners elsewhere on your car to afford an LS3, I say do it. If you are on a tight budget then the LS1 will work perfect for you.
The LS1 and LS3 are going to be almost identical as far as the swap process, so you might as well get the more powerful engine if possible. Both are very easy to swap thanks to the simple wiring harness of the LS. The wiring harness allows the LS to run on its loop, so it has no idea what’s going on with the rest of the car.
So Which One is Better?
Much like the LS1 vs LS2 debate, the later engine is the better one. The LS3 makes more power than an LS1, and has more potential at the end of the day. The LS3 has better heads, a better intake, and a bigger displacement. But, price limits nearly every car guy. We must pick and choose our parts in order to stay within our allotted budget. For that reason many of us will end up picking the LS1.
Although we would all love to have to bigger, and better LS3. Most of us just can’t afford it. Like I said in the LS2 vs LS3 debate, I would personally rather have an aluminum 5.3L from a Tahoe. It’s a much cheaper option and it’s nearly just as good as the LS1. All the money you save going with a 5.3L can be put into a set of top-of-the-line cylinder heads.
Have you noticed that a lot of car enthusiasts are putting Chevy engines in their project cars, as opposed to building a high performance engine that originally came in their car? Well, there’s a few good reasons why you should swap an LS engine into your car if you’re looking for high performance and reliability.
The Chevy LS Engine, first debuted in the 1997 Corvette, GM called it the “Gen III small-block” now known as the LS1. The LS1 is a 5.7L engine and it featured an all-aluminum design, coil near plug ignition, and various other new features that made it vastly greater than the previous generation small block. In 1998 the LS1 replaced the LT1 found in Camaros and Firebirds. Chevrolet then began producing an iron-block Gen III small block which came in the pick-up trucks and SUVs.
Chevrolet later produced the the “Gen IV small-block”, which featured MPG boosting cylinder deactivation, larger displacements compared to Gen III and reengineered camshaft sensing, all of which were great improvements for the LS engine family. The Gen IV family includes the LS2, LS3, super-charged LS9, super-charged LSA, and the all-mighty LS7.
6. Engine Strength
What would a good engine be without a solid foundation? Chevrolet knew that the strength of the block was extremely important when they developed the LS engine. Lets start with the block design. Chevrolet designed the Gen III (LS) block as a “Y” block. The Y block design helps increase rigidity in the main cap area. Previous small blocks didn’t have this design.
The Y block design allows them to use 6 bolt main caps on the crankshaft, 4 facing vertically, and 2 horizontally that clamp the block wall to the main cap. This is what GM engineers call snap-fit cross-bolting. This design provides great crankshaft and block rigidity.
Chevrolet took it a step further by not just designing an incredibly strong bottom end, but also a strong top end. Chevy designed the block to take extra long head bolts that thread much deeper into the block than previous GM small-block engines. This minimizes cylinder bore distortion and variation in the head bolt torque spec which can become a problem when mass producing engines. Subaru and Toyota are currently facing this issue with the FA20.
Chevy also raised the camshaft up and farther away from the crank which allows them to clear a 4 inch stroke crankshaft, which was used in later model LS engines. To further increase the strength of the top of the engine block they used a “valley plate”, which is a large plate of metal that cover the valley where the camshaft lifters reside. This increases the strength of the block by bolting each side of the block onto one plate.
The pistons are the weakest point in the LS engine. They are pretty strong, but when you start getting into serious performance they are the first to fail. All of this combined made the LS engine stronger and smaller than any other GM small-block before it. There are people out there making close to 1,000 horsepower on stock bottom end LS engines.
Chevrolet has produced the LS engine since 1997, and they came in everything from Trucks and SUVs to Camaros and Corvettes. Since they were put in so many cars, there’s a slight over abundance of them, and with the rising popularity of LS swaps, the prices have dropped due to high demand for used engines. You can walk into any junkyard in America and find an iron or aluminum LS engine within a few minutes, they’re that common.
Replacement parts are also very cheap, this is not only because of its extreme mass production, but also the fact that its an American car, so replacement parts are produced by hundreds of manufacturers, which drives the prices down. Although some parts can be expensive, the parts are dirt cheap compared to high performance Japanese engines.
A great example would be the world famous beater bomb. Which is the true meaning of balling-on-a-budget. Beater bomb is a world famous street racing Fox Body. He has blown up a few LS engine’s from spraying to much nitrous, and all he has to do is walk into the junkyard with a couple hundred dollars to get a new engine.
4. Displacement Options
Since the LS engine came in a variety of automobiles for over 15 years now, Chevrolet needed to develop different size engines for different uses. Chevy trucks came with iron-block 4.8L and 5.3L they also came with all-aluminum 6.0L and 6.2L engines. Car engines came in 5.3L, 5.7L, 6.0L, 6.2L and 7.0L size engines, some configured for front-wheel-drive. Not only are there options when deciding on displacement, there are also choices when deciding if you want an iron or aluminum block.
The rise of stroker kits has also increased the amount of displacement options. The LS7 can be pretty expensive, but you can always buy a stroker 427 ci kit for your LS3 and beat an LS7.
If you count Chevy Performance’s LSX engines, then the biggest available LS engine would be the LSX 454 (7.4L). The cheapest of the LS engine family is the 5.3L truck engine, since it came in most of the trucks and SUVs that Chevrolet produced in the early to mid 2000’s. All of these engines have been pushed past 1000+ horsepower by racers, and have done so reliably.
With such a large amount of LS engines, and in such a variety of vehicles, aftermarket companies started making every performance part imaginable. From just the basic bolt-ons like an intake/exhaust, all the way up the race-spec cylinder heads and turbo kits. The most common modification being a high performance camshaft, which is really the best bang-for-buck upgrade you can do on these engines.
The rise in popularity of LS engines has also helped mold some of the worlds best engine builders into LS masters. Companies like Nelson Racing Engines have become extremely popular to do their knowledge of the LS engine and they really know how to get the best bang for buck performance out of them. From mild builds, to high horsepower street cars, to full race cars, companies like NRE can build you one incredible little LS engine for your application.
Chevy also jumped into the aftermarket game of its own engine. Chevrolet Performance produces the LSX, the holy grail of Chevy engines, the most powerful being the LSX454r crate engine which produces a whopping 770 horsepower and 620 ft-lbs of torque. Chevrolet Performance also produces high strength engine blocks, as well as many other components to hop up your LS engine. The aftermarket also makes a lot of swap kits, making it a breeze to swap an Chevy LS engine into basically any automobile you want.
Chevy really knew what they were doing when they designed the LS engines, they designed an engine family that made good horsepower and good torque. How did they do this? The factory heads flow nearly as good as nascar heads did at the time (300+ cfm). They achieved this by using modern computer technology to test different port lengths and designed to find the best performing head design. You may be surprised by how the port shape, size, and length can affect torque and horsepower ratings.
Chevrolet also designed the intake manifold using similar technology, they aimed for the LS engine to produce usable power really low in the RPMs, and decent power up high. They also focused on small features like the cam size, they made the cam core massive, which means you can easily fit a .600+ lift cam and it won’t be that harsh on your motor.
All Chevy LS engines are known to respond to modifications really well, even an intake/exhaust will gain you substantial amounts of HP, the typical head/cam swap is known for gaining over 100 HP. Some people even leave the stock heads on and just have them worked over, combined with a big cam and many LS engines are making over 440rwhp with just head work and a cam. What other engine can you name that makes that much horsepower with just a cam swap?
The internet sensation, the LSX Willys Jeep, is a perfect example of this performance that can be achieved with these engines.
Would you believe me if I told you that a 5.7L LS1 will fit into a 1.6L Mazda Miata? The LS engine family is known for having smaller proportions than its competitors engines, making it much easier to swap into cars with small engine bays. The Chevy LS platform is banned from some motorsports, because it can be swapped into smaller cars and give them an unfair edge over the competition.
The main reason that they’re such a compact engine is because of they’re “old-school” pushrod design, as well as all of the modern designs they used when designing the engine block. The push-rod design that they continue to use is unlike almost all modern engines which have overhead cams. You can achieve better performance and economy with an overhead cam, but at the cost of a much larger and heavier engine.
Thanks to the all-aluminum design, a fully dressed LS1 is nearly as light as a cast iron 4 cylinder. For example, a stock 1995 Nissan 240sx with a full tank of fuel weighs in around 2917lbs, the same car under the same circumstances with an LS1 swap weighs in at 2950lbs. Thats a gain of 32lbs, which is pretty much nothing consider you’d be gaining hundreds of lb-ft of torque, and hundreds of horsepower.
When it comes to engine vs engine, the LS engine typically weighs less than a cast iron 4-cylinder, its not until both are fully dressed and filled with fluids that the LS engine becomes the heavier of the two. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve seen a 4 cylinder vs V8 debate going on and the opposing side always seems to say “heavy” whilst referring to V8’s, and specifically LS engines. But little do they know that they weigh nearly the same amount as their little 4 banger.
LS vs The World
Is the LS as good as I say it is? Well yes and no. Depending on how you look at it, the LS is the best street V8 available, but things like the Ford Modular are better race V8s. DOHC V8s such as the 1UZ, VH45DE, and Coyote are superior on paper and in design, but just don’t make as much power as cheaply as an LS.
To put this simply, there are superior V8s on the market, however the low cost of the LS makes it the better option for most people. The LS will remain king as long as its prices stay low. You can read a lot more about this topic in our Chevy LS vs Ford Modular article.
Here’s the bottom line; the LS is cheap, light, compact, and makes a ton of horsepower. It can fit into nearly anything you want, and it can be done on a tight budget. From the average Joe, to a professional racer, the LS engine is perfect for nearly anything.
There’s a lot of controversy about swapping an American engine into a Japanese car. Some call it blasphemy, and some call it genius. But with so much power, reliability, and such a large aftermarket backing, swapping an LS engine into your car just makes sense. Don’t take it from me though, check out some videos and see for yourself how fast LS swapped cars are.
The LS family is a series of engines that are actually really similar to each other. The architect of the Gen III and Gen IV Chevy V8’s is extremely similar. The Gen IV’s are supposed to have a slightly stronger block, but not by much. The main difference between the engines in the LS family is the displacement, intake, camshaft, and various small details. The LS2 and the LS3 have a lot in common. But, the most obvious difference between the two is the displacement.
The LS2 has 6.0L of displacement, and is technically was the first Gen IV Chevrolet engine. The LS3 on the other hand has 6.2L of displacement, and is also Gen IV Chevrolet engine. But I’m sure you’re wondering if there is other things that are different between these two, other than the displacement. So, lets dive in, and compare LS2 vs LS3.
LS2 vs LS3: Cylinder Heads
One of the biggest horsepower gains most V8’s have is with aftermarket cylinder heads. Luckily GM was actually really good at developing cylinder heads when they designed the LS engine. Throughout the years Chevrolet continued to perfect the LS heads. The LS2 heads were a slight step up from the LS1 heads.
To no ones surprise, the LS3 heads are better than the LS2 heads. I am unable to find definitive flow numbers for both heads. But, from browsing around forums and asking some engine builders, it seems like bolting LS3 heads onto an LS2 will gain you about 20whp+. A 20whp gain is pretty impressive considering your swapping OEM parts with more OEM parts.
These gains are due to changes in the intake runner length, size, and shape. Small things like shape can have a large affect on how air flows into the engine.
LS2 vs LS3: Intake
Just like the LS1 vs LS2 debate, the later engine has a slightly better intake manifold. This is the case from the LS2 vs LS3 debate. Chevrolet increased the intake manifold flow by straightening out the intake runner, and optimizing the flow path from the intake manifold to the cylinder heads.
This all adds up to a slightly better intake manifold. The manifold’s increased flow helps bump power up about 5 horsepower compared to the LS2’s intake manifold.
LS2 vs LS3: Displacement
We briefly covered the difference in displacement at the beginning on this article. The LS2 has 6.0L of displacement, whilst the LS3 has 6.2L of displacement. But, the has the same exact amount of stroke. Their bottom end is actually near identical, but the Chevy gave the LS3 an extra 12 cubic inches of displacement. “How?” you might ask.
Chevrolet upped the displacement of the LS3 by giving it a slightly larger bore. The LS2 has a bore of 101.6, whilst the LS3 has a bore of 103.25mm. As I mentioned before, this gives the LS3 an extra 12 cubic inches (.2L) of displacement. This helped up the horsepower from 400, to 430.
The increased bore also helps make the LS3 much happier to revs. It revs up much quicker than the LS2, and generally responds quicker to throttle inputs. The increased bore also means slightly higher RPM potential. The increased potential for RPM’s makes the LS3 a favorite amongst high performance engine builders.
LS2 vs LS3: Cost
When you think of picking up a used LS engine, most people think of either an LS1 from a Camaro, or an LM7 from a Tahoe. Why is this? Because both those engines are pretty old, and pretty abundant. Both of these things make them dirt cheap. But what about the later LS engines like the LS2 and LS3?
The LS2 was released in 2005. It was the new Corvette base engine, as well as an optional engine from the 05-06 GTO. Because of its smaller production, and the fact thats its newer, the LS2 is typically much more expensive than an LS1, but isn’t really worth the premium to most enthusiasts.
The LS3 was released in 2008. Much like the LS2 before it, it was the all new base Corvette engine. The LS3 was also used in the 2010 to 2015 Camaro. This means that the LS3 is much more abundant than the LS2. But, because of how new the engine is, they’re still fairly expensive.
So yes, the LS2 is cheaper, but not by a huge amount. Honestly for how much better the LS3 is I would personally just save up for a little longer and go with an LS3 instead.
So Which One is Better?
Much like the LS1 vs LS2 debate, the later engine is the better one. The LS3 makes more power than an LS2, and has more potential at the end of the day. But, price limits nearly every car guy. We must pick and choose our parts in order to stay within our allotted budget. For that reason many of us will end up picking the LS2.
Although we would all love to have to bigger, and better LS3. Most of us just can’t afford it. Like I said in the LS1 vs LS2 debate, I would personally rather have an aluminum 5.3L from a Tahoe. It’s a much cheaper option and it’s just as good as the LS1.