When it comes to a four-cylinder favorite among Nissan enthusiasts, you cannot miss the most celebrated and revered engines, the SR20. This Japanese sport engine’s pride in its compact design, aftermarket support, performance, and consumer acceptance and elevated this engine’s reputation to became famous and praised at the same time, especially in the 90s.
Its timely arrival light up the streets since the emergence of a growing underground and illicit driving style in Japan, which we also know now as drifting, which paved the way for mainstream motorsport loved by many. This engine also became a legendary platform that inspired generations to try different styles that fit their personal preferences in. terms of power, aggressiveness, and attitude. Not only is this engine a tool for fast cars, but it is a symbol of a diverse culture that united different people from different walks of life to create a community.
What is a Nissan SR20DET Engine?
SR20DET replaced the prior CA18 engines mainly due to its expensive production and failure to comply with Japanese emission standards. Since then, the subsequent release of Silvias and 180SX (240SX in the United States) were powered by SR20DET engines. SR20 is a member of the SR family of engines.
So today, we will talk about the SR20DET engines, the turbocharged version of SR20DE. Its engine design, power output, torque, upgrades, issues, and its overall impact to the automotive society and community; the innovations it undertook throughout its 13-year reign.
Let’s get right to it!
Engine Code Breakdown
First, let’s crack Nissan’s Engine code for a clearer and differentiation of engines:
- SR – Engine Code Name
- 20 – 2.0 Liter Displacement
- D – Dual Overhead Camshaft (Absence of “D” indicates a SOHC cylinder head)
- E – Electronic Fuel Injection
- T – Turbocharged
Engine Specifications and Design:
- Production Run: 1989 – 2002
- Cylinder Block Material: Aluminum
- Cylinder Head Material: Aluminum
- Configuration: Inline-4
- Bore: 86 mm
- Stroke: 86 mm
- Valvetrain: DOHC 4 valves per cylinder
- Displacement: 2.0 L
- Compression Ratio: 9.5 (Red Top and Black Top) and 10.1 (Roller Rocker)
- Weight: 400 lbs.
- Max HP: 247 HP at 6,400 RPM
- Max Torque: 203 lb-ft at 3,200 RPM
Nissan SR20DET is an inline-4, 2.0 Liter naturally-aspirated petrol engine that Nissan Motors produced from 1989 to 2002. It was first housed, in transversed form, in the Nissan Bluebird 2000SS.
SR20DET engines are an alternative and eventually replaced the cast-iron CA20 engine. This engine has a square shape with both identical cylinder bore and piston stroke dimensions of 86mm that level the balance between torque and power output. They were connected through a 136.3 mm rod and camshafts that lifts the valvetrain through rocker arms with hydraulic valve lifters instead of valves.
SR20DET has an Aluminum cylinder block that contains dry-cast iron sleeves and, on top, a chain-driven Aluminum cylinder head that consists of two camshafts with four valves per cylinder, later models were equipped with Nissan’s VVT (Variable Valve Timing). It has closed-deck cylinder liners that have an under-piston oil squirter to regulate optimal piston temperature. It is a Multi-Point Injection system and initially rated at 140 HP at 6,400 RPM.
Nissan concurrently made SR20Di engines alongside the SR20DETs, which were different in comparison by featuring a single-point fuel injection system with a restyled head attended by mended ports.
SR20DET engines are identified through their valve covers, and the earliest version of this engine came in a redtop trim valve cover hence the reason for its name SRDET20 Red Top that was produced from 1989 to 1994. SR20DET red tops powered the Nissan 180 SX or the S13.
This engine has a boost pressure of 7 psi and used a Garrett T25G turbocharger used on most SR20DET engines. It is also made with new pistons, 370 cc/min fuel injectors, reinforced connecting rods, 240/240-degree camshafts, and 60 mm throttle bodies. It can produce 201 HP at 6,000 RPM and 202 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 RPM.
Nissan created a more powerful red top version installed exclusively for the Nissan Pulsar GTi-R and developed for their participation in the WRC Championship. This red top is an upgraded version of the early release, produced from 1990 to 1994. It has a larger turbocharger (Garrett T28 or TB2804), higher boost pressure, 440 cc/min fuel injectors, oil jets, reinforced head bolts and connecting rods, and individual throttle bodies (ITBs).
Nissan continued to develop SR20DETs throughout the 90s, and in 1994, they introduced a new version which was called the Blacktop. It first appeared in Nissan 180sx S13 and Bluebird. In deference to the redtop, its name was also originated with its black valve cover. The early blacktop release does not feature VCTs or Variable Cam timing but was later integrated with this technology. It also has a larger turbocharger (Garrett T28), oxygen sensor, modified head ports, ECU Software, and reinforced pistons. This version produced 217 hp at 6,000 RPM and 202 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 RPM.
The final iteration of the SR20DET engines was made for the Nissan Silvia S15. This final Blacktop was equipped with a Garrett T28BB ball-bearing turbocharger (GT2560R), a six-speed gearbox, and a large intercooler. It is equipped with 480 cc/min fuel injectors and has the largest boost pressure at 11.5 psi. This engine produces 250 hp at 6,400 Rpm and 220 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 RPM. Blacktops has a version that was installed in the Nissan Avenir. It has a gray valve cover or SR20DET Silver Top, which features two power outputs: 205 HP with Garrett T25G turbocharger and 230 HP with Garrett T25BB turbocharger.
SR20DET was largely used in other Nissan platforms, which includes the aforementioned Bluebird, Avenir, Pulsar-GTi-R, 180sx, Sunny GTi-R, and Silvia family of cars.
- 1989, 1991- 1993, and 1994 – 1995 Nissan Bluebird 2000SSS
- 1990 – 1994 Pulsar GTi-R
- 1990 – 1995 Sunny GTi-R
- 1991 – 1993 and 1994 – 1997 180SX
- 1991 – 1993 and 1994 – 1999 Silvia
- 1998 – 1999 Autech Version Silvia
- 1994 270R Silvia
- 1999 – 2002 Spec-R Silvia
- 1995 and 1997 GT Turbo Salut Avenir
- 1998, 2000 – 2001 GT4 Avenir
- 1999 – 2000 GT4 Highway Star GT 4
- 1997 – 2001 R’nessa GT Turbo
- 1993 – 1999 200SX
Engine Tuning, Upgrades, and Modifications
For all we know, SR20s, in general, are great platforms for tuning and upgrades; that is why it is considered as one of those engines that are admired by most speed enthusiasts and junkies alike. SR20DET cannot survive the game carrying only its great potential for upgrades; it thrived because of the aftermarket support that the community continued throughout the years. And with that, the community grows year by year, sharing the knowledge that they have.
With that, you can modify the output power of your SR20DET engine by boosting it up and obtain 300 HP on end. For that, it is essential to buy a front intercooler, boost controller, 550 cc/min fuel injectors, fuel pressure regulator, downpipes, 3-inch performance exhaust system, Walbro fuel pump 280 lph, blow-off valves, and an ECU tuning. These upgrades work best on non-VTC Blacktop and redtop, raising its boost pressure to 15 psi along with its power output elevation, and for the VTC version, it will produce 320 HP.
But if you still want to push it more, you will need to change your turbocharger to Garrett GT2871R, ARP studs, JWT S3 camshafts, new head gaskets, and 850 cc/min fuel injectors. These upgrades and replacements can give you at least 400 HP with the stock internals. However, this calls for a reliability problem as these internals cannot withstand such power. Reduce running the risk and buy new H-beam rods and forged pistons which result not only in stronger internals it can also broaden your horsepower gains up to 400 HP.
On top of all those, 500 HP sounds like an exciting number for power output, right? Anyway, I know you are curious to know, and it is achievable, so don’t worry. You just need a Garrett GTX3076R turbocharger, 272/272 camshafts, 1000 cc/min fuel injectors, larger valves, and do some head porting. To reduce the turbo lag, which is the issue most of the time, buy either a 2.1 L, 2.2 L, or 2.3 L stroker kit.
On these upgrades, the most efficient for the SR20DET is the 300 HP boost or the one with Garrett GT2871R turbocharger, for they are more reliable than the others and balance of power to money spent.
We don’t have much to worry about problems or issues that might show by our SR engines, for they are durable and highly reliable. They do not pose any major issues, especially with their design. It might experience rough idling sometimes, which is mainly due to the idle air control valve and inconsistent fuel combustion due to low-quality engine; and trouble in mass air flow sensor or MAF sensor, but this does not equate to the overall performance of the engine.
To add to that, SR20DET is run by a timing chain that lasts at approximately 150,000 miles, and instead of valves, hydraulic lifters are used, so frequent valve adjustment is not a thing anymore. You will need high-quality engine oil and proper maintenance to prolong the service life of this engine, just like any other engine too.
SR20DET engines are an excellent platform for you to build a speed-oriented car. It can give you a lot of power and torque without complaining, for it is built for such a thing. It is also highly reliable and versatile, for it can play the role of different configurations and driveline options, from naturally-aspirated to the forced induction ones; front-wheel, all-wheel, and rear, you name it. It is one of the most successful engines, not only in Nissan but throughout the automotive industry. It does not have major problems that can threaten the premature departure of the engine. Overall, I can say that this engine is built differently compared to others for us to experience such good quality powerplant.
I hope that the things we discussed about SR20DET engines cleared some clouds in your head and gave you some idea of its power, applications, engine design, the difference to other engines and what it can offer, and issues that might arise.