Guide to tuning the 2.8 V6 30 valve, 24 valve 3.0 V6 30v and 3.2/3.6 VR6 EA390 engine

"Comprehensive guide to tuning the VAG EA390 engine!"

In this article we review and look at EA390 tuning and point out the best mods that work. VAG EA390 really good project engines and with a few sensible modified upgrades like remaps, turbo upgrades and camshafts you will greatly increase your driving fun.

Just because particular tuning mods are are common on EA390 it doesn't mean you should fit it, we shall best tuning mods that will give your EA390 the best power gain for you spend.

The camshaft profile plays a big part in the engines power output so camshaft upgrades make quite a large difference. The intake and exhaust durations will alter depending on the chosen camshaft profile, so large power band gains are on offer for camshaft upgrades.

NB: Fast road cams tend to push up the performance throughout the rev range, you could sacrifice a little low end power but high end rpm power will be better.

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

On a typical daily driver should ideally to optimize your torque band to your driving style.

I'd be amazed if you have ever thought a EA390 Race cam is a pleasure to live with when on the daily commute.

Each engine responds better to extreme cam durations so view each engine as unique.

The map and fuelling also have a large bearing on the bhp gains you'll get with the 2.8 V6 30 valve, 24 valve 3.0 V6 30v and 3.2/3.6 VR6 blocks.

Extending exhaust or intake durations can alter the bhp 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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Guide to the Best Tuning Mods & Upgrades

  1. Mods that Remove a Restriction

    If the intake or exhaust are restricted in any way this will have an impact on your cars performance, so use an induction kit/filter upgrade and better flowing exhaust whenever your tuning creates a flow restriction.

  2. Mods that Improve Handling

    Braking, Suspension and general alignment of the suspension components is vital for any tuning project even before you start increasing power.

  3. Fit Stronger Parts

    Tuned cars will show up weaknesses, typically in the turbochargers, clutch and internal engine components. Whilst most engines can cope with mild tuning mods, TorqueCars recommend that you upgrade the internal components before these weak spots manifest themselves.

  4. ECU Tunes & Remapping

    While some cars can be easily remapped, others may require piggyback ECU's or aftermarket ECU's but this is the most vital step of your tuning project as it fully releases the power from all of your mods and upgrades. Expect 10-20% on NASP engines and 30-40% on turbocharged units.

  5. More Power Needs More Fuel & Air

    Every tuning project will aim to increase the air supply, but fuel supply is just as vital and will need to match the air the engine can utilise. Fuel to Air ratio is vital so upgrade the fuel pump & injectors. Also you can look to perform head mods (flowing and porting), bigger valves, fast road cams and forced induction upgrades to improve fuel.

Stages of Tune

Stage 1 mods: Intake headers, Sports exhaust manifold, Fast road camshaft, Drilled & smoothed airbox, Remaps/piggy back ECU, Panel air filters.

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

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

The EA390 engines are fantastic to work on and we see that there is a lot of mods and performance parts about.

ECU flashing helps release the full potential of all the tuning parts you've done to your 2.8 V6 30 valve, 24 valve 3.0 V6 30v and 3.2/3.6 VR6.

It will usually give around 30% more power on turbocharged vehicles and you can expect to see around 15% on NASP engines, but power output will depend much on the tuning parts you've fitted and the condition of your engine.

It is the whole point to any tuning project to force air and fuel into your EA390

Intake manifold take the air during the suck phase from the air cleaner and allow it to be sucked into the engine cylinders.

The bore size, shape and flow rate of the Plenum can make a large effect on to fuel delivery on the EA390.

Commonly we find the plenum chambers are in desperate need of motorsport parts, although a few car makers provide decently flowing plenum chambers.

Big valve conversions on the EA390, doing a bit of port work and head flowing will also lift torque, & more importantly will give you raising the torque increase on other tuning mods.

2.8 V6 30 valve, 24 valve 3.0 V6 30v and 3.2/3.6 VR6 Turbo upgrades

NASP engines need quite a lot of work when you add a turbo, so we have a separate guide to help you take into account the pros and cons of going this route on your EA390

The more air you can get into an engine, the more fuel it can burn and uprating the induction with a turbocharger upgrade makes significant power gains.

When your motor is turbocharged, upgrades are going to net you a larger power gain and most turbo charged engines are made using more solid components.

However you will find an engines will have power limits

Discover these limitations and upgrade to stronger pistons, crank and engine components to utilize the power.

We see many car owners spending a lots of money on turbo upgrades on the EA390 only to see the car literally blow up soon after it's first rolling road session.

Large capacity turbochargers commonly experience a bottom end lag, and low capacity turbochargers spool up really quickly but do not have the high rpm torque gains.

We are pleased that the world of turbochargers is always developing and we now see variable vane turbochargers, permitting the vane profile is altered according to speed to lower lag and increase top end performance.

Twin scroll turbochargers divert the exhaust flow into two channels and push these at differently designed vanes in the turbo charger. They also improve the scavenging effect of the engine.

You'll commonly see there's a limit in the air flow sensor AFM/MAP on the EA390 when a lot more air is being drawn into the engine.

You'll see that 4 bar air sensors coping with quite large power gains, whereas the OEM air sensor was restricting performance at a much lower level.

Adding a supercharger or additional turbo will make large torque gains, although more difficult to configure. We have this in depth look at twinchargers if you want to read more.

Fuelling upgrades and mods

When you increase the torque you will need to uprate to the fuel system.

More torque needs more fuel. It makes sense to over specify your injectors flow rate.

As a rule of thumb add another 20% when specifying an injector, which takes into account injector deterioration and allows you some spare capacity should the engine need 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.

Exhaust upgrades and mods

You may need to boost your exhaust if the current exhaust is actually creating a flow problem.

On most factory exhausts you should find that the 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 balance the flow of gases through the engine.

But if your exhaust is too large, ie: over 2.5 inches bore, you will lose much of the exhaust flow rate and end up sapping power and torque.

Common exhaust restrictions come around the catalyst installed, so adding a freer flowing sports alternative will help avoid this restriction.

Weak spots, Issues & common problem areas on the EA390 2.8 V6 30 valve, 24 valve 3.0 V6 30v and 3.2/3.6 VR6

The EA390 engines, if regularly serviced and maintained, are generally very reliable and have few issues.

Coil pack failure caused stuttering and power loss on early models although most have now been replaced.

The CAM belt tensioner tends to break and so we recommend you replace this with the belt, and check regularly.

Regular oil changes are vital on the EA390, particularly when the engine has been modified and is putting down more power than the manufacturer intended.


History of the EA390 Engine

2.8 V6 30v

  • 184 bhp @6,000 rpm 192 lbft @3,200 rpm
  • 188 bhp @6,000 rpm  192 lbft @3,200 rpm
  •  190 bhp @6,000 rpm 207 lbft @3,200 rpm
  • 190 bhp @6,000 rpm 221 lbft @3,200 rpm

2.8 V6 24v FSI

Essentially a 3.2 with a shorter stroke incorporating Valvelift

  • 188 bhp @5,500 rpm 207 lbft @3,000–5,000 rpm
  • 201 bhp @5,250 rpm  207 lbft @3,000–5,000 rpm
  • 207 bhp @5,500 rpm  207 lbft @3,000–5,000 rpm
  • 217 bhp @5,750 rpm  207 lbft @3,200–5,000 rpm

3.0 V6 30v

The stroke on the 2.8 was lengthened giving a 3.0 capacity engine.

  • 215 bhp BBJ for the C6 A6
  • 217 bhp @6,300 rpm  (221 lbft) @3,200 rpm AVK

3.2 VR6

  • 235 hp @6,200 rpm, 232 lbft @2,950 rpm
    Transporter T5
  • 241 hp @6,200 rpm 236 lbft @2,500-3,200 rpm
  • 241 hp @6,250 rpm 236 lbft @2,800-3,200 rpm
  • 250 hp @6,250 rpm 236 lbft  @2,500-3,000 rpm

3.6 VR6


For more information on Tuning your VAG engine please join us in our friendly forum where you can discuss EA390 tuning options in more detail with our EA390 owners. It would also be worth reading our unbiased VAG tuning articles to get a full grasp of the benefits and drawbacks of each modification.

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We really like hearing from our readers, and hearing about which upgrades were the most effective for them, it helps us improve our recommendations and articles to reflect current trends in modifications and ensures that our guides and tips are kept up to date.

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