The Top 5 LS2 Improvements. The 6.0 liter LS2 small-block V8 from Chevrolet is one of the most dependable power units for starting a build. The LS2 has been a popular choice for drag racers and road racers for many years, having been included in the 2005-2007 Corvette, SSR, Trailblazer SS, and Pontiac GTO, among others. It’s nearly indestructible on moderate builds, generates power quickly, and has a large aftermarket support community.
This tutorial will go through the top five LS2 upgrades for increasing horsepower. Every build needs to begin somewhere, and we’re here to assist you in getting your new LS2 project started. We’ll go over the LS2 engine, discuss its power restrictions, and then offer you our top LS2 mod choices.
Keep in mind that the LS2 was offered in a broad variety of cars. This article is intended to cover all vehicles equipped with the LS2. Before making any purchases, ensure that they will suit your exact car model.
LS2 Engine Specifications
With our LS2 engine guide, we previously took an in-depth look at the LS2 engine. We’ll only go over the fundamentals here, so make sure to read that article for the entire explanation.
General Motors introduced the LS2 in 2005, putting it in the Chevrolet Corvette, SSR, Trailblazer SS, and Pontiac GTO. It was the first engine of GM’s Gen IV small-block motors. Owners appreciated the engine, which produced 400 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque in the Corvette. Despite its relatively short production run, which lasted only until 2009, it produced several variants that lasted much longer.
The LS2 engine is a 6.0 L naturally aspirated V8. It lacks Variable Valve Timing (VVT) and is a traditional pushrod OHV with two valves per cylinder. The block and head are both constructed of aluminum, and the oil pan is unique to the Corvette. The LS2 head is a GM-cathedral port kind of head that has superior low-end torque but flows poorly at higher RPM.
The LS2 Subtypes
GM developed three types of the LS2 engine: the L76, L77, and L98 V8 engines. The L76 comes standard with Active Fuel Management (AFM), VVT, and the LS rectangular-port cylinder head. It does, however, have lower-profile cams and a lower compression ratio.
The L77 has flex-fuel capability and AFM, but no VVT. The L98 lacks flex-fuel, AFM, and VVT. The L77 and L98 have the same LS3 head with rectangular ports as the L76.
While any of these are excellent starting points, most people prefer to build either the original LS2 or the L76 variant. The L76 features a subpar AFM and cams, although it does have VVT and rectangular port heads. The LS2 has a cathedral-port head and stronger cams but no VVT. VVT cannot be applied to the LS2, and the cams on the L76 are limited by the AFM.
This article will concentrate on LS2 improvements, however most of the information can also be applied to the L76, L77, and L98 engines.
Power Limits of a Modded LS2 Engine
Regardless of type, the LS2 engines, like the rest of the LS-family, have rather high power restrictions. The LS2 is usually thought to have stronger internals than the LS1, which is already rather robust.
The LS2 is capable of producing more than 800 horsepower on the stock block with no problems. Many stock LS2 blocks have been pushed into the 900+ whp range without incident, but we think that’s risky.
After 550 wheel horsepower, you should consider forged pistons and rods, as well as head studs. Again, unlike the LS2 block, there is no hard limit, with many stock LS2 builds pushing well into the 600 and 700 whp range. If you’re pushing above 550 whp, you’ll need stronger pistons and rods for reliability.
Domestic Vehicle Applications for the Chevy LS2 Engine
GM installed the LS2 and its variations in the following domestic vehicles. The L98 was never released in the United States.
- 2005–2007 Chevrolet Corvette
- SSR Chevrolet 2005-2006
- GTO 2005-2006 Pontiac
- Cadillac CTS-V 2006-2007
- Chevrolet TrailBlazer SS (2006-2009)
- Saab 9-7X Aero 2008-2009
- Chevrolet Avalanche 2007-2013
- Chevrolet Silverado 1500 (2007-2009)
- Chevrolet Suburban 1500 2007-2009
- GMC Sierra 1500 2007-2009
- Yukon XL 2007-2009 GMC
- G8 GT Pontiac 2007-2009
- Chevrolet Caprice PPV 2011-2017
Top 5 LS2 Improvements
The following are our top five LS2 upgrades:
- Fresh Air Intake
- Headers for Long-Tube Vehicles
- Head of a Cylinder
- ECU Programming
We’ll go into greater detail below, but here’s a quick rundown of the top five LS2 enhancements.
Simple bolt-on modifications such as a cold air intake and long-tube headers are excellent starting points for an LS2 project. They aid in the improvement of airflow into and out of the engine while (somewhat) improving gas mileage. After installing these, you’ll notice a significant increase in power and hear your LS2 growl.
The cylinder head of the LS2 will be upgraded next. As previously stated, the LS2 employs the LS cathedral-port cylinder head. While these are good for low-end torque, they struggle to maintain good flow at higher RPMs. You need either port your stock LS2 head or switch to the rectangular form.
LS2 camshafts are another popular location to enhance early in LS2 builds. The stock LS2 cams have 0.520″ intake and 0.521″ exhaust lift, so there is definitely opportunity for improvement if you want more power. Camshaft selection is critical since there will be a trade-off between low-end torque and top-end performance. The correct cam will provide you a decent tradeoff by providing torque where you need it and power when you want it.
Finally, our final LS2 upgrade is ECU tuning. While it may not appear to be significant, tuning can mean the difference between a good and great engine build. Tuning allows you to tweak ignition timing, air-to-fuel ratios, and other factors to make the most of your modifications. If you’re going to spend hundreds of dollars on bolt-ons, you’ll want to make the most of them.
1) Upgrades to the LS2 Cold Air Intake
A cold air intake is one of the best improvements for almost any normally aspirated engine. The LS2 is no exception, with improvements of 10-15 horsepower possible with just an intake. The factory intakes on most LS2 equipped vehicles are quite restrictive, suffocating horsepower for higher RPM builds.
A cold air intake has two purposes: first, it helps to draw cooler air from outside the engine bay for improved performance by moving the filter location. Second, it reduces the restrictiveness of the OEM intake.
While the stock intakes are generally adequate, any other bolt-ons, such as long-tube headers, quickly overpower it. A more free-flowing intake will improve throttle response, top-end power, and engine noise. It also improves and enhances the appearance of your engine bay.
Best Cold Air Intakes for LS2
While the best intake will depend on your specific model, we typically recommend a cold air intake as one of the first mods you do. One of the most important considerations you’ll have to make is whether to use closed or open airboxes. Open airboxes are more prone to heat soak in general, but they allow for better ventilation. Closed airboxes reduce airflow, but they also reduce engine heat absorption for a longer period of time.
Because the intake is already at the front of the bay on the Corvette, it’s difficult to relocate the filter while improving flow. As a result, we recommend the well-known Vararam Ram Air intake for Corvettes. Although it is a ram-style intake rather than a true cold air intake, it performs admirably on the C6 Corvette.
They claim improvements of up to 35-40 horsepower, but it’s more realistic to expect gains of 10-20 horsepower. Nonetheless, the Vararam is a well-known intake in the Corvette community.
We recommend the Cold Air Inductions GTO cold air intake for the GTO LS2. This intake replaces the factory LS2 GTO intake with a lighter, less restrictive version. It comes with a closed and insulated aluminum airbox as well as a 4″ intake tube. CAI claims improvements of up to 16 horsepower with just their intake.
2) LS2 Long-tube Header Improvements
Long-tube headers are our next option for LS2 modifications. The stock cast-iron headers are extremely restricting, hefty, and can shatter over time. Upgrading the long-tube headers is a necessary for any serious construction.
Long-tube headers take the place of the OEM exhaust manifold and direct the exhaust back to the mufflers. They are wider than OEM, made of lighter 304 stainless steel, and designed for optimal exhaust flow. Everything works together to reduce back pressure and reversion while enhancing exhaust scavenging.
The reduced back pressure provides for improved exhaust flow. Exhaust gasses are eliminated faster and more clean air can enter the combustion chamber due to increased exhaust scavenging and less reversion. This results in greater and longer-lasting power.
Long-tube headers will surely increase exhaust volume significantly. As you can anticipate, the increased pipework and optional cats boost the LS2’s sound significantly.
Long-Tube Header Upgrades for LS2
Catted or catless LS2 long-tube header improvements generally fall into one of two groups. Catless systems create somewhat more power, but they are also non-compliant in terms of emissions and will fail inspection.
We favor catted headers because the power difference is negligible and they are far superior for daily driving. Catted exhausts are quieter, but they don’t emit the foul odors that catless exhausts do. Even with a catalytic converter, you should be able to meet your power objectives.
American Racing Headers will be our recommended for LS2 long-tubes. ARH is a well-known brand in the exhaust sector, and they have been manufacturing solid long-tubes for many years. Their LS2 exhaust systems are available in a variety of primary sizes and are all comprised of 304 stainless steel. They have lovely merging collectors that greatly improve flow and scavenging. With long-tube headers alone on the LS2, you should notice increases of 10-25 whp, and more with tuning.
3) LS2 Cylinder Head Improvements
The LS2 cylinder head is the next item on our list of LS2 improvements. As previously stated, the LS2 cathedral-port type cylinder head is not ideal for higher RPM flow. While it provides excellent low-end torque, if you require a lot of top-end horsepower, you should look elsewhere.
One possibility is to transfer the factory LS2 head, which helps a little but is always limited by the port-style. The LS3 cylinder head bolts easily onto the LS2, however a new intake manifold is required, and it is vastly superior to the LS2. The LS3 uses LS rectangular style ports, which are substantially superior for top-end horsepower.
Top LS2 Cylinder Head Improvements
We recommend the Livernois Motorsports Stage 2 or Stage 3 head for LS2 head modifications. Your power objectives will influence which one you choose, as Stage 3 promotes more power than Stage 2. For the LS2, we recommend their LS3 head, although they also produce dedicated LS2 heads.
You must align your mind with your power objectives. If you go too little, you’ll still be confined and will reach a choke point too soon. Too huge, and you’ll sacrifice too much low-end performance to compensate on the top end.
The Livernois Motorsports LS3 head is completely 5-axis CNC machined in the United States. For decades, Livernois has been at the top of the industry for the LS-series of engines, and their LS3 head has received rave reviews.
4) LS2 Camshaft Improvements
Camshafts will be our next LS2 upgrade proposal. The default cam is adequate for stock power levels, but if you’re considering further bolt-ons, increasing the cam is also a good option. The stock LS2s aren’t designed for huge power and are better suited to stock power levels.
When upgrading a camshaft, the most important factors to consider are duration and lift. A higher lift implies the valve opens wider, allowing more air into the engine for increased power. A greater duration indicates the valve will be open for a longer period of time, allowing more air into the engine.
Longer duration and higher lift cams provide more top-end power at the sacrifice of low-end torque. You’ll want a decent combination of low-end torque and top-end horsepower, especially if you’re creating a daily driver. This will keep your car drivable in traffic at low engine loads while yet allowing you to toast some rubber when you wish.
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Camshaft Upgrades for the LS2
We have three recommendations for LS2 camshaft improvements, each for a different build level. The factory LS2 cam has an intake lift of 0.520″ and an exhaust lift of 0.521″, with intake duration of 204 @ 0.050″ and exhaust duration of 211 @ 0.050″. They were built by GM to be middling performers with a lot of low-end torque.
The Chevrolet LS Hot Cam is a popular LS2 modification. The cam has 0.525″ intake and 0.525″ exhaust lift, which is a minor but noticeable improvement over stock. The duration is also longer, measuring 219″ @ 0.050″ for the intake and 228″ @ 0.050″ for the exhaust. This will offer you a slight boost in power while maintaining a high level of low-end torque.
We recommend the Livernois Motorsports Stage 2 and Stage 3 LS cams for the following stages forward. The lift on the Stage 2 cam is 0.595″ and the lift on the Stage 3 cam is 0.612″. The duration of Stage 2 is 232 @ 0.050″, and the lift of Stage 3 is 224 @ 0.050″. As you can see, both of these have the potential for significant top-end power improvements. Check out this LS2 MotorTrend story where they dyno an LS2 equipped with Livernois Motorsports Stage I and II cams to see how powerful they are.
5) The LS2’s ECU Tuning
Our final and most crucial recommendation is LS2 tuning. Tuning will give you a nice 20-30 horsepower gain on its own. Furthermore, while all of the above upgrades are powerful on their own, you’ll want to add tuning to get the most out of them. Tuners can tune characteristics like as ignition timing, air-to-fuel ratios, and fuel pressure to make the most of your bolt-on modifications.
Furthermore, while tuning can help you get the most out of your mods, it can also help them run safely. When the intake and exhaust flow of an engine are changed, the air-to-fuel ratios inevitably change as well. While most upgrades keep the ratios in a safe range, tuning is required to confirm this. To ensure that your engine is functioning properly with your modifications, you should have a tuner inspect the vehicle.
The Best LS2 Tuners
There are two possibilities for LS2 tuning: bespoke or canned tune. Custom tuning outperforms canned tuning because it allows your tuner to tailor his work to your individual engine and atmospheric circumstances.
Canned music is one-size-fits-all music that is designed to operate in any environment. Custom tunes, on the other hand, offer precise modifications for factors such as elevation, humidity, and air quality. Obviously, someone living in California and someone living in Wisconsin will not have the same weather. To properly maximize your tune for your vehicle, you must go custom.
Livernois Motorsports is our first choice for bespoke tuning on the LS2 Corvette and LS2 GTO. They provide bespoke tuning with their own MyCal tuning equipment. On 93 octane, Livernois claims improvements of 19 horsepower and 23 lb-ft of torque for the Corvette. Livernois claims improvements of 19 horsepower and 22 lb-ft of torque on 93 octane in the GTO. That’s merely tuning, and they can compensate for some of your other mods as well. With the additional recommended modifications, you’ll have a 500+ horsepower beast with tune.
Top LS2 Engine Mods Summary
Overall, the GM LS2 engine is one of their most popular small-block V8s. It produces 400 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque out of the box, but with modifications, it transforms into a beast. You can get a modest power boost with just headers and an intake, or you can significantly boost output with cams, heads, and ECU tune.
The LS2 enjoys producing a lot of power and is also extremely reliable. Unless you intend to introduce forced induction, you won’t need to consider any internal upgrades. The naturally aspirated LS2 is a robust power unit for any build and responds well to bolt-ons.