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Turbochargers were first placed in trucks in the 1930s.
Since then, the technology has been coveted by all automotive enthusiasts, no matter what type of vehicle was being driven. Yes, that even includes small SUVs like the Toyota RAV4.
However, the Toyota RAV4 does not come with a turbocharged engine. Instead, it is naturally aspirated. This means the engine sucks in its air passively without being forced in from a system, such as a turbocharger or a supercharger. Natural aspiration is superior in many ways, such as instant power delivery. Yet, some people still want to know how to attach a turbo to the engine (primarily to get more power).
For this article, I interviewed Jeremy Blubaugh (@teksmrt) about his impressive turbo RAV4 build. His experience is sure to inspire, challenge, and entertain you, especially if you’re thinking about adding a turbocharger to your RAV4.
Exploring the Concept of a Turbocharged Toyota RAV4
The RAV4 can’t easily be turbocharged. It takes a lot of money and time to modify the RAV4 to make it turbocharged. So, why would someone want to turbocharge the RAV4? Well, there’s one big reason…
Let’s be honest. Having a turbocharged RAV4 would also make for an amazing show car as well. It definitely is not a common car to “soup up” in terms of performance. It’s quite a unique idea.
Before diving in, let’s talk about what upgrades and mods need to be performed. For this information, I turn to Jeremy. Here’s what he has to say.
“I don’t have experience turbo[charging] a 4cyl… Rav4, but Scion TC owners of the 1st and 2nd generations do it quite frequently. In fact, the 2AR engine is catching a lot of attention recently due to the MR2 owners taking an interest in the swap.”
“Building a 2GRFE V6 3rd gen turbo RAV4 (2006-2012) requires no internal modification to the engines. An unopened 2GRFE engine can handle +700 [wheel horsepower] reliably without any internal component upgrades as the rods and crank are forged from the factory.”
He goes on to add that the essential items that need to be upgraded to a v6 RAV4 engine include the following:
- Fuel system
- Fuel pressure regulator
Since there’s no readily available turbo kit for the RAV4, this all needs to be built by a fabrication shop. Here’s what Jeremy did.
“With the help of a local Fabrication shop (@Turn5Fabrication), I was able to get the hot side built and then learned how to weld and fabricated the cold side myself using a TIG welder from the local Makerspace. The transmission in factory form will need a valve body upgrade, and I recommend a higher-stall torque converter for racing and the LevelTen Bulletproof rebuild kit. The stock automatic U151E/F transmission is trash in factory form with anything more than the factory power rating.”
The Building Process
Sticking a turbocharger in the RAV4 isn’t a typical build. Everything has to be done custom, so you need to find a good fabricator to work with. Jeremy can attest to this firsthand.
For starters, he had to put a new engine in. This wasn’t done simply for the build but because of failure with the number six rod bearing in his original engine. It failed because he used 0w20 oil, which Toyota recommends for the engine. However, many people pushing the engines hard know it’s best to use w30 or w40 to provide better protection.
For this build, Jeremy picked up a Toyota Sienna engine from the junkyard instead.
The next step is to choose the turbocharger to install on the engine. Here’s what Jeremy did.
“The turbo I chose was a 67mm dual ball bearing billet wheel Garrett clone by PSR. This size has been successful with many 3.5L V6 engines and would provide more horsepower than I know the engine could handle.”
Once the turbo is picked, the challenges begin. From here on, the entire process is custom. Jeremy used nothing that was designed for a RAV4 with his build. In his words, “From designing and fabricating the custom mid-mount turbo to the custom water-to-air intercooler setup with Forced Inductions Interchiller...everything was custom.”
The “Finished” Product
Is a turbocharged RAV4 ever really finished? Once you jump into a build this intense, there’s no end in sight. Something new and exciting can always be added to the build, or something always needs to be repaired.
Still, getting a feel for what the finished project may look like is important.
Let’s look at some of Jeremy’s numbers.
He says, “It made 368 [wheel horsepower] to all four wheels on the heartbreaking Mustang dyno at PRT performance in Lewisville, TX.” He mentioned how it could be better, but there might be a parasitic loss to the all-wheel-drive transmission.
The base AWD chosen by Jeremy may produce 200-wheel horsepower straight out of the factory, so this is a 168-wheel horsepower upgrade. With these considerations, the factory motor, at 269 horsepower, may be able to produce around 450 horsepower.
What are Jeremy’s plans from here? Is he finished with the build? Here’s his answer.
“Definitely, not finished. Once I find the limitations of the…automatic [transmission], I will look for a stronger, faster transmission.”
Advantages and Disadvantages of a Turbocharged Toyota RAV4
On paper, there are plenty of advantages and disadvantages to turbocharging an engine. Here are some to consider.
- Significant horsepower increase
- Smaller engine displacement creates bigger power
- Turbo lag
- Puts more wear on the engine
- Less fuel efficient
- May require costly modifications
Did Jeremy consider these pros and cons before upgrading his RAV4? Here are his comments. “In my opinion, fuel economy thoughts went out the window, as do normal factory functionality when modifying a vehicle to operate with double the factory power.”
Future Plans and Possibilities
Considering what the future would hold for a turbocharged RAV4 is equally important. How much more might you spend on maintenance, and will there be more mechanical issues? There aren’t many people who have already done it, so there’s not a lot of experience we can tap into.
Additionally, will it be difficult to sell the RAV4 when you are done with it? These are considerations you must think about before investing all of the money.
When asking Jeremy if he had any concerns with keeping it long-term, here was his answer.
“Nope. I love the wolf in sheep’s clothing vibe. It’s the grocery-getter daily driver that no one suspects. Especially de-badged, no one even knows what it is! Most people have no clue it’s even a Toyota RAV4.”
So, what does he plan to do to it in the future?
“I’m shooting for +400 [wheel horsepower] on 93 [octane] gas. With those numbers, I will be close to hitting my goal of running [an] 11 second ¼ mile. Then the plan is to install larger 875cc injectors and an aftermarket piggyback ECU and push the transmission to its breaking point.”
When asked if he would ever sell it, the answer was clear-cut.
“I’ll never sell it.”
How to Get Started With Your Own Turbo RAV4 Build
Do you want to start your own turbocharged RAV4 build? There are two things you need to do in advance.
- Plan out the build
- Save up some money
Here are some words of wisdom from Jeremy. “If you are handy, have an imagination, and can turn a wrench, just about anything is possible. Otherwise, paying a shop to build a custom kit like mine would be ridiculously expensive.”
So, how much can you expect to spend?
There’s no limit to what can be spent. For example, Jeremy says, “Save up lots of [money], especially if you have to pay a shop to design, fabricate and build a setup for you. The build COULD have cost as low as $4k, but with all the custom extras I’ve added, mine was much more…. Shhh, don’t tell my wife.”
Will You Be Brave Enough to Turbocharge Your RAV4?
If you have interesting plans for your own RAV4 build, leave a comment below! I’d love to hear about it.