What to Look for in a Performance Exhaust?

One line that sums up cars today is that they don’t make them like they used to. Carmakers cut too many corners to keep prices down and this is evident in more than a few parts. That’s why there’s a growing aftermarket that handles everything buyers want more of. When it comes to performance, factory exhausts, and air intakes are the first to get a makeover. The aim is to let the engine breathe and improve efficiency. Nice by-products are the increase in horsepower and torque, an exhaust note with more presence, and something that will turn heads. 

What’s changed in recent years is that new builders are challenging established names, and have fuelled the sector with innovation and the use of exotic materials. Moreover,  you can order your bespoke performance exhaust online from dozens of stores. Almost all exhausts now are modular designs, fitting into the recesses designed for the factory unit, and are easy to install, with separate parts bolted together. If you’re good with basic tools, you can do the work yourself, otherwise get the work done by a pro. 

performance car exhausts
source: likemoissm.com

Putting the ‘Performance’ in Performance Exhausts

So, what actually qualifies for a performance exhaust? To make that distinction, first the shortcomings of a factory exhaust, and where it can be improved. As mentioned, these are mass-produced and built to price point. They often come in inferior materials that struggle with higher temperatures when you’re flooring the acceleration pedal and are prone to rusting and damage when exposed to water or road spray. More of a concern is that the piping is narrower to start with (and with thinner walls), and the layout causes restrictions in the exhaust gas flow. What follows is the buildup of pressure (aptly called backpressure) and this hinders the engine’s ability to draw new air for the next combustion cycle. 

A faster car is one that gets rid of exhaust gases faster. By letting the engine breathe, a performance exhaust also raises the stakes in the power and torque departments. Generally, you’ll be seeing anywhere between a 5 to 10 per cent increase in power numbers over the stock engine figures. This of course is dependent on the type of aftermarket exhaust you choose, and the car itself. 

To do so, performance variants use tougher materials, like stainless steel in entry-level systems, or titanium, Inconel, and carbon fibre in higher-end products. These can sustain higher temperatures, won’t dent or kink, and will last. Plus, a well-built exhaust also caters to specific design details, so looks much better too. The tubing is wider, straighter, and in designs that maximise exhaust velocity. In short, you get better materials, superior designs, and more power. 

Other Benefits to Consider

Better Sound

One of the selling points of aftermarket exhausts is that the sound can be fine-tuned to your liking. This can be mellow and quieter than what you have as stock or a deeper, throatier exhaust note that gets louder the harder you work the engine. Here a combination of different parts, from mufflers, straight pipes, resonators, and adjustable valves work together to produce a unique and addictive tune. The same parts can also help reduce airflow restrictions, so also have a say in performance. 

jbm car exhausts
source: jbmperformance.co.uk


The use of high-quality materials, superior production processes, (mandrel bending vs crush-bending), and more attention to detail (especially in the tips, but also the use of hardware that nulls vibrations) means piping that can handle more abuse. This is a prerequisite if you’re also considering engine upgrades to significantly increase power levels. While power is the main concern for most buyers, you’re also getting a system that will last in demanding track days, as well as everyday driving tasks. With less stress and more space to work with, a performance system also benefits from less wear to the engine. 

Fuel Economy

Better combustion efficiency means the engine won’t be struggling to keep up with power numbers at defined engine speeds. This has a direct impact on lower fuel use, so you’ll be saving a few pennies in the long run. Paired with this is the reduction of emissions. Just mind the right foot. 

Designs and Configurations 

Exhausts are sold in three basic configurations: axle-back, cat-back, and header/turbo-back. 
Axle-back systems change out factory parts from the rear axle to the exhaust tips. These are more about the sound and how they look, with muffler and resonator combos bringing different exhaust notes. Go for non-resonated systems to get the loudest sound, or resonated systems if you want something quieter. just have in mind that resonated systems will be more restrictive and this can negatively impact performance. An asset is that you can also option different materials in the exhaust tips, and go for the look you’re after. 

golf 6r
source: drive.com.au

Cat-back systems add new and wider mid-section piping from the catalytic converter. This helps with overall airflow, so you get better sound and a few added horses. You can also go with different parts for more performance, such as cat-less straight pipes.

The most gains are in header and turbo-back exhausts, which replace all parts in the factory exhaust. These significantly increase power over a wider power band and can include revised headers and downpipes, as well as straight pipes to maximise flow. The only downside is that they are also the most expensive, but pay themselves off by being less strenuous on the engine.  When shopping for a performance exhaust online, take into account the type of system that best fits your needs, and what meets your budget. 

Final Word 

If you want more performance out of your car, a custom exhaust compatible with your vehicle is the best place to start. There are different configurations, a range of different parts, and ways to get better sound and aesthetics even from basic and inexpensive packages. You can also go full-on and get a header or turbo back system with revised downpipes, straight pipes and catalytic deletes in cars that will be used exclusively on the track. There are dozens of brands to choose from, and a few respected local names that know a thing or two and produce their own lines of performance exhaust systems.