“Which intercooler should I get?” At Corksport we get this question almost every day. The debate of top mount intercooler vs. front mount intercooler has been one that has raged on in the forums for years. Just looking around you will see both options on all sorts of cars. So what is the answer?
The Mazdaspeed 3 and Mazdaspeed 6 both come with top mount intercoolers (TMIC’s) from the factory. There are many reasons for this, but the main one is that it is much cheaper to manufacture and install. A Top Mount Intercooler can be installed directly to the engine at the factory so it is ready to drop into the car which saves both time and money.
Beside the TMIC, the other option available is the front mount intercooler (FMIC). Both styles have their pros and cons. The upsides of the TMIC is that it uses the shortest possible path from the turbo to the engine. This reduces the amount of time it takes for the car to accelerate, this feeling can be amplified between shifts when the power comes back on very quickly. The TMIC also is very simple and compact with very few connections and possible places to leak. A TMIC will also weigh very little compared to a FMIC setup and usually is in a place with very good airflow.
The downside of TMIC’s is that they are generally limited in size by the design of the car and can be much smaller than most FMIC’s. They are typically placed very high in the engine bay, raising the car’s center of gravity. Most importantly though, the biggest downside of the TMIC is that it sits in a hot engine bay. Just by sitting on top of the motor, the TMIC can soak up heat thereby decreasing its effectiveness in cooling the air compressed by your turbo.
The principals are mostly the same for the pros and cons of the FMIC. The core of a FMIC can be much larger, and in the case of a properly designed system, can cool temperatures much more effectively. Being placed further away from the engine and out into the stream of air can make the FMIC much cooler and more importantly, more consistent. One last reason that many people love FMIC’s is the look, nothing says I mean business more than a massive bar and plate core smiling in your rear view.
The biggest downside of a FMIC is that the install process is much longer. Other downsides of FMIC’s can be the much longer piping needed to route compressed air to them. This piping can increase turbo lag and usually has many couplers that can have the potential to leak or cause other issues.
So what does CorkSport say? As a general rule we would say if you don’t plan to add more than 50-100 horsepower, a top mount intercooler will work just fine and be much easier on your plans and wallet. If you eventually want to go wild with your car and build it up much higher than stock, you will probably want to look hard at a front mount intercooler. Our advice would be to try to plan in advance what you want out of the car so that you only have to buy parts once.