Choosing the right type of headers and the correct exhaust setup is very important because it will prevent a lots of heads down the road. Will it be too loud, does it drone, is the performance worth the $$$ are probably questions going through your head. We will make it as simple as possible to explain the differences and benefits of a UEL versus EL headers exhaust setup for the Toyota 86.
Should you get aftermarket heads in the first place?
Headers are probably the best bang for your buck in terms of performance upgrades for your Toyota 86, next to a tune. The cost though is in the comfort of your daily drive to work because the exhaust will certainly be louder, and most likely drone in higher rpms. Depending on your aftermarket exhaust, the noise / drone could be unbearable.
Before switching to aftermarket heads, I would ask myself, hey how loud is my exhaust now and can I take it if it was louder. If no, I would definitely either switch back to stock exhausts or switch to a quater aftermarket exhausts like the Q300s. I will definitely write an article in the future explaining different ways to quiet down your loud exhaust.
My personal experience is that going from just Magnaflow exhausts to JDL UEL headers, it was noticeably louder. Using a free decibel meter iPhone app, it measured between 75-80db with just the Magnaflow exhausts on the freeway and 85-90db with the headers. Might not seem much, but to bring you to perspective, a jump from 70db to 80db is actually 2 times louder. From what I can tell, it did not feel twice as loud, but I can definitely notice the difference.
I'm a fairly young guy in my 20s, so the noise was not a killjoy for my daily commute, but for those with a family or kids that they take around, I would definitely take the jump in noise into consideration.
Yes I want headers, but I only care about Performance
The general statement and truth is that EL headers do perform better than UEL headers. The reason behind it is mainly due to the design of the headers. The 4-2-1 designs for EL headers makes it more efficient and procedures better at the mid RPM, which the 86 desperately needs due to the torque dip
Although the general statement is true, my take on this is that you can not compare UEL and EL headers solely on the design of these headers, because the differences in brand and quality plays a huge variable in performance
For example, an excellent comparison was done by Drift-Office on the performance differences of the most popular UEL headers for the Toyota 86 / Scion FRS. In short, they removed all variables in their study: all cars were 6MT, running on the same fuel, and with similar exhaust setups other than the UEL headers.
These cars with different UEL headers were then tested on a Dyno, which measures the horsepower and torque as the car runs through the RPM range
Result of the study shown below: Source: http://www.ft86club.com/forums/showthread.php?t=60586
The bottom line is this. When choosing headers for performance, it's not just deciding between 2 easy options EL or UEL. It's really about doing the research on a list of popular headers on key criteria on what makes a good performing header (ie dyno performance + weight).
To help narrow down this search, my recommendations in terms of performance for the Toyota 86 / Scion FRS would be the JDL UEL Headers or the Ace 4-2-1 EL Headers.
I want my exhaust to sound good
This section is a little harder to explain because how good an exhaust sounds is purely subjective. What I will explain is the major difference in terms of exhaust notes between the UEL and EL headers. UEL headers produces an exhaust note most people are familiar with as the "Subaru Rumble," on the Toyota 86 where the EL headers do not.
The general consensus is that most people like the rumble. I personally have an UEL header myself, so I can attest to the love for the Subaru rumble. Again, this is a personal preference, and I would highly suggest going to a local FRS / 86 meet, and listen in person to the difference exhaust setups people have. Videos can only give you a general idea of the sound note an exhaust makes, but loses the ability to tell you how loud the header / exhaust setup will be in person.
The 30 Second Summary
– Only upgrade to aftermarket headers if you do not mind your exhaust being a fair bit louder.
– EL headers perform better in general, but performance is very different hanging on the brand you decide to choose. Therefore, do more research on the product, not the design.
– Only UEL headers will have the Subaru rumble and will be a hint louder than the EL headers.
In short, this is how I would make my decision between the 2 options. If you're going for a track focus build that will be squeezing every HP / Torque from this engine, I would definitely go with EL headers. For the majority who are using this car as a daily and / or a weekend warrior, I would base my decision on which headers sound better to you. Do you want that subie rumble? My guess is yes!