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Well, here's just what I've learned regarding the exhaust on the Sentra. Yes, 2" diameter pipe is the largest you should use for a normally aspirated GA16DE - and you should make sure to get mandrel-bent pipe, since crush bends introduce much more turbulence. As for the "pre-silencer" you speak of, this is really a personal opinion sort of thing.

A free-flowing muffler, such as the Magnaflow, does not use much sound-deadening material (one reason why it achieves such high flow rates) and as such, makes your exhaust very loud. Most drivers get tired of the extremely loud exhaust note (not to mention laws regarding the loudness), and one option is to use a free-flowing glasspack positioned just behind the catalytic converter as a "silencer". It won't contribute too much flow restriction, and the added muffling makes your exhaust much more tolerable. You will need to be careful to find a glasspack that has a perforated core (many holes on the inner tube) instead of the louvered core designs. The louvered core glasspacks create turbulent flow, and some can produce more back-pressure than stock mufflers. Expect under 10 hp gain from even the highest quality cat-back exhaust configurations.

Many online vendors carry a larger selection of mufflers and exhaust equipment than the auto-parts stores, and that's why they're usually preferred. I simply purchased my muffler and glasspack from www.summitracing.com and had my mechanic install the 2" mandrel bent pipe and perform the welds. Summit is just one example of a trusted online vendor.

I would definitely improve the exhaust before changing the intake, it just seems more logical that way. As for your intake options, CAI seems to be the best overall horsepower increase - but it does come at a cost. Kojima's Garage has tested the CAI to provide around a 3-5 hp gain.

Other than that, most other significant performance modifications require a significant investment. Luckily, the GA16DE responds fairly well to the above mods, making them a great place to start (and possibly finish!).
 
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