In the present work, the effect of inlet manifold geometry and swirl intensity on the direct injection (DI) diesel engine performance was investigated experimentally. Modifications in inlet manifold geometry have been suggested to achieve optimized swirl for the better mixing of fuel with air. The intake swirl intensities of modified cylinder head were measured in swirl test rig at different valve lifts. Later, the overall performance of 435 CC DI diesel engine was measured using modified cylinder head. In addition, the performance of engine was compared for both modified and old cylinder head. For same operating conditions, the brake power and brake specific fuel consumption was improved by 6% and 7% respectively with modified cylinder head compared to old cylinder head. The maximum brake power of 9 HP was achieved for modified cylinder head. The results revealed that the intake swirl has great influence on engine performance. © 2017 Published under licence by IOP Publishing Ltd.