The Nissan 350Z is an awesome drivers that many car enthusiasts still appreciate to this day. It’s powered by the 3.5L VQDE35 through 2006 and the VQ35HR for later models. With 287+ horsepower from the factory it already offers solid performance. However, those looking to push the 350Z to the next level should consider a turbo kit. In this guide, we discuss everything that goes into boosting the Nissan 350Z and recommend a few of the best turbo kits on the market.
How Much Power Can the VQ35DE Handle?
Of course, safe limits of the 350Z’s VQ35DE engine are an important topic before opting for a turbo setup. It’s always tough to talk about an engines safe limits. If only it were as easy as saying, “the 350z will last for ages at 400whp, but it’s going to blow up right away at 425whp.” There’s never a perfect answer.
However, the VQ35DE is a pretty stout engine. It’s generally good for about 400-425whp without completely killing longevity. With proper tuning, supporting mods, and fueling a little more power is possible. Regardless – all else equal – the more power you throw at the 350z with a turbo kit the greater risk.
*The later VQ35HR engines in the 350Z are a little stronger, but roughly the same limits apply. It’s generally good for an extra 25-50whp.
Ensuring a Reliable Turbo 350Z
If you’re planning on pushing the limits of the 350z with a turbo kit there are a few ways to ensure a safe, reliable setup. A few things include:
- Turbo Setup
- Supporting Mods
- Internal Upgrades
There are lots of sub-topics within each of these points to discuss, so we’ll break this down into sections below. All of this stuff is important regardless of your specific goals. With a great setup the VQ35DE should be pretty safe at 400-450whp. The VQ35HR should be good for about 450-500whp. Those looking to take things further should consider some internal upgrades.
1) Turbo Setup
Again, this is more in relation to the VQ35DE and VQ35HR engine itself. We’ll be discussing specific turbo setups later. Different 350z turbo kits will result in different safe limits on the engine. We’ll try to avoid getting too technical here, but this is generally a good starting point for choosing a turbo kit.
What are your power goals? If you’re only looking for 400whp it’s not going to take a whole lot of turbo to get there. These will usually be smaller twin turbo kits with minimal lag and plenty of low-end torque. Sounds great, right? However, smaller turbos do come with some downsides.
We’re very familiar with the BMW N54 engine, and it’s a shining example. On small stock frame twin turbos 550whp is starting to push the safe limits of the engine. On the other hand, big single or twin turbos are usually good for about 650-700whp on the stock motor. There are many reasons for that, and we’ll touch on a couple quickly.
A smaller turbo(s) will result in greater back-pressure. This occurs when the turbo simply isn’t large enough to move high volumes of air. That back-pressure is not good for any engine, and that includes the VQ35DE and VQ35HR. Too much back-pressure results in higher engine temps and has a negative impact on exhaust scavenging.
This could be a separate heading, but PSI/boost isn’t everything. The volume of air (CFM) is also an important measure. Bigger 350z turbos can make more power on lower PSI due to a higher CFM.
Nissan 350z Power Curve
This is a big one. So far, we’ve quoted the Nissan 350z engine limits in horsepower. However, torque is really the better number to go by since it’s the actual measure of force. Horsepower is simply how many times you can create that force in a given timeframe (RPM). The following equation shows that fact.
HP = Torque x RPM / 5252
Larger turbo kits will flow more air which allows the engine to hold the torque further right on the curve. In turn, you’re making more horsepower at a given peak torque because torque is peaking further right on the curve.
Choosing the Right Size Turbo(s)
Therein lies the trade-off. Bigger turbo kits introduce more lag, but are generally safer and easier on the VQ35 engines. If your goals are well within the safe limits of the engine then it’s likely best to go with smaller turbos. You’ll reap the benefits of quicker spool and a lower boost threshold.
However, if your goals are 450-500whp on a stock 350Z engine then you might consider turbos capable of more power. These are going to be your larger turbo kits with more lag, but will help with engine safety while pushing the limits.
Anyone with higher goals should simply choose the appropriate 350z turbo kit for their goals, and opt for a built motor.
2) 350z Tuning
Alright, we’ll be a little quicker moving through this tuning section. Exact tuning for the 350Z will depend on your specific turbo setup, supporting mods, fueling, etc. As such, we’re focusing on some general concepts in this section.
Tuning is debatably the most important part of having a safe setup. A few things to keep in mind once you’re ready to move on to the tuning aspect:
- Work with a known, quality tuner
- Stick on the conservative side
- Data-log often
We could go on and on with the list, but these are a few of the basics. Unless you’re extremely knowledgeable then tuning is best left to the pros. Find a custom tuner that knows the VQ35DE engine well. Knowing your own goals is also important. Your tuner should be able to assist in whether it’s a good goal or if it’s too aggressive.
Once the tune is dialed in, it’s still important to understand basic data-logging parameters. We recommend data-logging as often as possible, or at least every couple weeks. You want to know if your 350z is potentially leaning out, knocking, etc.
3) Supporting Mods For Turbos
Supporting mods for 350z turbo upgrades is another fairly long topic to cover. There are a few mods that are required such as fueling upgrades. Then there are tons of supporting mods that aren’t necessarily needed. However, you’ll want to consider some extra 350z mods for safe, reliable, and consistent performance. Here’s a quick list of some supporting mods:
- Basic bolt-ons
- Fueling upgrades (pump, injectors, etc)
- Cooling mods
- Brakes, suspension, wheels/tires, clutch
Again, this list of 350z supporting mods for turbo upgrades could be a lot longer. These are things to consider for those wanting roughly 350-500whp. If your goals are 500+whp the list grows and grows.
Basic Bolt-On Mods
Most turbo kits are going to come with some of these basic bolt-on mods for turbo engines. An intercooler and downpipes should be included with most, if not all, 350z turbo kits.
Outside of that, you’ll probably want an intake upgrade which is included in some turbo kits. A full exhaust system from the downpipe back is another basic bolt-on mod to consider.
Some complete Nissan VQ35DE and VQ35HR turbo kits also include fueling mods. If not, you’re going to need injectors and a fuel pump upgrade at the least. Fuel lines and other small bits are possible mods, but generally not required.
It’s a good time to note – we’ll have in-depth guides for all of these mods in the near future. There’s a lot to cover in this article, so we’re sticking with the basics. Do a little research on injectors and fuel pumps to ensure they can handle your goals.
Whether or not you plan to run some E85 is also an important point. We’ll be discussing this in the coming section.
With the new-found boost and power, 350z engine and transmission temps are going to get hotter. With modest goals you can probably get by with minimal cooling mods up-front. If you go this route then keep an eye on temperatures to see if anything should be addressed.
Those with more aggressive power goals will want some cooling mods. Radiator, engine oil coolers, and transmission coolers are a good starting point. You also want a 350z turbo kit that comes with a quality, high capacity intercooler. If IAT’s are high then it’s another good upgrade.
Sorry for some of these longer topics. There’s just so much to cover when it comes to VQ35 turbo upgrades. Anyway, we’ll be fairly quick on this topic but fueling choice is very important.
Ethanol, commonly referred to as E85, is the ultimate fueling for just about any forced induction engine. It’s less fuel efficient than pump or race gas and puts about 30% more demand on the fuel system. However, E85 helps ensure the safety of a stock 350z engine. A few benefits of E85 include:
- Knock resistance
- Cooler temps
- High octane
E85 burns at a stoich of roughly 9.75. That means you need 1 part of fuel per 9.75 parts air. This is compared to 14.7 for gasoline. Ultimately, it’s less fuel efficient but extra fuel helps absorb heat and lower temps. E85 also greatly reduces the risk of pre-detonation, which is a big cause of blown motors. Finally, E85 has an octane rating of 108. In summary, E85 has tons of power benefits and also improves engine health and safety.
Race Gas or Methanol Injection
Race gas and methanol injection are also great options for the 350z – if you do not have access to E85. Both of these offer similar benefits to E85 albeit to a slightly lesser degree. Nonetheless, they’re are all great fueling options compared to standard 91 or 93 octane.
5) 350Z Internal Upgrades
Internal upgrades are needed for those who truly want to push the 350z to the next level. If you want a safe, reliable setup you might even consider some upgrades in the 400whp ballpark. However, it’s costly which is why most don’t go this route unless they’re pushing past the safe limits. A few internal upgrades to consider include:
- Rods / rod bearings
- Ported head
Your exact build will depend on your specific goals and use for the Nissan 350Z. We’ll leave it at that for now since anyone going this route should do extensive homework.
Best 350Z VQ35 Turbo Kits
Alright. Finally onto the more exciting part. Once you’ve determined your budget and goals it’s time to choose a turbo kit. This list is by no means exhaustive, and best is subjective. Plenty of great turbo kits exist for the Nissan 350Z, and we simply don’t have the time to go through every single one. As such, these are a few kits that we believe provide a great balance of price, quality, and performance.
1) AAM Competition Twin Turbo Kit (700+whp)
Application: VQ35DE and VQ35HR
AAM Competition offers this twin turbo kit for both the VQ35DE and VQ35HR engines. The price might scare some away immediately. However, this is a great looking complete kit from top to bottom. It even includes the fuel pump and injector upgrades as well as engine management.
They use quality BorgWarner ball bearing turbos for quick spool and response. This kit is good for 700+whp with a built motor and all the proper supporting mods. However, it’s a solid setup even for those only looking to make modest power. Then again, this AAM 350Z turbo kit might be pricey and overkill for those only looking for 350-450whp.
2) JWT TT Kit (350-450+whp)
Application: VQ35DE only
This twin turbo kit from Jim Wolf Technologies (JWT) is a proven, quality option. The kit was built in conjunction with Garrett and features GT25, GT28, or GT30 twin turbos. Unlike the AAM kit above the JWT kit does not include fueling mods or engine management.
JWT twin turbos are a great choice for modest setups. It was designed with the stock engine in mind, so 350-450whp is really the sweet spot for this turbo kit. However, with proper supporting mods you can likely get even more performance out of these turbos.
3) Turbonetics Single Turbo Upgrade
Application: VQ35DE only
These kits can be a little harder to come by, and aren’t really known for their quality. We’ve read about some issues with turbos, turbo seals, busted pipes, clamping issues, etc. However, if you can deal with a couple headaches then this kit may be worth the price.
It’s kind of a wildcard since most turbo kits are going to run $6,000 to $10,000+. We don’t have personal experience with Turbonetics or this specific kit, so we can’t speak to quality personally. However, even if it’s not too reliable the price might convince some to take a risk on the Turbonetics 350z single turbo kit.
350Z Turbo Upgrade Summary
The 350z is a great car that offered solid performance for its era. However, its stock output isn’t anything impressive in the modern time. Fortunately, the VQ35DE and VQ35HR engines are capable of some extra power and a turbo kit can easily unleash the power. 350z engines are generally good to about 400whp or 450whp for the later HR engines.
Though, it’s important to understand there’s still risk even with modest power increases. A good 350z turbo setup can help mitigate, but not eliminate the risk. Ensure you get a quality tune with proper supporting mods and fueling. Those really looking to push the limit will want to consider a built motor up-front.
Once you know your goals and budget it’s time to find the turbo setup that’s right for you. Tons of options exist, but with the 350z aging some turbo kits are harder and harder to come by. AAM offers an excellent complete turbo kit for all 350z years including the VQ35DE and VQ35HR engines. JWT also has a highly proven and capable kit for the VQ35DE. Those looking for a cheap solution might consider taking a risk on the Turbonetics single turbo kit.
What’s your experience with a turbo 350z? Are you considering turbocharging your Z?