Ultimate Nissan VQ35DE Engine Guide
Austin holds a technical writing degree and has 5 years of experience working as a Technical Product Specialist at BMW. He is an avid car enthusiast who is constantly watching F1, consuming automotive content, racing on his simulator, and working on his Toyota’s and BMW’s. Austin’s technical writing skills, extensive automotive knowledge, and hands-on experience make him an excellent resource for our readers.
Every once in a while, an engine comes around that is simply too good to ignore. That can certainly be said for the Nissan VQ35DE V6 engine. After taking the reigns from the popular Nissan VG V6 engine series, the VQ platform had a lot to live up to. Luckily, things only got better, and the VQ engine series showed Nissan evolving and upgrading their V6 formula for the 21st century.
The VQ35DE has been a powerhouse that has carried the Nissan brand extremely far over the past couple of decades. It has been used in everything from the Nissan Pathfinder to some of Nissan’s most popular sports cars like the Nissan 350Z and Infiniti G35. As such, the VQ35DE has a massive fan base and aftermarket scene that has pushed the 3.5L V6 to its maximum.
In this guide we cover the Nissan VQ35DE engine, discussing the engine’s history, specs, most popular performance mods, and common problems. If you are looking for more Nissan VQ35DE engine content, check out our 5 Best Nissan 350Z Mods Guide and our 3 Common Nissan VQ35DE Engine Problems Guide.
Nissan VQ35DE Engine History
Nissan has a very extensive and decorated history with V6 engines. The Nissan VQ35DE’s roots can be traced back to the Nissan VG-Series. The Nissan VG series of V6 engines were designed as a replacement for the L-Series, a 4 and 6-cylinder engine series that Nissan can’t fully call their own. The L-Series ran from 1967-1986 with a design heavily influenced by Mercedes’ M180 inline-6 engine. By 1986, the 20-year-old engine design was phased out in favor of the VG engine series.
The VG Series ditched the inline configuration for a Vee arrangement in order to gain additional torsional rigidity, a smaller form factor, and higher power potential. Its V6 engine configuration made the VG engine series the first mass-produced V6 engine from Japan. In many ways, the VG-Series prefaced the versatility of the VQ engine series, as it was used in some of Nissan’s most popular cars at the time. The Nissan 300ZX, Nissan Pathfinder, and Nissan Xterra were all powered by the VG-Series.
The Nissan VQ engine series took the reigns in 1994 as Nissan’s V6 of choice in new models. The VQ V6 engine series did run concurrently with the VG V6 engine series until 2004. The new series borrowed some of the teachings from the VG engine series and expanded on them. Early VQ engines featured a similar valvetrain as late model VG engines, both with DOHC with 4 valves per cylinder. With the being said, the VQ V6 evolved to full aluminum construction and use timing chains instead of timing belts.
What Cars Use the Nissan VQ35DE?
The entire list of vehicles that use the Nissan VQ35DE is extremely expansive. That is especially true if you also include JDM and foreign market applications as well. Nissan VQ35DE applications extend outside of just Nissan branded vehicles as well. Infiniti, Nissan’s premium brand, also used the VQ35DE in some of their most popular vehicles too. Interestingly, Nissan and french auto manufacturer Renault have also been strategic partners since 1999. As such, the Nissan VQ35DE V6 has been used in multiple Renault road cars and racecars.
- Nissan Pathfinder (2001–2004 )
- Nissan Pathfinder (2013–2016)
- Infiniti QX4 (2001–2003)
- Infiniti I35 (2001–2004)
- Nissan Altima (2002–2018)
- Nissan Maxima (2002–present)
- Nissan 350Z (2002–2006)
- Infiniti G35 Coupe (2002–2007)
- Infiniti G35 Sedan (2002–2006)
- Infiniti FX35 (2002–2008)
- Nissan Murano (Z50) (2002–present)
- Nissan Quest (2003–2016)
- Infiniti M35 (2004–2008)
- Infiniti JX35 (2012–2013)
- Infiniti QX60 (2013–2016)
JDM and Foreign VQ35DE Applications
- Nissan Elgrand (2000–present)
- Nissan Stagea (2001–2007)
- Renault Vel Satis (2001–2009)
- Nissan Skyline (V35) (2002–2007)
- Nissan Teana/Cefiro (2003–present)
- Nissan Presage (2003–2009)
- Renault Espace (2003–2014)
- Tatuus Formula V6, Formula Renault V6 Eurocup (2003–2004)
- Nissan Fuga 350 GT (2004–2007)
- Nismo Fairlady Z S-Tune GT (2005–2006)
- Renault Samsung (2006–2020)
- Renault Laguna Coupé (2008–2015)
- Renault Mégane Trophy (2009)
- Renault Latitude (2010–2015)
- Alpine A110-50 (2012)
Nissan VQ35DE Engine Specs
Unlike previous Nissan 6-cylinder designs, like the L-Series and VG-Series, the VQ-Series, including the 3.5L VQ35DE features all-aluminum construction. That includes both the VQ35DE cylinder head and block. In terms of its overall construction, the VQ35DE is very similar to the 3.0L VQ30DE. One of the primary differences between the two engines is the VQ35DE’s inclusion of Nissan’s CVTCS variable valve timing system.
Let’s cover a little Nissan terminology for a second, as it is important in understanding the multiple VQ35 variants that have been released over the years. With the initial VQ35DE, the “DE” suffix represents the fact that it is a dual overhead cam engine with multi-point fuel injection. The VQ35DE is known to have strong internals, with forged steel connecting rods, a forged crankshaft, and low-friction molybdenum-coated pistons.
|Displacement||3.5L (3,498 cc)|
|Valvetrain||DOHC w/ CVTCS Variable Valve Timing|
|Bore x Stroke||3.76 in x 3.20 in (95.5mm x 81.4 mm)|
|Compression Ratio||10.0:1, 10.3:1, or 10.6:1|
|Torque (lb-ft)||246-274 lb-ft|
Nissan VQ35DE Engine Variants
Over the VQ35DE’s run, starting in 2001 and lasting until present day, there have been multiple variants of the 3.5L V6 engine. The VQ35DE variants all vary in terms of horsepower and torque and are used in particular types of vehicles accordingly.
The base VQ35DE variant is the least powerful of the bunch and was prominently used at the beginning of the VQ35DE’s lifecycle. The VQ35DE was used in the 2001-2004 Pathfinder, 2001-2003 Infiniti QX4, early model third-generation Nissan Altimas, and early model first gen Nissan Muranos. The base VQ35DE produces 240 horsepower and 246 lb-ft of torque. It is also important to mention that the base VQ35DE only has variable valve timing on the intake valves.
The base model was then followed up by the VQ35DE “RevUp” which is a more powerful extension of the original VQ35DE. The RevUp variant received some important upgrades including variable valve timing on the exhaust valves as well as the intake valves. In addition to exhaust VVT, the RevUp also got a new ECU, reworked internals, and a new intake plenum. The VQ35DE RevUp was used in 2005-2006 Infinity G35s and Nissan 350Zs with manual transmissions. The updated VQ35DE had its redline raised to 7,100 RPM compared to the VQ35DE’s 6,600 RPM redline. The RevUp’s power was also increased to 300 horsepower.
In addition to the VQ35DE, an updated VQ35HR (High Revolution) version of the engine was introduced in the 2007 Infiniti G35 sedan. Some Nissan enthusiasts argue that the two should be seen as two different engines, as the VQ35HR features 80% revised or strengthened engine components and is even built on an entirely new engine block. However, the VQ35DE and VQ35HR feature the same bore and stroke and a similar overall design. With that being said, there are some important differences of note.
Besides having stronger internals, there are also some drivability differences between the two engines. For instance, like the VQ35DE RevUp, the VQ35HR has variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust valves. Nissan also made some substantial changes to the VQ35HR intake plenum and intake system as a whole, as that is a massive restriction on early VQ35DE cars. Unlike the VQ35DE V6, the VQ35HR uses a dual-tract intake system, meaning that the VQ35HR has two air cleaners and two throttle bodies compared to the single tract intake system on the VQ35DE. The improved intake combined with revised equal-length exhaust headers and free-flow mufflers makes the VQ35HR the better breathing engine by far.
There were also revisions to the VQ35HR’s engine geometry as a whole. Two of the most significant differences between the two are connecting rod length and deck height. In order to reduce the amount of internal stress on the connecting rods and to prevent piston side load. Overall, VQ35HR pistons are stronger and handle higher revs and more stress than VQ35DE pistons.
Nissan 3.5L VQ35DE Engine Mods and Upgrades
It’s hard to ignore the fact that the Nissan VQ35DE is used in two of the most popular Japanese sports cars to come out in the past two decades. We are, of course, talking about the Nissan 350Z and Infiniti G35; two cars that have made an incalculably large impact on the drifting scene and import tuner scene as a whole.
A big reason that both the Nissan 350Z and Infiniti G35 are so popular is their modifiability. The Nissan FM platform has one of the largest aftermarket communities when it comes to parts, so you shouldn’t have trouble with part availability or finding a massive amount of information about any build direction that you set your sights on.
While 350Z and G35 aftermarket support is undeniably huge, there is a catch. The 3.5L V6 is very well optimized from the factory as a naturally aspirated 6-cylinder. It is hard to gain significantly more power from a VQ35DE without going the forced induction route. Generally speaking, you can expect to gain around 30-50 horsepower with a full bolt-on VQ35DE with a tune. To get significant gains, you’ll need to consider either a VQ35DE supercharger or turbocharger. While VQ35DEs are heavily modifiable, they are also expensive to modify. It is important to keep that in mind when considering what you want from your build.
Due to the complexity of forced induction and all that goes into it, we’ll stick to VQ35DE bolt-ons in this guide. Some of the most popular VQ35DE engine mods are as follows:
- Plenum Spacer Modification
- Upgraded Air Intake
- VQ35DE Performance Headers
- Cat Back Exhaust
VQ35DE Plenum Space Modification
Recommended Nissan VQ35DE Plenum Spacer: MotorDyne VQ35DE Plenum Spacer
When writing engine guides, there is a general bolt-on recipe that works well for most naturally aspirated engines. The VQ35DE plenum spacer mod is one that really only applies to the early Nissan 3.5L V6s, as the intake plenum design on the VQ35DE is truly atrocious. From a sheer cost-to-power standpoint, there isn’t a better bang-for-your-buck modification for the VQ35.
Intake plenum design is an extremely complicated science that requires airflow characteristics and structural design to match up perfectly for optimal performance. Unfortunately, Nissan designers really dropped the ball when it came to designing the intake plenum for the VQ35DE. The overarching problem comes from the fact that there is very little room for air to travel through the plenum and into the front two intake runners. This lack of space restricts optimal airflow from reaching all of the cylinders equally, resulting in a loss of power and torque.
Fortunately, there is a very cost-effective way of solving this issue in the form of a VQ35DE intake plenum spacer. The duty of an intake plenum spacer is to add additional space between the upper and lower parts of the plenum to increase airflow.
MotorDyne offers one of the best VQ35DE plenum spacers on the market. The spacer adds 5/16 of an inch to the plenum and is the easiest kit to install compared to the other options on the market. Even if you are just attempting your first modification, the installation should only take around an hour. At ~$250 this mod provides the best price per horsepower gains out of any VQ35DE mod.
Nissan VQ35DE Air Intake Upgrade
Best Nissan VQ35DE Air Intake: Z1 M-Spec Nissan VQ35DE Cold Air Intake
Prior to the VQ35HR, the VQ35DE had a very restrictive intake system. That goes for the VQ35DE plenum mentioned above, as well as the actual air intake and filter components as well. As a result, an upgraded VQ35DE air intake is a good starting modification as it is inexpensive and will pair well with other future modifications.
With that being said, the air intake itself will not net massive horsepower gains. The purpose of an upgraded performance intake is to increase engine breathability over the stock setup. This can result in marginally better throttle response as well as a couple of horsepower. VQ35DE intakes also add a satisfying intake noise, which is reason enough for some people to buy one. In general, the performance of an upgraded intake scales with engine performance, as highly modified engines can often be throttled by poor airflow. For the best results, a VQ35DE intake should be paired with a tune.
If you aren’t looking to spend the money on an entire VQ35DE intake kit but still want the performance benefits, some VQ35DE enthusiasts say that adding a high-performance air filter to the stock VQ35DE airbox will have a nearly identical effect on performance.
VQ35DE Performance Headers
Best Nissan VQ35DE Long Tube Headers: ISR Performance VQ35DE Long Tube Headers
As far as performance modifications go, headers always fall near the top of the list for most engines. The VQ35DE is no exception, gaining a significant amount of power and increased exhaust flow from high-performance headers. VQ35DE headers replace the restrictive factory exhaust manifolds that merge exhaust gasses from each cylinder bank directly after the exhaust port. This creates unneeded back pressure and restricts exhaust flow. This differs from most VQ35DE high-performance headers, which have individual exhaust tubes for each cylinder that merge at a collector further down the header structure. Not only does that reduce the amount of backpressure in the exhaust system but it also increases exhaust velocity and can change engine power delivery characteristics.
All of those things result in more power and torque for your VQ35DE-powered G35 or 350Z. Nearly everyone in the 350Z/G35 community chooses to run long tube VQ35DE headers, as they provide the best performance from a power, exhaust flow, and scavenging perspective. There are some shorty VQ35DE headers out there, but if you are looking for performance, long tube headers are the way to go. It is important to keep in mind that header installs on VQ35DE engines are notoriously difficult. If you are new to modifying cars, they are better left up to a shop to install.
VQ35DE performance headers can vary in price from $500-$4,000 depending on their material, manufacturer, and design. ISR Performance VQ35DE headers fall on the lower end of that scale but are still a quality option for those looking for heavy-duty 304 stainless steel headers with good exhaust flow and provide significant top-end gains.
Nissan 3.5L V6 Cat Back Exhuast
Best Nissan 3.5L V6 VQ35DE Cat Back Exhuast System: Invidia N1 VQ35DE Cat Back Exhaust
At this point, it should be pretty clear that the VQ35DE’s factory exhaust system is where most of the power can be made. That goes for the initial components like headers, but it also goes for the exhaust components further down the line as well. Cat-back exhausts are without question the most common type of exhaust fitted to lightly modified Zs. Cat-back exhausts are exactly what they sound like. They replace all of the factory exhaust components from the catalytic converter to the exhaust tip.
The most important upgrade that a cat-back exhaust provides is a new high-flow catalytic converter. The cats are unquestionably the most restrictive components in the stock VQ35DE exhaust system. Cat-back VQ35DE exhausts are generally made of stainless steel and are made to improve exhaust gas flow out of the engine, resulting in a bit more power and a lot more noise. Aftermarket cat-back systems can vary a good amount in terms of their pipe diameter, tip diameter, and how they exit the vehicle. Since the 350Z and G35 both have dual exit exhausts from the factory, most aftermarket cat-backs are also dual exits.
The Invidia’s N1 exhaust system is one of the most popular aftermarket options in the JDM community, especially for Nissans and Subarus. As a low-medium pricepoint option, Invidia still offers one of the most quality products on sale for the VQ35DE today. Invidia N1 350Z cat back owners say that the exhaust is a perfect option for those that want a deep exhaust tone low in the rev range that opens up when you climb to the 6,000 rpm mark. Combined with high-flow 350Z or G35 headers, a good VQ35DE cat-back exhaust can yield impressive power gains.
VQ35DE Common Engine Problems
The simple fact that the Nissan VQ35 V6 has been used in cars from multiple brands for over two decades should speak for its reliability and overall reputation. On the whole, the Nissan VQ35DE is a reliable engine that doesn’t have very many truly critical issues. It is common to see highly functioning VQ35DE’s still performing at their best well beyond the 100,000-mile mark, with plenty of performance left to give. Of course, that does rely entirely on maintenance and proper service. While the VQ35DE does receive above-average reliability marks, every engine has its problems.
We have already written an entire guide that covers the 3 Most Common Nissan VQ35DE Engine Problems in detail, but we’ll do a short synopsis here as well. Overall, the most common VQ35DE engine problems are:
- VQ35DE high oil consumption
- Timing chain/tensioner issues
- Oil leaks
VQ35DE High Oil Consumption
One of the most prominent and widely talked about issues on the VQ35DE is excessive oil consumption. Due to the fact that there are so many potential causes of excessive oil burning, it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause. The most common reasons are an oil leak or the engine burning oil. We’ll talk about common sources of VQ35DE engine leaks in a bit. For now, we’ll focus on other potential causes.
The VQ35DE is known to have ring-sealing issues which can cause oil to leak into the crankcase. The VQ35DE cylinder bores are manufactured with a very slight taper to them. Supposedly, the lower rings on the piston wouldn’t seal again the bores as well as they should and resulted in blow-by. This can account for a significant amount of lost oil, with some reporting that the engine is consuming around a quart of oil every 1,000 miles. The issue is actually most common on VQ35DE RevUp variants. Unfortunately, this isn’t a very easy issue to identify, but could be a potential cause if you can guarantee that there aren’t any other significant oil leaks around the rest of the engine.
There usually aren’t many simple, cheap ways to reduce oil consumption. However, these few things may help a small amount. Avoid idling the engine for too long. High oil consumption also seems to be a bigger issue on VQ35DE engines driven short distances. Stick with high-quality oils and you may consider running a slightly heavier weight oil. Changing the oil a little more often can also help.
Nissan 3.5L V6 Timing Chain/Tensioner Issues
Timing chain issues, or any issue revolving around timing in general, are pretty serious and can lead to extensive damage if left unchecked. The main issue with the VQ35DE’s timing system is the timing tensioner failing or failing to provide enough pressure on the timing chain itself. If this happens, the timing chain can generate play over time, causing it to contact other components or skip timing significantly. Since the Nissan VQ is an interference engine, skipped timing can result in serious internal damage to the engine. At the very least, you’ll be looking at a full head rebuild if not an entirely new engine.
Luckily, there are some prominent warning signs that can usually be detected before anything catastrophic happens. One easy way to identify timing chain issues is by listening for any unusual rattling or clunking coming from the engine bay. This is usually accompanied by a check engine light and possibly the engine going into limp mode. If you do experience any of these symptoms, it is crucial to get your engine looked at quickly to prevent serious damage down the line. Generally speaking, it is a good idea to have the timing chain checked around every 150,000-mile interval.
Common VQ35DE Oil Leak Locations
There are very few internal combustion engines out there that don’t have common oil leaks. As cars age and gaskets and seals crack and degrade, oil leaks are a guarantee. Like most engines, the VQ35DE has a similar issue. There are some commonly identified locations where oil leaks tend to manifest on the VQ35DE that you should keep your eye on.
One of the most common oil leak locations on the VQ35DE is the valve cover gasket. VQ35DE valve cover gaskets are made from a rubber material. As the engine goes through constant heat cycles these gaskets take a lot of abuse. Over time, the material degrades and begins cracking. While not an immediate issue, a valve cover gasket leak should be addressed sooner than later.
In addition to the valve cover gasket, the PCV valves, oil filter housing gasket, oil pan gasket, front main seal, and rear main seal are also problem areas for the VQ35DE when it comes to oil leaks. A visible leak on the ground is one of the first symptoms you’ll notice. However, it’s possible the VCG has been leaking for a while by the time you even notice. These leaks start small and any drops may be caught in the engine bay and burn off before dripping to the ground. As such, you might notice burning oil smells or small amounts of smoke from the VQ35DE engine bay.
Nissan VQ35DE Engine Guide Summary
The VQ35DE is largely responsible for the success of the Nissan 350Z and Infiniti G35 which both became icons of the Japanese car scene around the world. Nissan’s 3.5L V6 has been in their arsenal for over two decades now and still provides reliable and smooth power to a number of Nissan’s current offerings. Of the three variants of the VQ35, the VQ35DE is at the bottom of the pack in terms of performance. The later released VQ35DE-R and VQ35HR engines are more powerful and include other engine technology like variable valve timing on the exhaust valves. With that being said, the Nissan VQ35DE is a formidable engine in all three of its variants.
The VQ35DE is heavily modifiable but expensive to get an excessive amount of power from while staying naturally aspirated. With that being said, you can expect to gain around 40-50 horsepower with bolt-on modifications, like the VQ35DE headers, plenum spacer, intake, and cat-back exhaust that we suggested. If you are looking to push a VQ35DE to its limits, you’ll need to go the forced induction route. The VQ35DE is also a reliable engine without any major issues generally occurring before the 100,000-mile mark. Its most common issues are high oil consumption, timing chain issues, and oil leaks, all of which are not remotely exclusive to the VQ.