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The Nissan VG/VQ-series V6 Guide

The detailed evolution of the Nissan VG/VQ-series V6 engine

By Michael Knowling

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At a glance...

  • Guide to Nissan VG/VQ-series engines
  • Mechanical specs
  • Power and torque figures
  • Driveline configurations
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Nissan’s SR20 and RB-series engines tend to receive plenty of attention – but what about the VG/VQ range of V6s? These relatively compact and bullet-proof engines are extremely capable of making big power and – due to their lack of popularity – they’re available quite cheaply at the import wreckers.

So how good are these Nissan bent sixes? Let’s take a look!

Early VG Series (SOHC)

In the mid ‘80s the 3-litre VG30E appeared on the scene with an iron block (using an 87mm bore and 83mm stroke), a 9:1 compression ratio, single overhead camshafts, two-valves-per-cylinder and EFI. Fitted to a variety of relative ho-hum vehicles (including the Cedric, Gloria, Homy, Terrano and Maxima), the VG30E makes up to 124kW at 5200 rpm on normal unleaded fuel.

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A turbo version (using low compression pistons) was released at around the same time. Equipped with a T3 turbocharger but no intercooler, the VG30ET makes up to 155kW depending on specifications. This engine is most commonly found in the auto or manual gearbox Z31 300ZX (aka Fairlady). The same engine – though slightly detuned - was also used in top-line versions of the 1989 Cedric and Gloria rear-drive saloon.

You might not be aware that a ‘big banger’ 3.3-litre version of the VG – the VG33E – was also released in the Navara/Pathfinder. These engines use an enlarged bore (91.5mm) and generate around 135kW on normal unleaded. A great platform for tuning.

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On the opposite end of the scale is the SOHC 2-litre VG V6 – the VG20E. These engines use completely different bore and stroke dimensions (78mm x 69.7mm) and, in naturally aspirated guise, make around 90kW. A turbocharged version – the VG20ET – makes around 120kW depending on spec. This engine was fitted to the Z31 200Z and sedans such as the U12 Maxima.

Late VG Series (DOHC)

A double overhead cam version of the VG-series V6 appeared during 1988/1989. This – finally – put the bent six up to the same level of sophistication as the RB-series in-line six (which received a DOHC head as early as 1986).

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The ultimate incarnation of the VG engine is the VG30DETT, which was released in the 1989 Z32 300ZX (aka Fairlady). Continuing the same bore and stroke dimensions, the 3-litre VG30DETT brings four-valve per cylinder breathing as well as DOHC and variable inlet cam timing technology. A parallel ceramic twin-turbo system and twin air-to-air intercoolers give this engine a Skyline GT-R beating 206kW at 6400 rpm and 388Nm at 3600 rpm when running premium unleaded. A four-speed automatic or five-speed manual can be hung off the back of this longitudinally mounted engine. This engine continued service without major change for around ten years.

Interestingly, a single turbo version of the DOHC 3-litre V6 was also released – the VG30DET. Initially fitted to the top-spec ’88 Leopard, this engine uses an 8.5:1 static compression ratio and a single high-capacity ceramic turbocharger to generate 187kW at 6000 rpm and 343Nm at 3200 rpm. Note that these outputs are achieved on premium unleaded fuel and with a rear-wheel-drive type automatic trans. The same engine also appeared in the 1989 – mid 1990s Gloria, Cima and Cedric.

The naturally aspirated version of the 3-litre V6 also received DOHC heads and four-valve breathing. During 1988/1989, much of the Nissan range received the DOHC VG30DE generating up to 147kW and 260Nm on premium unleaded. Note that this engine was fitted to a limited number of Z31 300ZR models and the all-new Z32. In the Z32 300ZX, output is increased to 169kW and 273Nm. As far as we’re aware, all of these engines are configured for rear-wheel-drive. Most examples come with an automatic trans, but a manual is available in the 300ZX.

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A 2-litre DOHC V6 was also produced. From late 1988, the Nissan Leopard was available with a VG20DET using a ceramic turbine, intercooler and an 8.5:1 static compression ratio. This engine puts out 154kW on premium unleaded. A front-wheel-drive auto trans came fitted. In 1989, the same spec engine was also fitted to the rear-wheel-drive Cedric and Gloria Brougham. We believe that a naturally aspirated VG20DE was also produced - but its output is unlikely to excite...

VQ Series V6s

In late 1994, the VG-series V6 was superseded by the VQ-series V6 which uses all-alloy construction, standard DOHC heads and numerous revisions to improve NVH and efficiency.

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The 1994 Cefiro (recognised in Australia as a Maxima) was available with a VQ30DE 3-litre DOHC six generating an impressive 162kW at 6400 rpm and 280Nm at 4400 rpm. The 10.0:1 compression ratio of this engine makes premium unleaded a good idea. A front-wheel-drive manual or automatic transaxle was fitted from factory.

The same 162kW/280Nm VQ30DE engine also went into the ’95 Cedric and Gloria (RWD), ’96 Leopard (RWD), ’98 Presage van (FWD) and ’99 Bassara people mover (FWD). In the Presage and Bassara models, the VQ30DE adopted low emission NEO specs from ‘00/’01 but output remains the same.

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The existing single turbo version of the VG30DET was also replaced by the single turbo VG30DET. Fitted to the up-spec Cedric and Gloria of 1995, the VQ30DET puts out 198kW at 6000 rpm and 368Nm at 3600 rpm. This is achieved with a 9:1 static compression ratio and premium unleaded. The same engine then went into the 1996 Cima and Leopard hardtop. In 1999, an update to NEO specs brought the output up to 206kW.

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In addition to the single turbocharged VQ30, Nissan also released a direct injection atmo model – the VQ30DD. First appearing in the 1997 rear-wheel-drive Leopard, this engine uses NEO technology and an 11:1 compression ratio (requiring PULP) to make 169kW at 6400 rpm and 294Nm at 4000 rpm. The direct injection engine then appeared in the 1999 Cedric and Gloria saloons making 176kW and 309Nm.

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From ’01, the V35 Skyline and contemporary Stagea were also introduced with the direct injection VQ30DD. We’re not sure what changes have been made, but this engine spits out an impressive 191kW at 6400 rpm and 324Nm at 4800 rpm. A five speed auto (with sequential manual mode) comes standard on this longitudinally mounted engine.

And there are plenty of other displacements available in the VQ-series.

In 1994, the 2-litre VQ20DE appeared in the Cefiro sedan making 114kW when using premium unleaded fuel. Interestingly, the VQ20 shares the same 73.3mm stroke with the VQ30 but its bore is reduced to 76mm. These are a transverse mounted engine available with a manual or auto gearbox. Output was bumped up to 118kW/196Nm with the newly released Cefiro model of 1998. These later-spec engines are known as NEO VG20DEs and use a 10:1 compression ratio with a lean burn strategy. In ’02, the compression ratio was brought down again to 9.5:1 and output slipped to 110kW/186Nm.

Slotted neatly between the 3-litre and 2-litre VQ sixes is the 2.5-litre VQ25DE. Debuting in the ’94 Cefiro, the VQ25DE runs a 10:1 compression ratio and generates 140kW. The same engine was later fitted to the Cedric, Gloria and Leopard. Then, in 1998, the VQ25DE was upgraded to direct injection (making it a VG25DD), NEO specs and output increased to 154kW/265Nm. Currently, the VQ25DD is available in the V35 Skyline and Stagea where it makes 158kW/270Nm. A turbo version – the VQ25DET NEO – is also available in the Stagea making 206kW.

Oddly, there’s also a 2.3-litre VQ23DE version which is available in the current Maxima (aka Teana). This engine makes 127kW.

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And don’t forget one of the most potent models in the VQ line-up – the VQ35DE, as fitted to the 350Z (aka Fairlady), top-spec Skylines, Murano, Elgrand and Maxima (aka Teana).

The VQ35 is unlike the rest of the VQ family in having a unique stroke. Its 95.5mm bore and 81.4mm stroke give a total displacement of 3498cc and with NEO specs and a 10.3:1 compression ratio you’re talking up to 206kW/363Nm in the Skyline and 224kW/350Nm in the 350Z (when running PULP). Note that this engine does not use direct injection.

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The Elgrand van, Murano off-roader and Maxima also pack VQ35DE muscle albeit slightly detuned to around 170kW.

But the biggest VQ-series V6 currently in production is the VQ40DE, which – thanks to a massive stroke – displaces a total of four litres. Employed in various SUV-type vehicles, this engine makes almost 200kW and would make a great platform for modification. A custom VQ35DETT would be nice, wouldn’t it?!

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