Nissan has long been known to build quality engines that are tuner-friendly. The king was the RB26DETT from the R34 Skyline GT-R. It wasn't uncommon to see 600-, 700- or even 800hp versions of the turbocharged iron-block straight-six. But the RB is no more-gone when the last Z-Tune R34 rolled off the line. From here on in, Nissan's performance flag will be waved by the VQ. And Hiroyuki Hasegawa, CEO and president of noted tuner, HKS, is well aware of the importance of being the first to offer competent and affordable upgrades for this engine.
"We realize the next thing in tuning for Nissan vehicles is the VQ. We'll miss the RB26DETT, but we see a lot of potential in the VQ, especially because it is used in so many cars, from the 350Z to the Infiniti FX, not to mention the upcoming GT-R," Says Hasegawa.
In Japan, HKS offers a turbocharged version of the VQ, but because of installation issues (it won't fit properly on left-hand-drive cars), that kit is not available in the US. However, Americans will get HKS's new supercharger kit that a) is truly groundbreaking, and b) could change the way you feel about blowers. This is HKS's second attempt at blowing the VQ. The first time was in conjunction with Danish company Rotrex and its unconventional traction drive technology. The tech proved to be a little too unconventional, resulting in a dissolution of the relationship.
Version 2 was developed in-house and we were invited to sample the HKS 350Z Supercharged on the short track at Fuji Speedway. First things first: pop the hood and peek into the engine bay. Where one might expect to find a bulky box stuffed on top of the engine block (like a Roots-type unit), there's a small contraption that looks suspiciously like a turbocharger. It is bolted to the front of the block and takes up a surprisingly small amount of space. While it shares the same 'snail' shape as a turbocharger, the belt drive gives the game away.
Inside the metal housing are gears, an internal oil pump and an impeller that supplies the 350Z's 3.5-liter V6 with gobs of compressed air. This allows the engine's output to increase to around 365hp at 5900rpm and 340lb-ft of torque at 5500rpm-at the wheels. Both figures represent a 30 percent increase over stock.
With no testing gear handy, the stopwatch is pressed into action. Zero to 60mph takes about five seconds flat, roughly half a second quicker than stock. But that doesn't tell the entire story-it's how the car accelerates that makes this new unit worthwhile.
Setting off from standstill, there's nothing immediately different about the HKS 350Z. It's when the needle hits 2500rpm that the supercharger makes its presence known. The car suddenly seems like it finds another gear, and surges forward all the way to redline. It feels like driving a lightweight sports car.
HKS has also made subtle handling improvements, lowering ride height slightly and installing stiffer springs and dampers. Bigger wheels and stickier rubber also help cornering prowess. Turn-in is noticeably crisper than stock, and it exhibits better balance throughout. With this set-up and the extra power, the car is easier to drift. Former D1 champ and current Super GT racer, Nobuteru Taniguchi, demonstrated the car's sliding abilities.
On the open road, ride quality suffers, but it's still acceptable for a sports car, even on rough pavement. The brakes on our test vehicle seem to be the stock Brembos on the Enthusiast Model. And they're flawless on the tight track, never showing fade.
No prices have been announced yet, but we expect the supercharger to be about $7000 to $9000, installation included. Look for its appearance on all VQ-equipped Nissans.