February 24, 2024
Nissan SR20DET Engine

Last Updated on October 17, 2022 by E. Lindgren

Nissan has always been at the forefront of Japanese performance engines, so we’ve concluded 6 of their most successful performance engines.

Out of all the Japanese automakers, Nissan is likely the one to have put out the most performance-oriented engines. On top of providing the most reliable and powerful engines, they were also the first in the Japanese market to utilize a straight-6 layout in a sports car, as found in the 1967 Skyline 2000 GT.

Some of their greatest achievements such as the RB26DETT is known to have inspired the manufacturing of another legendary engine, Toyota’s 1JZ/2JZ GTE engine.

6. L28ET

Datsun 280ZX
Nissan 280ZX Turbo

Used in: Nissan 280ZX Turbo/Fairlady 280Z

Specifications

Engine code
L28ET
Layout
Four stroke, Inline-6 (Straight-6)
Fuel type
Gasoline
Production
1980-1983
Displacement
2.8 L, 2,753 cc (168.0 cu in)
Fuel system
Multiport Fuel Injection
Power adder
Turbocharger Garrett AiResearch TB03/td>
Max. horsepower
182 PS (134 kW; 180 HP)
Max. torque
274 Nm (27.95 kg·m; 202.21 ft·lb)
Firing order
1-5-3-6-2-4

What made the L28ET great:

Nissan’s L-series engine was their first performance-oriented straight six engines and was available with various layouts and displacements. Their top-of-the-line engine was the turbocharged L28ET engine which utilized a turbocharged 2.8L I6 which was exclusively found in the Nissan 280ZX Turbo.

The L28ET produced about 180 bhp and was actually deemed by Japan’s Ministry of Transportation “too powerful” as it was very uncommon for turbochargers to be fitted to engines above 2.0L of displacement.

The L28ET would later go on to inspire Nissan’s next-generation performance engines.

Tuning Potential:

While the L28ET is certainly tuner-friendly it is advised to keep power figures below 275 hp~ without having to worry about something breaking.  To safely go beyond that, expect to upgrade to a better intercooler, rod bearings, pistons, and injectors.

5. VQ35DE

Liberty Walk Nissan 350Z Widebody Kit
Nissan 350Z

Used in: Found in a large variety of different Nissan/Infiniti models. Most commonly recognized in the Nissan 350Z and Infiniti G35.

Specifications

Engine code
VQ35DE / V4Y
Layout
Four stroke, V6
Fuel type
Gasoline (petrol)
Production
2000-present
Displacement
3.5 L, 3,498 cc (213.45 cu in)
Fuel system
Sequential multi-point fuel injection (MPFI)
Power output
231 PS (170 kW, 228 HP) to 315 PS (232 kW, 311 HP) at 5600-6400 rpm
Torque output
334 to 371 Nm (34.0 to 37.8 kg⋅m, 246 to 274 lb⋅ft) at 3500-4800 rpm
Firing order
1-2-3-4-5-6
Weight
313 lbs (142 kg)

What made the VQ35DE great:

The VQ35DE certainly has a proven history. It is often considered one of Nissan’s great performance engines due to its solid structure and longevity. And if fitted with a sports exhaust makes some fantastic noise too!

Despite not being the lightest engine, the VQ35DE still produces a respectable 300 hp, but one thing which makes it so desirable is its price. The VQ35DE just happens to be very cheap to purchase and maintain.

Nissan’s turbo engines with the same power output will be significantly more expensive. So unless you’re seeking to tune your engine significantly, the VQ35DE is certainly a good choice and a good beginner engine.

Tuning Potential:

The stock engine is good for around 400 bhp, but by upgrading the connecting rods and crank you could potentially go as far as 600-700 hp before having to further strengthen the engine.

4. SR20DET

Nissan Silvia S14
Nissan S14

Used in: The SR20DET was used in a variety of different Nissan models but is most known for being used in the Nissan Silvia, 180SX/200SX, and Nissan Pulsar GTi-R.

Specifications

Engine code
SR20DET
Layout
Inline 4 cylinder turbo DOHC 16V
Fuel type
Gasoline (petrol)
Displacement
2.0L (1,998 cc)
Fuel system
Electronic Fuel Injection
Power output
205 hp, 220 hp (at 6,000 rpm), 250 hp (at 6,800 rpm)
Torque output
334 to 371 Nm (34.0 to 37.8 kg⋅m, 246 to 274 lb⋅ft) at 3500-4800 rpm
Firing order
1-3-4-2

What made the SR20DET great:

The SR20DET became very popular as it was durable, responsive, reliable, and cheap to maintain while offering great tuning capabilities.

The SR20DET is often seen as Nissan’s “real” entry-level performance engine and was featured in various sports cars. In stock form, this 2.0L turbocharged I4 produces about 205 hp up to 270 hp in the unique JDM Nissan 270R.

For a turbocharged 4-cylinder, it sounds good too!

Tuning Potential:

A stock SR20DET can very easily handle 350-400 hp without upgrading the internals, which makes for an excellent beginner engine as it can be tuned to those figures at an economical price.

3. S20

Nissan Skyline GTR Hakosuka
1969 Nissan Skyline GT-R (Hakosuka)

Used in: 1969 Nissan Skyline GT-R (Hakosuka) and Nissan Fairlady Z.

Specifications

Engine Code
S20
Configuration
Inline 6 Naturally aspirated
Displacement
2.0 L (120 cu in)
Cylinder bore
82 mm (3.2 in)
Piston stroke
62.8 mm (2.47 in)
Valvetrain
DOHC
Fuel system
Three Weber 40DCOE carbs
Lucas mechanical fuel injection (after 1969)
Power output
120 kW (160 hp)
Torque output
180 N·m (130 ft·lb)
Dry weight
199 kg (440 lb)

What made the S20 great:

Nissan is known to create fantastic 6-cylinder engines. The RB-/and L-engine series come to mind. But there is one specific engine that stands out, not only because of its features but also because of the way it carved a path for future models. That engine was known as the S20, not to be confused with Nissan’s SR20 which is a four-cylinder.

The S20 engine was used in the legendary Hakosuka and became an unstoppable force in the world of circuit racing.

In street form, Nissan’s S20 engine featured a 2.0L straight-6 DOHC setup and was derived from Prince Motor Company’s GR-8 race engine. The S20 engine weighed in at 199 kg and produces 160 hp at 7,000 RPM and 130 lb-ft of torque (177 Nm) at 5,600 RPM.

Tuning Potential:

While the S20 engine certainly is ‘tunable’ it is often ill-advised. As is, the S20 engine is incredibly rare, and sourcing aftermarket tuning parts would likely be extremely labor intensive and costly. In our opinion the S20 should be enjoyed as is, perhaps some upgraded cams and an exhaust system would be in place.

2. VR38DETT

2000HP Nissan R35 GT-R
Nissan R35 GT-R

Used in: Nissan R35 GT-R

Specifications

Engine code
VR38DETT
Layout
Four stroke, V6
Fuel type
Gasoline (petrol)
Production
2007-
Displacement
3.8 L, 3,799 cm3 (231.8 cu in)
Fuel system
Multi-point fuel injection
Power adder
Twin-Turbocharger
Power output
487 PS (358 kW; 480 HP) to 608 PS (447 kW; 600 HP)
Torque output
588 N·m (60 kg·m, 433.4 ft·lb) to 652 N·m (66.5 kg·m, 480.5 ft·lb)
Firing order
1-2-3-4-5-6

What made the VR38DETT great:

The VR38DETT is a modern-day tuner’s wet dream. This 3.8L twin-turbo V6 engine was notorious for its incredible performance at launch, and has since been improved upon even further.

Unlike some older Nissan engine which were limited to 280 hp due to the Gentlemen’s agreement, the VR38DETT has no such limitations. In 2007 the VR38DETT had around 480 hp, but nowadays tops out at 600 hp in the 2021 Nissan GT-R Nismo.

Tuning Potential:

The tuning potential in the VR38DETT is more or less endless. Even in stock form the VR38DETT would be able to handle about 650-700 whp. From there on forward, your wallet would be the deciding factor on how far you could go. There are plenty of examples with VR38DETT engines producing over 2,000 hp!

1. RB26DETT

Nissan R32 GT-R
Nissan R32 Skyline GT-R

Used in: Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R, Nissan Skyline R33 GT-R, Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R, Nissan Stagea 260RS (Wagon).

Specifications

Engine code
RB26DETT
Layout
Inline 6 cylinder Twin-turbo DOHC 24V
Fuel type
Gasoline (petrol)
Displacement
2.6L (2,568 cc)
Fuel system
Electronic Fuel Injection
Power adder
Twin-Turbocharger
Power output
276 hp @ 6,800 RPM
Torque output
260 lb-ft @ 4,400 RPM
Firing order
1-5-3-6-2-4

What made the RB26DETT great:

The RB26DETT is the result of decades of hard work and experience with 6-cylinder engines. The RB26 is an inline-6 engine variant that is part of the RB-engine series.

The RB26DETT is powered by a twin-turbocharged 2.6L DOHC 24-valve engine with a cast iron block, similar to the 2JZ. Nissan rated the RB26DETT at roughly 280 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque on paper (353 Nm). However, factory engines have shown to have more power than that, with most stock RB26DETT engines producing between 320 and 340 hp.

In terms of success, the RB26DETT is unrivaled. In fact, even after the engine was discontinued, there was still a high demand for it, thus Nissan decided to recommence manufacture of the RB26 in 2019!

Tuning Potential:

In stock form, the RB26DETT would be able to handle about 500 hp without any major issues. Now tuning the RB26DETT will never be as cheap as tuning a 2JZ. But the RB26 arguably has more character and a fruitier soundtrack!

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