Nissan VG33E Tuning

"All you need to know about performance tuning the Nissan VG33E engine!"

The Nissan VG33E engine, part of the venerable VG series, is a testament to Nissan's engineering prowess in creating durable and reliable powertrains. This 3.3-liter V6 engine, introduced in the early 1990s, has powered a range of vehicles, providing a blend of performance and resilience that has appealed to a broad spectrum of drivers.

Let us detail the best approach to VG33E tuning and provide tips on the ultimate upgrades.

Offering up around 170 to 180 horsepower and significant torque, the VG33E delivers ample power for mid-sized SUVs, trucks, and vans. Its performance is characterized by smooth acceleration and robust pulling power, making it ideal for vehicles like the Nissan Pathfinder, Frontier, and Xterra.

Nissan VG33E have loads of potential and with the right uprated upgrades like ECU maps, turbo upgrades and camshafts you will definitely improve your driving experience.

History, Power & Specs of the VG33E Engine

Constructed with an iron block and aluminum alloy heads, the VG33E is built to endure the rigors of both daily commuting and more demanding driving conditions.

Its design brief required longevity and toughness, characteristics that have cemented its status in Nissan’s engine lineup.

While not as advanced as newer engines in terms of emissions and fuel efficiency, the VG33E includes important technologies like multi-point fuel injection and Nissan's NAPS (Nissan Anti-Pollution System), which help it maintain a balance between power output and environmental responsibility.

  • 170 (127 or 134 kW) 266 Nm  196 lbft
  • 180 hp (127 or 134 kW) 274 Nm 202 lbft

It was fitted to ...

  • 1996–2000 Nissan Pathfinder
  • 1996–2004 Nissan Pathfinder In Australian Models
  • 2003–2006 Nissan Navara In Australian Models
  • 1997–2000 Infiniti QX4
  • 1999–2004 Nissan Frontier
  • 2000–2004 Nissan Xterra
  • 1997–2002 Nissan Elgrand

Tuning the Nissan VG33E and best VG33E performance parts.

Best VG33E upgrades

Just because particular parts are appear in lots of VG33E projects it doesn't mean its worth having, instead we will focus on the best parts that will give your VG33E the best power gain for you spend.

Performance camshafts work better at higher RPM, so are more suited to petrol engines, but we've always seen top end power gains through performance camshafts on most engines.

Useful gains on the VG33E can be made from camshaft upgrades. Altering the camshaft profile alters the intake and exhaust durations on the engine and can dramatically change the torque and power output.

Fast road cams tend to increase the power through the rpm range, you may lose a little low end power but your higher rpm power will be lifted.

Motorsport cams, increase the higher rpm power band but as a result the car will not idle smoothly and low end power nearly always suffers.

On a car used daily it makes a lot of sense to match your torque band to your cars usage.

You'll never have found a VG33E Competition cam is a pleasure to live with when driving around busy urban areas. This is because a competition cam causes a very lumpy idle, and makes the car more prone to stall or jerk along in stop start traffic, sadly though many ignore this and end up ruining a perfectly good car and having to revert back to a fast road, or OEM cam profile.

Some VG33E engines respond better to less aggressive cam durations so set your engine up on a rolling road.

The engine timing and fuel pump and injectors also have an effect on the bhp gains you'll make.

A longer valve duration can alter the bhp band and on most engines the exhaust and intake durations do not need to match, although most cams and tuners use matched pairs there are some advantages to extending the intake or exhaust durations.

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Best Engine Mods for your car

    1. Engine Tunes - engine tuning/remapping provides the most advantage in terms of cost savings,  aftermarket ECUs, and piggyback ECUs are all alternatives.
    2. Fast road cams are one of the most significant mechanical changes, but they must be installed by someone who knows what they're doing and they are not always easy to source but you might find a local firm to regrind a stock camshaft.
    3. Intake and Exhaust - Note that on their own these mods will NOT ADD POWER in most cases, but they can help enhance power after other mods by removing the restriction.
    4. Upgrades to turbochargers and superchargers - forced induction is the most efficient approach to increase air supply, allowing you to burn more fuel and make more power. It is one of the most costly upgrades but provides the best gains.
    5. Head work - The goals of porting and flowing the head are to get air flowing into the engine while removing flow restrictions and turbulence.

Typical stage 1 mods often include:
Sports exhaust header/manifold, drilled & smoothed airbox, Intake manifolds, Remaps/piggy back ECU, Panel air filters, Fast road camshaft.

Typical stage 2 mods often include:
high flow fuel injectors, Sports catalyst & performance exhaust, fuel pump upgrades, induction kit, Fast road cam, Ported and polished head.

Typical stage 3 mods often include:
Adding or Upgrading forced induction (turbo/supercharger), Competition cam, Crank and Piston upgrades to alter compression, Engine balancing & blueprinting, Twin charging conversions, Internal engine upgrades (head flowing porting/bigger valves).

The VG33E engines respond well to mods and we note that there is a growing number of modifications and tuning parts about.

Exploring the 3.4-Liter Upgrade

For Nissan enthusiasts seeking more muscle from their VG series engines, there's an exciting path , potentially increasing its output to a formidable 250 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque.

While such a transformation involves significant modifications and technical expertise, the results can redefine the performance of any vehicle housing this engine.

The journey to a 3.4-liter VG begins with altering the engine block to accommodate larger components, specifically from the VH45DE—a larger V8 engine also produced by Nissan.

The heart of this upgrade lies in replacing the standard pistons with those from a VH45DE. Opting for 1 mm oversized Q45 pistons elevates the compression ratio to approximately 9.7:1, up from the stock 8.9:1.

This increase in compression is crucial for enhancing the thermal efficiency and overall power output of the engine.

To fit the new pistons, the engine’s cylinder bores need to be enlarged, and the pistons themselves must be notched to create valve reliefs that align with the VG’s heads.

Additionally, modifications to the connecting rods are necessary. The small ends of the stock rods require honing to accommodate the Q45’s larger piston pins, with experts recommending a clearance of 0.0001 to 0.0003 inches to ensure optimal fit and function.

To fully capitalize on the increased displacement and higher compression, several supporting modifications are essential:

  • Camshafts: Upgrading to performance cams helps optimize valve timing for better air intake and exhaust flow.
  • Cylinder Head and Port Work: Slight modifications to the cylinder heads and porting work can significantly improve airflow, which is crucial for maximizing the engine's power potential.
  • Intake and Exhaust Systems: A high-performance intake and an efficient exhaust system are necessary to allow the engine to breathe better, further enhancing power output.
  • ECU Tuning: An aftermarket ECU, properly tuned, is vital to manage the altered engine dynamics and ensure everything works harmoniously to achieve the desired performance level.

Considering Supercharging

For those looking to push the envelope further, adding a supercharger presents an attractive option. Although the stock VG33ER supercharger (M62) may seem undersized for such a setup, it can still provide a noticeable increase in power. For optimal results, exploring the possibility of adapting an M90 supercharger, better suited for the increased volume of the 3.4-liter VG, could be a worthwhile endeavor.

The Potential for Innovation

This project is not for the faint of heart and requires a deep understanding of engine mechanics and tuning.

However, building a 3.4-liter VG33E offers an opportunity to significantly boost performance and achieve a truly custom setup.

As these modifications are not commonly performed, each project is potentially pushing the boundaries of what these robust Nissan engines can achieve.

Mapping should help to establish the full potential of all the upgrades you've done to your VG33E.

(In some cases, as the factory ECU is locked flashing is not an option, so an aftermarket ECU is the route to take, and many of these will outperform factory ECU's but make sure it has knock protection and that you get it setup properly.)

The following brands have been well used in various Nissan projects, but I'd love to hear your experiences on the VG33E as I've had very little feedback on this relatively rare engine (over here at least).

  1. Haltech is well-regarded for its wide range of ECUs that cater to various engine types and performance needs. Their systems are user-friendly and highly customizable, which can be particularly beneficial for an older engine like the VG33E. A model like the Haltech Elite 2500, for instance, provides comprehensive control over engine management and is adaptable enough to handle any modifications you might have or plan for the engine.
  2. Link ECU - Links G4+ series is another excellent choice for the VG33E. These ECUs are designed to be plug-and-play with a wide range of engines and offer robust tuning capabilities. They are especially good at managing engines with modifications, making them a versatile option for those who may want to upgrade other components along with the ECU.
  3. AEM Infinity Known for its sophisticated engine management systems, the AEM Infinity ECU offers advanced tuning capabilities that can transform the performance of the VG33E. It's capable of precise control over fueling, timing, and boost pressures (if applicable), which can be essential for extracting maximum performance from the engine.
  4. Megasquirt ECUs offer a more DIY approach to engine control, which can be an appealing option for those who prefer a hands-on tuning experience. They are highly customizable and can be a cost-effective solution for managing an older engine like the VG33E, especially if you're comfortable with a bit more self-setup and configuration.

An aftermarket ECU will usually give you around 30% more power on supercharged vehicles and you can expect to see around 15% on NA (naturally aspirated) engines, but power output usually depend much on the upgrades you've done and the condition of your engine.

Getting air into your VG33E is the main goal to any engine upgrade task.

The intake manifolds flow rates are important because this channels the air from the air filter and allow it to be drawn into the engine cylinders.

Design and flow characteristics of the Intake manifold can make a large improvement to fuel engine efficiency on the VG33E.

I usually find intake manifolds are in dire need of a performance upgrade, although a few OEM provide reasonably well designed intake manifolds.

Adding a VG33E larger valve kit, doing a bit of port work and head flowing will also boost performance, and importantly will make space for increasing the performance increase on other modifications.

VG33E Turbo upgrades

NA (naturally aspirated) engines need quite a lot of work when you add a turbo, so we have a separate guide to help you take into account the pros and cons of going this route on your VG33E

The VG33ER came with a supercharger so quite a few projects nick parts from this to create a supercharged VG33E, but it will require a decent aftermarket ECU.

The more air you can get into an engine, the more fuel it can burn and uprating the induction with a turbocharger upgrade makes impressive power gains.

If the engine is turbo charged upgrades are giving better power gains and you'll see that turbo charged engines use strengthened components.

However every engines have limits.Research these limitations and fit higher quality components to handle the power.

We've seen car owners spending a lot of money on turbo charger upgrades on the VG33E only to suffer the indignity of watching the engine block go up in smoke soon after it's completed.

Bigger capacity turbochargers commonly experience no power at low rpm, and little turbochargers spool up quickly but don't have the peak rpm torque gains.

In recent times the choice of turbo units is always evolving and we commonly find variable vane turbo units, allowing the vane angle is altered according to speed to lower lag and increase top end bhp.

Twin scroll turbo units divert the exhaust gases into a couple of channels and flow these at differently profiled vanes in the turbo charger. They also help the scavenging effect of the engine.

It is common that there's a limit in the air flow sensor AFM/MAF on the VG33E when loads more air is being pulled into the engine.

We see 4 bar air sensors coping with quite large power gains, whereas the OEM air sensor was restricting bhp at a much lower level.

Adding a supercharger or additional turbo will make large torque gains, although more challenging to setup. We have this feature on twinchargers if you want to read more.


When you lift the bhp you will need to look at to the fuel delivery.

More bhp needs more fuel. Most tuners we speak with say to over specify your injectors flow rate.

The rule of thumb is to add 20% capacity when fitting an injector, this allows for injector deterioration and allows a little spare capacity should the engine need more fuel.

We think this one is common sense, but you'll need to match your fuel injector to the type of fuel your car uses as well.

VG33E Performance Exhausts

You may need to increase your exhaust if the existing exhaust is actually causing a restriction.

On most factory exhausts you should find that your flow rate is still good even on modest power gains, but when you start pushing up the power levels you will need to get a better flowing exhaust.

Sports exhausts generally help improve air flow out of the engine but do not go too wide or you might just stuff your flow rate and make things worse. So generally speaking, keep to a size of 1.5 to around 2.5 inches to maximise flow rates, and this should take into account the amount of air your engine is moving.

Usual exhaust restrictions can be traced to the catalyst and filters installed, so adding a better flowing race alternative such as a sports catalyst pretty much removes this restriction, thanks to it's larger size and surface area, and will effectively raise the performance to levels you would expect without having a catalyst installed, but keeps the car road legal.

Weak spots, Issues & problem areas on the VG33E

The VG33E engines are generally reliable and solid units, as long as you follow the manufacturers service schedules, and use a good quality oil to ensure longevity. Few problems should happen as long as they are regularly serviced and maintained.

Carbon build up in the head, particularly around the valves which will sap power or create flat spots, this is a larger issue on direct injection engines but should be looked out for on all engines. We have tips on removing carbon build up.

Some of our members have had issues with flat spots or glitches after applying mods and upgrades or tuning, this is not usually related to this engines design, so instead see our article on diagnosing flat spots and problems after tuning which should help you get the bottom of this issue.

Regular oil changes are vital on the VG33E, especially when tuned and will help extend the life and reliability of the engine.

If you would like to know more, or just get some friendly advice on Tuning your VG33E engine please join us in our friendly
where you can discuss with our VG33E owners. It would also be worth reading our unbiased articles to get a full grasp of the benefits and drawbacks
of each modification.

Please help us improve these tips by sending us your feedback in the comments box below.

We love to hear what our visitors have got up to and which upgrades work best for you on your car. Which helps us keep our guides and tips up to date helping others with their modified car projects. Your feedback and comments are used to keep this page up to date, and help improve the accuracy of these VG33E tuning guides which get regular updates and revisions.

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One Response to “VG33E Tuning”

  1. Allen Ellis says:

    My Personal mods for tuning a car. Adjust idle to 600RPM. Add transmission cooler, Replace EGR valve, Replace spark plugs, Replace axle fluids..use synthetic oil, add octane booster to fuel.

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