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2016 Winner: Nissan 3.5L DOHC V-6

2016 Winner: Nissan 3.5L DOHC V-6

For more than 20 years, the Nissan VQ’s calling card has been its unmistakably creamy midrange. But the new version displays a lot more composure when pushed hard, even to the brink of the 6,600-rpm redline.

The naturally aspirated V-6 has been so neglected in recent years that the high-output 4-cyl. engine has been eating its lunch. Feasting might be a better description.

Take into account that midsize sedans, a longtime staple of the American car market, used to rely heavily on six cylinders for motivation, but a number of popular entries today only offer 4-cyl. engines.

So consider us a tad surprised but supremely grateful to see automakers finally realizing the important role to be played by a modern, silky smooth V-6 that can pull equal duty in luxury cars, sport sedans, CUVs and even pickup trucks.

One of those recent arrivals is Nissan’s 3.5L VQ V-6, which has been overhauled for placement in the all-new Maxima sport sedan, a near-luxury car with enough heft and moxie that a 4-cyl. just doesn’t seem right.

No, a great V-6 is what the Maxima needs, and the redesigned ’16 model gets it with the VQ, which secures a spot on the Wards 10 Best Engines list for the 15th time in 22 years.

VQ V-6s in the past have been capable of 300 hp (or more), but some of them were pushed to the point that refinement and fuel economy suffered.

The refreshed VQ benefits from reduced friction and weight and breathes a lot easier, thanks to new heads, intake ports and intermediate locking valve timing for more complete combustion and a new intake manifold with wider and shorter runners for improved airflow. Some 61% of the VQ’s parts are all-new.

The improved VQ makes for light, lively and refined power delivery through an ideally suited continuously variable transmission. We barely miss the shift points.

For more than 20 years, the VQ’s calling card has been its unmistakably creamy midrange. But the new version displays a lot more composure when pushed hard, even to the brink of the 6,600-rpm redline.

Editor Dave Zoia scarcely raves about anything, but he does so with the new VQ, giving it high marks for noise attenuation, whether driving casually or with purpose. “It’s quiet and smooth, with just enough grunt,” he writes on his scoresheet. “VQ is Back!”

Demonstrating just how far the VQ has come, I owned a ’96 Maxima with the original 190-hp 3.0L that took the industry by storm with its free-wheeling goodness. I had lots of fun in that car with a 5-speed manual transmission but generally drove it conservatively and was quite happy to average a hair over 22 mpg (10.6 L/100 km).

The new Maxima, with equal refinement and a whole lot more power and torque, routinely topped 25 mpg (9.4 L/100 km) during our tests, and some editors even saw 30 mpg (7.8 L/100 km).

The VQ always has had good bones, so Nissan smartly carries over the aluminum block. And Nissan is yet another automaker (alongside Fiat Chrysler and Honda) finding port fuel injection completely capable of getting the job done, at a lower cost.

Where does the VQ go from here? In December, Nissan’s Infiniti luxury brand announced plans for an all-new direct-injection 3.0L twin-turbo V-6 (codename VR) to be used in the Q50 sedan. One version produces 300 hp, while another makes 400 hp.

We look forward to evaluating both next year for Wards 10 Best Engines and wonder where this corporate strategy is heading. Might Nissan rely on the naturally aspirated VQ while Infiniti migrates its products over time to the turbocharged VR?

Nissan Maxima owners are a loyal bunch, and all will be right in their world so long as a standout VQ V-6 remains under the hood.

Sure, today’s 4-cyl. engines are amazingly capable, but it’s reassuring to see automakers remembering the guiding powertrain principle that there is no replacement for displacement.

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