The Maxima's VQ35DE engine is part of Nissan's ubiquitous VQ engine family, also used in the Altima, Murano, Quest, and earlier versions of the 350Z sports car. The VQ is one of the most respected engines in the auto industry, appearing on Ward's 10 Best Engines list every year from 1997 to 2007.
The VQ35DE is an all-aluminum, 24-valve DOHC V6, with Nissan's continuously variable valve timing system (CVTCS) on both the intake and exhaust cams. In 2009, Nissan made extensive changes to this engine, revising the intake and exhaust manifolds; raising its compression ratio from 10.3 to 10.6:1; reducing internal friction and reciprocating mass; and adding CVTCS to the exhaust cam, as well as the intake. Those modifications raised the engine's output to its present level of 290 horsepower and 261 lb-ft of torque.
The 3.5-liter engine endows the Maxima with strong performance. Some reviewers find off-the-line response slightly lazy, a function of the standard Xtronic continuously variable transmission, but once on the move, acceleration is impressive. Fuel economy is also reasonable for the engine's size and power. The EPA rates the Maxima at 19/26 city/highway, although the V6 requires premium fuel.
While it is powerful and reasonably frugal, the 3.5-liter V6 is also noticeably gruffer and less refined than the 3.0-liter version of this engine found in earlier Maximas. While some critics like its throaty growl and sporty full-throttle roar, others find it excessively noisy, and complain that it drones at cruising speeds.
A more sophisticated 3.7-liter version of this engine, the VQ37VHR, has replaced the 3.5-liter V6 in the 370Z and most six-cylinder Infinitis. Nissan has not yet announced plans to offer the 3.7-liter engine in the Maxima and Altima.