The era of tiny turbocharged engines has already brought out not just twin-turbo pickups and three-cylinder cars but more interesting race cars, from Formula 1 to the drag strip. Today, Nissan unveiled a new pinnacle of engine shrinkage: a three-cylinder turbo engine small enough to qualify as carry-on luggage that’s capable of 400 hp.
Built as part of the experimental ZEOD RC hybrid electric car Nissan will run at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, the DIG-T R 1.5-liter engine will power the car when it’s not running on electricity. Weighing just 88 pounds, it’s the first time an automaker has attempted to run a LeMans car with a three-cylinder engine (at least on purpose), and Nissan says on a power-to-weight ratio the motor outperforms the complicated hybrid power units now mandated for Formula 1 cars. (The photo above from Nissan is a bit misleading, as it omits the cantaloupe-sized turbo.)
The ZEOD RC will supposedly top out near 186 mph, and while it will run in an experimental class that’s separate from the main competition at Le Mans, Nissan says the skills it learned from building the DIG-T will go into its full Le Mans entry in 2015. A more impressive challenge would be bringing something similar to the streets; even a version with 100 fewer hp with the durability of a consumer engine could make something like the Nissan iDX a great thing in a small package.