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Nissan's new 400 bhp engine fits in carry-on luggage


January 30, 2014

The DIG-T-R weighs 40 kg (88 lb), yet puts out 400 bhp

The DIG-T-R weighs 40 kg (88 lb), yet puts out 400 bhp

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It’s a common problem: You’re off to Le Mans with your new 400 bhp engine and you discover that it won’t fit in the airplane's overhead compartment. This week, Nissan showed off the answer to this traveler’s nightmare with its ultralight DIG-T R 1.5 liter, three-cylinder petrol engine that is small enough to fit in carry-on luggage and boasts a power-to-weight ratio better than the engine of a Formula 1 racer.

The new engine is the other half of a hybrid powerplant for Nissan's Zero Emission On Demand Racing Car (ZEOD RC), which is set to become the first entry to complete a lap of the Circuit de la Sarthe at Le Mans solely under electric power this June.

The DIG-T R’s base engine is 500 mm tall x 400 mm long x 200 mm wide (19.68 x 15.74 x 7.78 in), but it puts out power like a fire hose at 400 bhp (298 kW) and 380 Nm (280 ft-lb) of torque. Nissan points out though this is small enough to fit inside the luggage guides found at check in, at 40 kg (88 lb), the DIG-T R is too heavy to be considered as a carry-on. That works out to 10 bhp per kilo, which Nissan says is better than the new engines approved for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship this year.

The engine is an example of how Nissan is approaching the ZEOD RC with an eye towards reducing size while increasing efficiency. The ZEOD RC is also part of an effort to develop a more efficient petrol/electric hybrid engine that can switch on or off on demand.

As part of the design strategy, both the petrol and electric parts of the powerplant go through the same five-speed gearbox. However, Nissan says that the real problem in developing the DIG-T R for the ZEOD RC was cutting down friction, since the less of it there is, the less the engine needs to deal with its consequences. To help with this, Nissan worked closely with French lubricants manufacturer Total to come up with better fuels and lubricants to take care of internal friction.

After the ZEOD RC finished dyno testing, Nissan took to the track last week, where it tested both the electric and petrol components. It will undergo further testing for the next four months, then in June it will take part in the Le Mans 24 Hour, where it will occupy “Garage 56.” which is reserved for new technology demonstrators by the Automobile Club de l‘Ouest. The ZEOD RC will do one lap of each roughly hour-long fuel stint of the competition using only electric power, then the DIG-T R will take over for the rest of the run. Lessons from the ZEOD RC will be used in Nissan’s entry in the LM P1 class of the FIA World Endurance Championship in 2015.

"Nissan will become the first major manufacturer to use a three-cylinder engine in major international motorsport,” says Darren Cox, Nissan's Global Motorsport Director. “We're aiming to maintain our position as industry leaders in focusing on downsizing. Lessons learned from the development of the engine will be seen in Nissan road cars of the future.

The video below explains the development of the new engine.

Source: Nissan

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

Hmm, but what bike frame will it fit in? woo hooooo

Sean Moore

I wish I could "like" Sean's comment! ^


Like! - Sean's comment. And I think it would sit nicely in a Caterham 7

Oisín Bray

That was the first thing I thought of when I saw it : )

Paul Briers

One step at a time lads. It is already destined for something that comes as close to being a trike as makes no difference. A bike application can't be that far off. I suppose the only problem then will be finding someone brave enough to ride the thing.

Mel Tisdale

Mel, that is a great idea. It would be neat to see it in a trike. Perhaps have a racing trike for NASCAR and call it NasTrike?

It would be neat to see it in a small sports car; like the Mazda M5 / Miata. It would also be neat to see it in some of todays very compact cars; Fiat 500, Mini Cooper, Smart Fortwo, etc. :) IMO, it would give the mini car maxi power. :)


With its narrow form and light weight, this could be a good aircraft engine in a detuned form.


Personal aircraft applications inevitable! I can't wait.

Matt Fletcher

How about that unit (detuned maybe) in the BladeGlider? No more range anxiety!

Bruce H. Anderson

Bikers have to wonder about a 500 cc triple with 135 hp that weighs under 20 kilos. I wonder if this is a scalable design in terms of weight and friction? Is there some optimal cylinder size? Bore/Stroke ratio?

Mike Johnson

I think Elio should offer this motor as an option.


Lol Nissan. Formula 1 engines have a minimum weight requirement of 145kg so the comparison is kind of a red herring.


now that would fit right where the geo engine fits in my plane,mmmmm no more worries about hot and high takeoff power....;)


put this engine in the Elio :) That would be cool.


I believe that the "friction" problems are actually "fiction" and are being used to endorse a Nissan lubricant... Amsoil and others have 100% synthetic lubricants now and are totally compatible with high tech engines, plus they make other 100% synthetic fluids and greases for transmissions and bearings in universal joints, etc.

A much less expensive version could help power a hybrid electric version of a Caterham 7/Lotus 7 lightweight 2 seater for around town fun...


I agree with Matt and EH. It would make a great 200 hp a/c engine. It would need a reduction box to get the prop speed down to 2700 and the blower would be used to normalize rather than boost. Sign me up.


This thing certainly fires up the imagination - bikes, 'planes, PWC's....how much fun can you have.

I guess price and availability will be the biggest issues

Martin Hone

1 - How many octanes as the petrol they used? 100? 110? More? 2 - Time before overhaul? 3 - Cost of each engine?

Mario Tiago

Check out what Henry "Smokey" Yunick did decades ago. Nissan and the rest are only just now catching up.


Gregg Eshelman

How reliable is it? It would make loads of room under the hood of my truck.


Hmm,will this fit in my `66 Beetle ?

Richard Janovsky

Make one half the size and weight and put it in a small commuter and you have a winner.

Michael Crumpton

my first thoughts were both elio and the smartfortwo car. a 400hp smart car? that would very very cool.


Anyone know at what rpm this makes 400hp? I'd be interested in seeing a graph of the power band. Is this the redesign of a bike engine or something totally new? Aluminum, magnesium, or something exotic? What are its fuel requirements?


re: "Nissan will become the first major manufacturer to use a three-cylinder engine in major international motorsport,”

If a road rally can be considered an international motor sport (and they were popular back in the day) then the Saab 93 had 3 cylinders and was running in them back in the 50's with fairly good results. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saab_93


The world record for a turbo charged Suzuki GSX1300 Busa is 750hp. The Suzuki though has an intergrated gearbox so it's impossible to do a direct comparison. I do wonder though how would the 2 compare for weight if the Nissan motor had the gearbox fitted ?

John Findlay

oh my!!!! if this thing became cheap... that would be a bit disruptive me thinks.. in the best way possible

Simon Sammut

if you can 400Hp from a 1500 40Kg then 100Hp from a 20Kg engine doesn't seem unreasonable and if they happen to be fuel efficient, a hybrid electric vehicle would so much more interesting and ultra light aircraft companies would enjoy the new technology, I'm assuming they have incorporated a lot of ceramics, plastic and titanium in its construction.

Gavin Roe

Let me know when I can fabricate all the components on my 3D printer. Until then my next 7 build plans include a 20B...with reservations.

E Morgan Schuster

Put 2 of them together and create an awesome but hyper-green, hyper-manageable day-2-day trackcar / supercar

esp. if you applied the kind of tech seen in those modular V8s, where you can drive with only half the engine working when full power isn't needed

90% of day-to-day use would only need one engine and you'd still have a fun sporty car ... hell, with the hybrid capability you could probably do most of your commuting without needing either.

At 40kg the weight penalty of the passive half isn't a big deal

But get to the track and there's 600kW (plus any electric motor!)

Other thoughts: You could mount one front and one rear for weight distribution

You could even have the front one drive the front wheels and the rear one drive the rear wheels ... selectable front-wheel, rear-wheel, or four-wheel drive!


Is it green also ? Sorry for spoiling the conversation.


There was a Smart Roadster that had a custom engine; where they put two of the Fortwos three cylinder engine together to make a V6. If they did that with this, it could be one powerful V6.

I wish there was a 'like' or 'thumbs up' option since I like some of the comments posted for this article. :)


With a 145kg minimum engine weight you could put one of these on each wheel for a total of 160kg and 1600hp.

Rand Gerald

I have a nice 12 ft aluminum boat that could use a re-power.

Ron Peck
OK, I also would like a bike with this engine in it. But a better idea would be to see if we could make a much smaller, less powerful engine, using a very similar design. If 88lbs makes a 400hp engine how small would a 60hp engine be if the same tech was used? If a hybrid drive system is used even 60hp is overkill if it only spins an alternator to boost the batteries. The potential for seriously wonderful gas mileage might be at hand. Jim Sadler

Notice that he's holding it with the blower and the intake assembly removed. It's not THAT much smaller than your run-of-the-mill- 4 cylinder. Plus, it sounds like it needs a lot of fuel additives to run efficiently. And 3 cylinders running smoothly at low RPMs? Forget it. I would be pleased if it was all true, but I think there's quite a bit of hype installed. If it makes it in one piece through 24 hours of LeMans, that will be impressive.

EJacob Cornelius

looks nice, the possibilities for a retrofit market are awesome for people who have older cars but cant afford to buy a new hybrid or regular fuel efficient vehicle. This Nissan motor is bigger than the one develoed by www.angellabsllc.com Angel labs is develping a 6" motor with 200HP. Thats just a bit bigger than a 2 liter bottle of soda. They've already developed a 14" version that is powerfull enough to replace a massive 18 wheeler diesel engine....14"!


To get so much power from 1.5L you need high compresion. With that much compresion and a alu body, it will be useless after one race. Hope it will stand for a 24h race.

Giraffe Long

On a motorbike website a poster argued with my comments that 180hp 1,000cc motorbike engines are boring! I stand by that now, as this truly shows what Japanese engine designers CAN DO!

Yet the emissions "excuses" they keep churning out for motorcycle engines, yet the racing engines keep getting more powerful/efficient/lower revving every rule change lol.

Can us bikers imagine a 350-600cc detuned 120-185 bhp with amazing lightness/reliabilty that could add just 20-25KG in road trims stunning.


@ EJacob Cornelius Not all three cylinder engines run like a four cylinder engine missing missing on number four.


Possibly the most efficient naturally aspirated petrol engine the world has ever seen

William Su

It's awesome they managed to cram 400hp into such a small package. I'll be really interested whent they use this same technology to build a 50hp generator engine I can carry in one hand. I'll put my name on that buy list. I've got several Full hybrid designs that could use it. Both full electric and hydraulic hybrids would make the years we spent getting 30-40 miles to the gallon look like the model T years compared to modern cars. Make it burn deisel and I could get another 100 or so folks who would want one a crown funded campeign would blow the lid off any reasonable goal.


Where's the flywheel ?


I want 2 for my 86 Fiero.

Reg Charie

HMMM...............I'm thinking of a reduction drive and a few tweaks for use in an aircraft.


looks to me like a perfect engine swap in an Elio

Mark Galloway

The Nissan seems to be used the comrod.

Marco Valverde
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