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Nissan 1.5L, 3-cylinder 400 hp engine to complement electric Le Mans ZEOD RC powerplant

The 400 hp DIG-T R race engine. Click to enlarge.

Nissan unveiled a 400 hp (298 kW) 1.5-liter, three-cylinder turbo gasoline engine weighing only 40 kg (88 lbs) as the companion internal combustion engine for its electric ZEOD RC which will debut at Le Mans this year. (Earlier post.) At the unveiling of the ZEOD RC in June 2013, Nissan said that it would test out variants of new electric drive train technologies as part of its intended future return to LM P1 competition.

The Nissan ZEOD RC will become the first entry at Le Mans to complete a lap of the Circuit de la Sarthe under nothing but electric power in June. A single lap of each stint (a fuel stint lasts approximately one hour) will be electric powered, then the new Nissan DIG-T R 1.5-liter three-cylinder turbo engine will take over.

DIG-T R. Click to enlarge.

The base engine is only 500mm tall x 400mm long x 200mm wide (19.68" x 15.74" x 7.78"). The engine would easily fit inside the luggage guides seen at major airports around the world, Nissan noted.

Revving to 7,500rpm, the Nissan DIG-T R produces 380 N·m (280 lb-ft) of torque. At a ratio of 10 horsepower per kilogram the new engine has a better power-to-weight ratio than the new engines to be used in the FIA Formula 1 World Championship this year.

With the entire concept of the Nissan ZEOD RC focussing heavily on downsizing and efficiency, Nissan turned to new lubricants partner Total to help develop the engine. The French lubricants manufacturer has worked closely with Nissan engineers to develop fuel and lubricants to maximise the potential of the engine.

The Nissan ZEOD RC will occupy “Garage 56” at this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours, an additional entry reserved by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest for new technologies never previously seen at the classic French endurance event. (The Nissan Deltawing made its debut in Garage 56 in 2012.)

Lessons learned from the development of the ZEOD racecar will also be used in the development of Nissan’s planned entry into the LM P1 class of the FIA World Endurance Championship in 2015.

Our engine team has done a truly remarkable job with the internal combustion engine. We knew the electric component of the Nissan ZEOD RC was certainly going to turn heads at Le Mans but our combined zero emission on-demand electric/petrol power plant is quite a stunning piece of engineering.

Nissan will become the first major manufacturer to use a three-cylinder engine in major international motorsport. We’re aiming to maintain our position as industry leaders in focussing on downsizing. Lessons learned from the development of the engine will be seen in Nissan road cars of the future.

Our aim is to set new standards in efficiency in regards to every aspect of the car—powertrain, aerodynamics and handling. For the powertrain we have worked closely with the team at Total to not only reduce friction inside the engine, but within all components of the powertrain. Friction is the enemy of horsepower and tackling that has been one of the efficiency targets we have concentrated on heavily.

—Darren Cox, Nissan’s Global Motorsport Director

After extensive dyno testing, the Nissan ZEOD RC hit the track for the first time last week with both the electric and internal combustion engines in place.

Both the gasoline and electric powerplants run through the same five-speed gearbox that transfers power to the ground via Michelin tires.

The Nissan ZEOD RC will undergo an extensive test program over the next four months prior to it making its race debut at this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours on June 14-15.



"For the powertrain we have worked closely with the team at Total to not only reduce friction inside the engine, but within all components of the powertrain. Friction is the enemy of horsepower and tackling that has been one of the efficiency targets we have concentrated on heavily."


Is Friction the next beach-head of increasing efficiency. Do your research on low friction technologies, surface treatments, coatings, and bearing advances i.e. bearing materials (without giving it all way) The question begs, which ones if not all are they employing of the three mentioned.


Interesting engine. I would like to know a bit more on the specs including the boost pressure and the stroke or piston speed. I assume that they are not running pump gas. The head and the cylinders and maybe some of the manifolding appear to be one piece.


Yeah, you are observant. I did not look thoroughly at first glance. There are long bolts from the crankcase that holds everything together and only the upper part of the cylinder is cooled. Good heat dissipation where you need it but otherwise, low heat losses. Hot mid and lower part of the cylinder reduces friction as an additional benefit. After a second look, however, I have some doubts about the crankcase and suggest that another option might be that it is divided at the liner where cylinder cooling ends. It is somewhat difficult to see on the picture if this is the case. I wonder how the valve (e.g. angle) and valvetrain layout looks.

To be honest, I am not too impressed by the 380 Nm torque. The new 1.5-liter BMW diesel gives 330 Nm, which is pretty close. However, recall that this is not a racing engine but a production engine that is optimized for high efficiency. The gasoline version of this engine should provide 240 Nm, which is lower but still not too bad. In any case, this torque level is sufficient for a normal (European) car.


A reduced (pocket size - 25 KW) similar unit could be enough for mid-size PHEVs?

It would leave more room for batteries and passengers etc.

Roger Pham

Great! However, I don't need 400 hp an 1.5 liters. Gimme only 2 cylinders and 1-liter displacement with 70 hp for my PHEV engine and I will be very happy and forever grateful!


Not everybody needs a PHEV. ICEs at ~1,5-liter with 180/225 hp and 330/240 Nm in diesel and gasoline versions respectively, can ensure low fuel consumption; yet acceptable performance. Experience from Toyota Prius PHEV so far shows that they mostly run on gasoline. The fuel consumption is then higher than for the conventional Prius.


The Toyota PHEV battery pack is too small to support e-drive for extended periods. A new higher performance battery pack with 2X to 3+X the capacity would fix that problem?

That will probably be available in the next generation by 2016/2017?


Or you just buy a Chevy Volt which has a better drive train anyway as it was designed to primarily run as an electric vehicle.

Roger Pham

My point is that current PHEV's all have too big engines. As such, with the addition of a large battery pack (8-16kWh), it will be too heavy with reduced luggage space, and cost thousands more. Perhaps the reason is that current PHEV's share the same platform with corresponding HEV's, and so must have a big engine, because an HEV needs a bigger engine due to too small a battery pack.

A PHEV has a lot of power from the big battery pack and the electric motor, so, the engine must be downsized to 1/2 in order to cut cost and to reduce weight and to have more internal space.

I would not buy any existing PHEV's for that reason, but prefer to wait for a clean-sheet design that is optimized for PHEV ONLY.

Advantages of PHEV's over ICEV's are very low energy cost per mile, very low maintenance cost, petroleum independence, and an eventual option of a plug-out whereby the PHEV can supply electricity for the house or for camping, or for extended outdoor trips. At 200,000 miles, my future PHEV will have the engine and the brakes still in like-new condition, due to infrequent use. Oil change can be done every few years instead of once or twice a year.

HarveyD about a 100 KW, ultra light 500 cc ICE as range extender? Coupled with a 60 to 80 kWh 4-4-4 or 5-5-5 battery pack. This extended range PHEV could average 200+ mpg with room for 4+ passengers and luggage. A light weight aluminum body, light wheels and tyres would help to keep the total weight low.



You do not need 100 KW and trying to get 100 KW out of a 500 cc engine will result in an over-stressed inefficient engine. Doing a little physics and math will show that it only takes 30 KW to pull a 1500 kg (3300 lb) vehicle up a 6% grade at 120 KPH (75 MPH). Even with air drag and friction, you should need less than 50 KW and this is a rather extreme case.

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