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This is the future of motoring: Nissan unveils 400 hp 3-cylinder engine for Le Mans racer

Nissan hasn’t called this engine the future of motoring; that’s my designation.

And why have I made such a claim? It’s simple. 400 horsepower from a lightweight, 1.5-liter three-cylinder isn’t just wildly impressive for a motorsport event; it’s also hugely significant for the civilian population.

Before I dig into its wider applications, let’s look at the little thing a bit more closely, shall we?

The 88-pound three-banger, called the DIG-T R, makes 400 hp and 280 lb-ft. of torque and will power the Nissan ZEOD RC racecar at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France this June.

Although the racer will be electric-only for a while, once the batteries have gone flat, the plucky DIG-T R will kick in, powering the car from there. Nissan is quick to point out it is the “first major manufacturer to use a three-cylinder engine in major international motorsport.” Which, pardon the pun, is no small feat.

Nissan also points out that, at 88 pounds, the DIG-T R is too heavy to be a carried onto a plane, “it would easily fit inside the luggage guides seen at major airports around the world.”

So why is this so important? As I often harp on about, fuel economy standards are quickly ratcheting up around the globe and cars need to use less fuel. This doesn’t mean, though, that people will want – or accept – slower, less powerful cars.

An engine like the DIG-T R would be perfect for powering SUVs or even performance-oriented cars of the future. It’s powerful enough to move a big car like the Nissan Pathfinder with ease and also small enough to fit happily under the hood of cars like the Datsun lookaline IDx performance coupe.

Granted, in road-going guise, the DIG-T R will likely be down-tuned for reliability. Still, however, it’s nonetheless significant.

I’m a fan of big, fuel-thirsty V8s. But if forced, I’d be more than happy with a 350-hp three-banger in my retro-styled sports coupe.