Downsizing is a popular topic in the automotive world at the moment. Large displacement engines are fast disappearing, with replacements coming in the form of turbocharged remnants of what once was. In recent times emissions and fuel consumption have become more important selling points than horsepower and torque figures and to an extent rightly so. Fuel prices around the world continue to climb and filling your tank (and paying for it) is about as pleasant of an experience as a visit to the dentist in a developing nation.
I have forever been mystified that in the middle of the pollution crazed 80s, American V8s with capacities as high as their driver’s IQs only managed to dribble out horsepower and torque figures that were more akin to a Florida resident’s age. Seriously, how do you make 180 horsepower from eight litres of V8?! Fast forward a decade or three and here we are producing 400 horsepower from 1.5L…That’s right, Nissan has just released details that their Le Mans development racer will be powered by an electric motor (which will only have enough charge to take the ZEOD RC around Circuit De La Sarthe once) at which point the previously mentioned 1.5L three cylinder, turbocharged, 400 horsepower engine kicks in. This engine is small enough to fit into carry-on luggage on your next over-seas trip, yet makes enough power to shame many a 2,3,4L power plants. Sure it’s a race engine and would probably need to be rebuilt as often as a road car’s engine needs to have its gearbox oil changed but it’s a sign of the times.
The closest thing you or I can do to experience ridiculous horsepower-per-litre figures is to drive a Ferrari 458 which punches 570 horsepower out of its 4.5L V8. Or if you don’t have an offshore bank, account or a name that ends in ‘the second’ you could try riding a modern 1L super bike. Sure you’ll get wet if it rains and should probably wear leather pants, but you’ll be treated to around 200 horsepower from an engine that’s not too much bigger than Nissan’s creation and is usually less of a fire risk than Ferrari’s 458.