Full steam ahead
Posted on 01 January 2012
Written by Chris Landry
About 50 marine journalists gathered at the International Game Fish Association headquarters in Fort Lauderdale recently for a presentation highlighting the benefits of Mercury’s new 150 FourStroke. “This is the lightest 150-hp 4-stroke in the world,” says Steve Miller, Mercury Marine brand manager for large outboards (www.mercurymarine.com
), who introduced the new engine to consumers Oct. 27-31 at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. “We have the highest displacement but the lowest weight. There is a saying, ‘There’s no replacement for displacement.’ This is a very low-stressed engine.”
The 150 FourStroke weighs 455 pounds and has a displacement of 183 cubic inches. The 8-valve engine weighs 55 pounds less than its predecessor, the 4-cylinder Verado 150, and can be used to power a variety of boats, from inshore bay boats and RIBs to offshore fishing and cruising boats, says Miller. The outboard also is a good choice for repowering, he says. “Because of the lighter weight, you can mount the engines on older boats that normally could not handle the weight of an older 4-stroke,” says Miller, who gave a 40-minute presentation that touched on the exhaust system, engine oil cooler, 60-amp alternator and hydrodynamic gear case.
However, the key point driven home was the engine’s weight — just 24 pounds more than Mercury’s 150-hp OptiMax 2-stroke — and its high displacement. The Mercury presentation listed the weights of its 150-hp 4-stroke competitors: Suzuki, 474 pounds; Yamaha, 476 pounds; and Honda, 478 pounds.
Touting its durability, Mercury says it tested the 150 FourStroke in some tough conditions, including 20-foot swells, says communications director Steve Fleming. The engine will be available in December at a retail price of about $13,000.
I had an opportunity to test the 150 FourStroke at the show. I got a good feel for the engine during 20 minutes of trolling and a few 40-mph sprints in a 100-yard stretch of the Intracoastal Waterway (no speed restrictions). The 4-cylinder engine exhibited a 2-stroke-type hole shot and exceptional acceleration in the midrange. Like any 4-stroke, engine noise was low. Mercury had no performance or fuel-use data, but I was told that’ll come later this year.
In other news, Mercury Marine announced at the Fort Lauderdale show that it will be responsible for the worldwide sales, distribution, service and support of the Cummins MerCruiser Diesel (www.cmdmarine.com) range of high-speed diesel engine systems, including the Volkswagen TDI engine series, says Kevin Grodzki, Mercury president of sales and marketing and commercial operations. Mercury and CMD are still partners, and CMD will continue to oversee the production and distribution of the higher-horsepower models, which includes engines for the Zeus pod-drive system.
“The market has changed, and what we found was that the customer base for the high-speed diesel market lines up very well with gasoline sterndrive engines and outboard engines, so we decided to take that piece of the [Mercury-CMD venture] — the high-speed diesels only — and shift that over to Mercury’s responsibility,” says Grodzki.
Mercury will take over this portion of the business after a transition period lasting through 2012, Grodzki says. The high-speed engines include the new lineup of TDI diesels now being offered in a joint venture between CMD and Volkswagen. “Volkswagen is going to be an outstanding partner, with the technology they have and the performance of their engines,” says Grodzki. “The scope and scale that they have as a manufacturer and a partner is going to change the industry. And with our distribution and service network, that technology will be brought to a much wider base.”
I had another on-water opportunity at the show, thanks to CMD and Statement Marine (www.statementmarine.com). CMD showcased a pair of its new 350-hp TDI 4.2-liter diesels in a custom 37-foot Statement center console — the boat that recently attempted to break the New York-to-Bermuda record, but was unsuccessful because of weather conditions.
The EPA Tier 2 diesels pushed the boat to a top speed in the low 50-mph range, according to the owner of the boat, Chris Fertig, who was running it for media representatives at the show. We had the deep-vee pegged at 48 mph in 3-foot seas. The boat has an innovative air-cushion system that uses air bags beneath the deck to mitigate slamming, says Fertig. It works well. Fertig pointed out that the console and T-top also benefit from the air ride. Fertig had me put my hand on the T-top framework and then the gunwale. I could feel engine vibration in the hull side, but none when I grabbed the aluminum post.
Volkswagen manufactures and marinizes the 4.2-liter V-8 and three other diesels (1.9, 2.5 and 3.0 liter) under the CMD name. The 1.9-liter is an inline 4-cylinder engine with a 40- to 75-hp rating. The 2.5-liter, an inline 5-cylinder engine, has a rating of 55 to 165 hp. The 3.0-liter is a V-6 is rated from 225 to 265 hp.
Potential applications include twin 4.2-liter engines in boats as large as 40 feet, including express cruisers and sportfishing boats, according to CMD. The 350-hp engine also could find its way into large runabouts. Additionally, some of the diesels could be candidates for trawlers and sailboats.
Seven Marine showed its 557-hp 4-stroke at the show after introducing the outboard at the Miami boat show last February (www.seven-marine.com). Two of the 1,000-pound V-8 engines were mounted on an Intrepid 370 Cuddy (www.intrepidpowerboats.com). Normally powered with triple 350-hp
Yamaha outboards, the Intrepid reaches 75 mph with the 557s, says Ken Clinton, president of Intrepid Powerboats.
“We’re real happy,” he says. “We’re still working out some bugs, tweaking some things. We’re thinking everything will be dialed in by the Miami show. We’ve sold a couple boats with Seven Marine [engines] and are looking to get to production probably by summer.”
The engines will likely serve a niche market, notes Clinton. “It’s not a giant market share; we’re talking about a unique buyer,” he says. “Those motors are for performance-oriented people who have to have them. It’s a small group, and I feel Yamaha and Mercury will always take the lion’s share of the market.”
The propulsion setup includes ZF Marine’s Joystick Maneuvering System, making the Intrepid the first production-built joystick-controlled outboard boat. The boat was unavailable for sea trials. A section of one of the engine cowlings was open for show-goers to see the 557’s innards in action.
The outboard uses a marinized General Motors LSA small-block V-8 and packs a slew of technology and features that consumers have been requesting, according to Seven Marine president Rick Davis. The Joystick Maneuvering System links to ZF’s CAN-bus controlled disc-clutch transmission and a ZF bow thruster. Another innovation is the closed cooling system, a first for the outboard industry, Davis says.
Seven Marine had been sea-trialing the engines for about four weeks, says company vice president Sandy Ballou. The 6.2-liter outboard, which retails for $68,900, could be available in the fourth quarter of 2012.
Although Honda held no formal presentation at the Fort Lauderdale show for its new BF250, the outboard certainly deserves mention (www.marine.honda.com). It’s Honda’s highest-horsepower outboard, and the company has given it a sleeker, more streamlined design. The BF250’s strengths include fuel efficiency and durability, according to Alan Simmons, Honda’s head of national sales and marketing.
The manufacturer builds the BF250 with a 3.6-liter engine and a new gearcase that reduces drag by 5 percent, according to the company. A new air induction system uses two air-cooling methods for better combustion and performance. The engine weighs 600 to 622 pounds depending on shaft length, with a displacement of 219 inches.
Powering a 24-foot Carolina Skiff SeaChaser bay boat, the BF250 burns 5.2 gallons per hour for an impressive 5 mpg at 25 mph, according to Honda performance tests. At a top speed of 50 mph, it gets 2.3 mpg.
Honda has made getting to the spark plugs easier via an access cover that eliminates the need to remove the entire cowling. The V-6 outboard will be available in 2012. Pricing was unavailable.
ZF Marine (www.zf.com) has made inroads into the recreational marine market with its engine transmissions, pod drives and
joystick technology. The company has packaged all three in a 50-foot Viking sportfish (www.vikingyachts.com). The ZF Pod 4000 propulsion system works with twin 1,150-hp Caterpillar C18 diesels mated to a ZF 500 series transmission connected to the pods. The propulsion system includes the ZF SmartCommand with Joystick Maneuvering System and SteerCommand electric steering.
Two cameras were mounted on the hull bottom just forward of the pods to show their independent movement. The video was shown on two displays on the flybridge and another on a flat-screen TV in the saloon. The television not only showed the pod drives, but also an overview of the cockpit and the yacht’s wake. I drove the Viking for a while, using both the joystick and the standard throttles. ZF mounted a second joystick in the starboard armrest of the flybridge helm chair for seated operation.
The captain demonstrated ZF’s EasiDock, and marketing manager Martin Meissner described the technology. “EasiDock allows for a certain percentage of slipping in the clutches when the driver engages the throttle controls, allowing a smoother engagement of the propulsion,” Meissner says. “You don’t have that lunge forward when the vessel transitions from neutral into ahead or astern. So when you are operating in confined spaces, close to the dock, by moving in and out of gear, it is a more smooth engagement.”
We also used the system’s iAnchor station-keeping feature, which operates the pods independently to keep the boat in place in varying current and wind. “The system is GPS-based and allows the boat to hold station anywhere on the globe down to about a 3-foot radius,” Meissner says.
This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue.