Horses galore

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Manufacturers are raising the bar on power

The horsepower race continues, with Mercury and Seven Marine introducing their most powerful 4-stroke outboards this year.

Mercury re-engineered its 2.6-liter V-6 for the new 350 Verado.

Mercury adds two high-horsepower 4-strokes: the Verado 350 and the Mercury Racing Verado 400R. “We take a bit of pride at Mercury in being about high performance, and with these engines we have the fastest, lightest, most fuel-efficient, quietest and highest-performing products on the market,” says Mercury Marine president John Pfeifer.

For both outboards, Mercury re-engineered the 2.6-liter engine it uses for the 225-, 250- and 300-hp Verados. The 400R falls under the Mercury Racing segment of the engine maker’s business, but it also can power high-performance recreational boats, such as single-engine flats boats, catamaran sportboats and offshore center consoles.

The 400R is equipped with a new water-cooled supercharger that reduces intake temperatures, allowing the engine to spin as fast as 7,000 rpm. Other features include a “Sport Master” gearcase with low-water pickup and stainless steel guide plates for better engine stability at high speeds. The 350 Verado also uses the new water-cooled supercharger, generating 16 percent more peak power than the Verado 300, according to the manufacturer.

Mercury made it clear that these engines differ substantially from the original 2.6-liter Verados. In addition to the supercharger, they have new induction systems, camshafts and fuel systems, says Larry Teeling, category manager for Mercury outboards. The powerhead has been upgraded and engineered for reduced friction, he says.

“From the midsection and up, this is a very different engine,” says Teeling. “Most of the development and engineering focused on what’s under the cowling. When you take off this cowling, it looks significantly different.”

The 400 differs from the 350 in two ways: Its calibration allows the engine to reach a higher rpm and generate more power — the 350’s peak rpm is 6,400 — and Mercury designed the gearcase for speed, with a slimmer torpedo-shaped section and leading edge.

The changes under the cowling of both engines revolve around managing frictional loss and temperature, Teeling says. Their new cold-air intake system collects cool air from outside the cowling and delivers it to the supercharger. Engineers created a larger, straighter path for less turbulent airflow. The water-cooled supercharger delivers greater boost by using water from the engine cooling system to provide a cooling jacket around the supercharger.

Another selling point is the weight of the engines — 668 pounds, just 33 more than the current 2.6-liter Verado 300 and lighter than the 5.3-liter V-8 Yamaha F350.

I tested the new Verado 350 at Boston Whaler’s Edgewater, Florida, headquarters. Three of them were mounted on a 370 Outrage center console. The boat had plenty of punch out of the hole (low-end torque), and the engines at wide-open throttle comfortably pushed the boat above 50 mph. The new outboard certainly delivers more punch with better acceleration.

Engineers assured me they’re not trying to squeeze too much out of the V-6 block by pumping out 350 horses at 6,400 rpm. Technology has allowed Mercury to produce more horsepower within relatively the same package, says Teeling.

The 350s will excel on 40-plus-foot center consoles, but they’re also a good fit for 22- to 32-foot center consoles and high-speed pontoon boats. Retail pricing for the 350 ranges from $27,505 to $28,240 for Phantom Black, and $28,990 to $29,725 for Cold Fusion White or Warm Fusion White.

The MSRP for the 400R in Phantom Black ranges from $31,530 to $32,430 with the standard gearcase, and $33,730 to $34,630 with the Sport Master gearcase. The MSRP for the engine in Cold Fusion White ranges from $33,020 to $33,920 with the standard gearcase, and $35,220 to $36,120 with Sport Master.

Seven Marine upped its game with a 627-hp version of its V-8 outboard. “Five years ago we broke the 500 barrier with a 557-hp motor, and now we are here to break the 600-hp barrier with a 627-hp outboard motor,” says Rick Davis, founder and president of Seven Marine. “The first thing we wanted to do is present you with more power, which the market is hungry for with larger boats, but do it in a way to increase the torque range throughout the entire rpm range. Not only will this engine give you braggable top speeds, but it also has the torque for excellent cruising speed and a huge hole shot.”

Seven Marine's 627-hp V-8 outboard

As the horsepower climbs, so do the prices. The 557 costs $79,590; the new 627 goes for almost $90,000.

The 627 is categorized as a high-end outboard, but this is not a limited-edition engine. “Our motor is a production motor, makes rated power on 89 octane and is targeted for big-boat [owners] that want performance and luxury combined,” says Davis’ son Brian, the vice president of operations and finance.

The engine includes a new SpectraBlade cowling with integrated color LEDs. “It brings illumination to the outboard cowling for the first time,” says Davis’ son Eric, who is also a Seven Marine vice president. “You can customize the illumination to fit the boat and fit the mood.” The SpectraBlade cowling is a $2,999 package.

When you talk about horsepower and outboards, the conversation ultimately turns to the size of today’s center consoles. There are at least six boatbuilders offering models larger than 40 feet: Boston Whaler, Scout, Everglades, Intrepid, Yellowfin and SeaHunter. Regulator has a 41-footer in production that should debut this summer.

“I never would have imagined we would be building a boat this big,” says Regulator president Joan Maxwell. “When we were tooling the 26 way back in 1988, we thought that boat was huge. There were only a few engine manufacturers offering 200-hp engines. Now look, there are 350s and even 557-hp outboard engines. We are an outboard-powered center console company, so horsepower development does drive the new boats we develop.”

HydraSports Custom has now eclipsed the 50-foot mark with the new 5300 Sueños, which can take up to 2,228 horses from five Mercury 350 Verados or four Seven Marine 557s.

In the sterndrive segment, Volvo Penta introduced the Forward Drive for its gasoline sterndrives. Resembling the IPS pod system, the drive has a forward-facing propeller setup and can be paired with Volvo Penta V-8 gasoline sterndrive engines from 300 to 430 hp. “We believe it will be one of those transformative technologies that comes along every 10 years or so,” says Ron Huibers, president of Volvo Penta of the Americas.

The company is targeting water-sports boats for the Forward Drive. Its underwater exhaust equates to quieter and cleaner operation. I tested it on a 22-foot Four Winns with a 300-hp sterndrive and immediately noticed the reduced noise and absence of exhaust backdraft. The counter-rotating props gripped the water in hard turns at 25 to 30 mph. The props sit 27 inches farther forward than on a conventional Volvo Penta sterndrive, which also increases safety.

These are exciting times for power-lovers, and they’re not over yet.

June 2015 issue