The new Verado 400 is the most powerful outboard Mercury Marine has offered in its 80-year history. It’s also the performance apogee of an engine platform that has proved durable and influential since its introduction 15 years ago.
Mercury says it has built more than 200,000 Verado outboards, with constant, incremental improvement guiding the evolution of this motor family. Originally designed to produce 275 horsepower, the Verado has seen updates that have allowed Mercury to bump peak power first to 300 horsepower in 2007, and then to 350 for the mainline product and 400 for the Mercury Racing 400R model in 2015. That’s a horsepower gain of 45 percent over the original design. Along the way, the Verado earned a reputation for extreme reliability. “Bulletproof” is how one veteran marine technician recently described the series; he can recall replacing one faulty vapor separator sensor a decade ago.
The Verado format has remained unchanged since its introduction. A 2.6-liter, in-line six-cylinder, 4-stroke power head boosted by a supercharger produces power equal to competing outboards that displace more than 4 liters. Thanks to that supercharger, throttle response is crisp at any speed, and the engine’s prodigious midrange punch can lift a heavy sportfisher over a steep swell.
Verado introduced standard digital controls and power steering for outboards, and, in 2013, optional joystick piloting became available. Indeed, the series has influenced the boom in sales of high-horsepower outboards and the design of new boats.
The new 400 is a “gen V” model with a water-cooled supercharger, a specific camshaft profile and cylinder head shape, and a new intake snorkel, all to make more power and manage the attendant heat. According to Tim Reid, vice president for product development and engineering, Mercury has made more than 400 incremental updates to Verado since the 350 model debuted in 2015. Two examples include a retainer nut that was painted, but is now anodized for increased corrosion resistance, and an improved exhaust valve seat material.
Each of the current 2.6-liter Verado models—350, 400 and 400R—is mechanically identical but has a specific engine control module that raises peak rpm with a corresponding adjustment to timing and fuel delivery calibration. The Verado 350 wide-open throttle rpm range is 5800 to 6400; the Verado 400 bumps that up to 6200 to 6800 and produces more torque across its power band. The Racing 400R goes to 6400 to 7000 rpm and is calibrated to deliver a more immediate, “snappy” throttle response.
The 400 is an extremely potent engine, by any measure. Consider that the new Porsche 911 sports car has a 3-liter engine rated at 445 horsepower at 6500 rpm, or 148 horsepower per liter. The Verado 400 cranks out 153 horsepower per liter, and, unlike an automobile engine, it is expected to operate for extended periods under heavy load at 75 percent to 100 percent throttle. With the 400R, Mercury has reached a high level of power density. Seeking more could get pretty exotic in terms of cost and reliability.
“There’s really not much left for us to do with a 2.6-liter engine, even with pressurized induction,” said Steve Miller, Mercury Racing director of marketing. “We’ve used up all the arrows in our quiver. At some point, the laws of physics take over.” Which is why Mercury in 2018 introduced a 4.6-liter, V-8 outboard to replace Verado models through 300 horsepower, a fresh foundation on which to build the next generation of Mercury performance. For now, however, the Verado 400 remains the top dog.
This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue.