A horse race with no finish line

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Volvo Penta’s Forward Drive for sterndrives has dual front-facing props.

Volvo Penta’s Forward Drive for sterndrives has dual front-facing props.

The horsepower race heated up this winter as Mercury and Seven Marine each introduced their most powerful 4-stroke outboards ever.

“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,” Mercury Marine president John Pfeifer said as the 350 Verado and 400R Racing Verado debuted at February’s Miami International Boat Show.

Meanwhile, the Evinrude G2 E-TEC 2-stroke outboard collected an industry Innovation Award for best outboard and Volvo Penta debuted a forward-facing sterndrive that also garnered an Innovation Award for alternate drive technology. The two awards were among 17 handed out by the National Marine Manufacturers Association and Boating Writers International for technical advancement.

The Evinrude E-TEC G2 outboard is the first “clean sheet of paper” engine design by Bombardier Recreational Products since it acquired the Evinrude brand in 2001. The lineup ranges from 200 hp to 300 hp.

“To make such a bold statement and deliver this revolutionary new technology is something we are very proud of,” says Alain Villemure, vice president and general manager of BRP’s Marine Propulsion Systems division.

Not to be outdone, Seven Marine unveiled 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,” Seven Marine founder and president Rick Davis said during the Miami presentation. “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.”

As the horsepower hits all-time highs, so do the prices. The 557 costs $79,590 and the new 627 goes for $89,685.

It may be high-end, but this is no limited-edition engine, Seven Marine says. “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, vice president of operations and finance.

At 627 hp, this Seven Marine giant was king of the beasts at the  Miami show — the most powerful outboard ever made.

At 627 hp, this Seven Marinegiant was king of the beasts at the Miami show — the most powerful outboard ever made.

Seven Marine has stepped up the styling, too. The engine now includes a new “SpectraBlade” cowl with integrated color LED illumination. “It brings illumination to the outboard cowling for the first time,” says another Davis son, Eric, also a vice president. “You can customize the illumination to fit the boat and fit the mood.”

Taming noise, exhaust

Volvo Penta’s Forward Drive system for gasoline sterndrive applications is built with twin forward-facing propellers. Resembling the Volvo Penta Inboard Performance System’s front-facing propeller setup, the Forward Drive can be paired with all of Volvo Penta’s V8 gasoline sterndrive engines from 300 to 430 hp. IPS is a diesel inboard application for boats larger than roughly 35 feet.

“We believe it will be one of those transformative technologies that comes along every 10 years or so,��� Volvo Penta of the Americas president Ron Huibers told the crowd of 80 at the product introduction at the Miami show.

Guests included journalists, boat companies and representatives of Volvo Penta, including global president Bjorn Ingemanson. Volvo Penta is targeting water sports-oriented boats — those that pull water skiers, wakeboarders and, most recently, wakesurfers.

The Forward Drive’s underwater exhaust produces quieter and cleaner operation, a feature that is highly attractive to the water sports market. At the Rusty Pelican restaurant on Key Biscayne, the Forward Drive units were installed in sportboats from Volvo Penta’s partnering boat companies, such as Cobalt, Four Winns, Regal and Bryant.

I had the opportunity to drive a 22-foot Four Winns with a 300-hp V8 sterndrive engine. Right away I noticed the reduced noise and the absence of exhaust backdraft.

Yamaha recently introduced four new models of high-output 4-strokes that maximize top-end speed and acceleration, including the V MAX SHO 150.

Yamaha recently introduced four new models of high-output 4-strokes that maximize top-end speed and acceleration, including the V MAX SHO 150.

The forward-facing, counter-rotating wheels gripped the water in hard turns at 25 to 30 mph. The props sit 27 inches farther forward than a conventional Volvo Penta drive’s wheels, increasing their bite and the overall safety factor. The system has two mechanisms to guard the drive against damage during an accidental impact.

Volvo Penta began shipping the new drives to dealers in March. Mercury’s new engines also hit the market in March.

The new Verados

For both the 350 and 400, Mercury has re-engineered the 2.6-liter Verado engine it uses in its 225-, 250- and 300-hp Verados. (The Verado first hit the market in 2007.)

The 400R falls under the Mercury Racing segment of the engine maker’s business, but it can be used to power high-performance recreational boats, including single-engine flats boats, catamaran sportboats and multi-outboard offshore center consoles. Mercury had all of these types of boats with 350s or 400s at the Sea Isle in-water display.

The 400R, equipped with a new water-cooled supercharger that reduces intake temperatures, allows the engine to spin up to 7,000 rpm. Mercury builds the “Sport Master” gearcase for increased durability, with a low-water pickup to ensure maximum water intake. Its stainless steel guide plates stabilize the engine at high speeds.

The 350, which also uses a water-cooled supercharger, generates 16 percent more peak power than the Verado 300.

Pricing for the 350 ranges from $27,505 to $28,240. The 400R sells for $31,530 to $34,630. In all cases, Mercury’s joystick steering is standard, but controls and rigging and the Sport Master gearcase option are additional.

‘Very different’

Mercury made it clear that the 350 and 400 differ substantially from the original 2.6-liter Verados. They have new induction systems, superchargers, camshafts and fuel systems. The powerhead has been upgraded and engineered for reduced friction.

“From the midsection and up, this is a very different engine,” says Larry Teeling, category manager for Mercury outboards. “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.

Mercury Racing came out with a gasoline sterndrive engine that can switch between 1,350 and 1,550 hp.

Mercury Racing came out with a gasoline sterndrive engine that can switch between 1,350 and 1,550 hp.

For both the 350 and 400R, the changes under the cowling revolve around managing engine frictional loss and temperature, Teeling explains.

The Verado 350 and 400’s 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.

The other big selling point is the weight of the 350 and 400 — 668 pounds — which is just 33 pounds more than the current 2.6-liter Verado 300 and lighter than the 5.3-liter Yamaha V8 F350.

The Evinrude E-TEC G2 captured an industry Innovation Award.

The Evinrude E-TEC G2 captured an industry Innovation Award.

Several weeks ago at a sneak-peek press event in Edgewater, Fla., I tried out the 350. Three of them were mounted on a Boston Whaler 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 Whaler to speeds above 50 mph.

At the show, Mercury had nine boats rigged with the new engines, including a 40-foot Nor-Tech that does close to 100 mph with quad R400s.

Mercury also debuted at the show the Mercury Racing 1550 gasoline sterndrive engine, a dual-calibration powerplant that can switch from racing mode (1,550 hp) to leisure mode (1,350 hp) via an electronic key fob.

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue.


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