CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Ron Huibers, president of Volvo Penta of the Americas, speaks often about the importance of making boating easier for the modern, time-strapped consumer.
And the engine company — as well as much of the industry — has done so, using technology to increase reliability and decrease maintenance. But boating's fun factor has spiked, as well, in conjunction with technical advances. Case in point: the head-snapping acceleration of today's sterndrive gasoline engine.
I tested four sterndrive-powered boats (all under 30 feet) on Thursday at the Volvo Penta test center in Chesapeake. They were powered with Volvo Penta's new V8 300 and 350 and the V6 280. The throttle response on these single-engine runabouts and bowriders brought a smile to my face as I pushed through wakes, cut quick corners and weaved through lines of crab pot buoys.
As I worked the throttle on the Cobalt 232 WSS with the new Volvo Penta 280-hp V6 engine, I looked back at my crew. Each time I advanced the throttle — even by just a nudge — the acceleration pushed my mates back in their seats or caused them to tighten their grip on a grab rail or seatback.
The quickness is attributable to several factors, mainly common rail fuel injection and variable valve timing. These two technologies allow for the more efficient use of fuel that provides that extra "oomph."
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"The acceleration shows when you are getting out of the hole, but it really shines in the mid-range," said Volvo Penta's Bob Crocker, manager of product reliability at the test center.
Mel Cahoon, Volvo Penta manager of new products, showed me the innards of the Gen V GM engines that provide the punch. He pointed out the direct fuel injector, with its high-pressure output, which counts on "piston cooling jets" to reduce heat.
"This is a very crucial component to the acceleration," he said.
Cahoon also explained how the new engines are lighter and more compact than previous versions. The 280-hp weighs 77 pounds less than its 270-hp predecessor, but the 280 block's fore-aft footprint is 4 inches shorter than the Gen IV engine's.
Volvo Penta displayed many of the parts of the GM engine for journalists to examine during Thursday's media introduction of the 5.3-liter 350- and 300-hp engines and the 280-hp V6 engine. An engine larger than 5.3 liters is expected to be the next new model — with a 2016 launching — in Volvo Penta's complete gas sterndrive engine upgrade from GM Gen IV to Gen V engines.
The fuel economy of these engines deserves some ink, too. On the Cobalt, the 280-hp engine burned about 6 gph at 25 mph, which equates to about 4.2 miles to the gallon. At 30 mph the powerplant consumed 7.5 gph, for a fuel burn rate of 4 mpg. Even at full blast (47 mph) we got 2.2 mpg.