Led by police escort, a busload of curious marine journalists entered the gates of a mysterious place most of us knew only by reputation: Lake X. Earlier, speculation ran amok. A couple of years ago, Mercury unveiled its racing division’s 400R, so some of us thought we might see the number 500 on an outboard cowling. But at a presentation the night before, we got a glimpse of Mercury’s future, and it’s decidedly angular. Cosmetically the new V-6 FourStrokes couldn’t be more different than Mercury’s other more rounded outboards, and what’s inside is also a total departure from the past.
The new V-6 FourStrokes come in 175, 200 and 225 hp ratings and set several new benchmarks in their class, starting with their light weight. The 20-inch shaft version — available on all three — tips the scales at 475 pounds, which is 10 pounds lighter than the nearest 200 hp model and a significant 60 pounds lighter than the next lightest 225.
Mercury’s heavier and supercharged inline four-cylinder Verado 175 and 200 hp models will be phased out soon, as will its direct-injected two-stroke OptiMax engines in these horsepower ratings.
This line isn’t just a beefed-up 150 FourStroke design; rather, these are blank-slate outboards that have many significant differences that add up to outstanding performance and better fuel economy. The new design starts with a class-leading 3.4L of displacement, to help the engines make “easy power,” and employs a dual-overhead, quad-cam, four-valve-per-cylinder design that’s often seen on high-performance car motors. It also fixed one problem that’s a known power thief: heat. Exhaust gases are really hot, and if they exit the engine in close proximity to its oil supply and air intake, the gases can heat them. So instead of routing the exhaust tube through the middle of the outboard block, as is the norm, Mercury gave it a separate tube that’s outside the block.
During tests on a variety of boats, I was impressed by the new-gen fours’ snappy acceleration. I suspected a hidden supercharger, but they are 100 percent normally aspirated. We tested the 200 hp flavor on Starcraft’s MDX 211 OB CC, its new center console fishing deckboat. Our boat was equipped with mechanical shift and throttle, but most owners will probably select Mercury’s Digital Throttle and Shift (DTS), for its incredibly smooth and easy shifting. I hammered the throttle and the 211 shot on plane in 2.8 seconds. The midrange acceleration was particularly impressive, as it reached 30 mph in 6.1 seconds. Top speed at 5800 rpm was 50.5 mph (Mercury got 50.8 mph).
The only difference between the three models is computer engine mapping. The 175 and 200 models reach a peak rpm of 5800 and the 225 can hit 6000 rpm. Prices begin at $16,225 (175 hp), $17,175 (200 hp) and $18,620 (225 hp). All come in 20- and 25-inch shaft lengths, and the 225 hp includes a 30-inch model, for use on larger boats. Anyone who has seen the dreaded low-oil warning light while offshore in six-foot seas and had to remove the engine cowling to check and add oil will appreciate one of the V-6 FourStoke’s best innovations: a service door on top of the cowling. Pressing down on the door pops it open and reveals the dipstick and oil fill, which are sealed off from the rest of the engine. The clean cowling includes no latches; the latch release is inside the service door and serves as a handle. Checking the oil is easy. The only beef I had was that the dipstick is a spring that was a little floppy, making it hard to feed back in.
Mercury makes it really easy to drive boats with these outboards. Adaptive Speed Control keeps the rpm steady, even during a hard turn, which will be very useful for towing skiers. Another assist comes from Active Trim, which automatically keeps the boat in perfect trim from holeshot to WOT. It also saves money with Advanced Range Optimization (ARO), which takes leanburn technology to the next level, using a wider range O2 sensor to detect when the boat is under heavy load and needs a stronger fuel/air mixture for more power, but it leans out the mixture when it’s at minimal load. With this, Mercury claims it produces from 5 to 15 percent better fuel economy at its optimal cruise speed. Added to its claim to have 20 percent better torque, it’s pretty groundbreaking stuff.
Today’s boats have a higher demand for electricity than ever before, and the V-6 FourStrokes meet that challenge with an alternator that pumps out 85 amps at WOT, compared to the 50 amps most outboards in this class crank out. It also has an idle charge battery management system that can detect if the boat’s accessories are using more power than the 20 amps it produces at 650 rpm. When the computer senses a deficit, idle rpm is increased to match demand.
For ease of customization, Mercury offers its new line of outboards in black and three shades of white (200 and 225 hp only) to match the different versions of white gelcoat boat builders produce. Then, just for fun there’s a center accent panel that an owner can get in four different colors, or it can be primed and ready to be painted whatever color an owner chooses.