When Mercury President John Pfeifer unveiled the manufacturer’s new 3.4L V-6 FourStrokes at the Miami Boat Show in February, he ended the press conference by saying, “This is only step one.” And was he ever right. That new groundbreaking platform, which I tested at Lake X earlier in the year, wowed me with its performance at 175, 200 and 225 hp (see May Boating World, p. 26). So when Mercury invited me back to the historical central Florida test site a couple of months later, I realized the first visit was only the teaser. They had built a V-8.
Now, Yamaha did the same with its F350 in 2012, but that outboard weighed 804 pounds and was designed primarily for large offshore boats. So the first Merc spec that grabbed my attention was the weight: 505 pounds for the lightest version of the new platform, the Pro XS. To put that in perspective, the lightest version of the new 3.4L V-6 Mercury weighs 475 pounds. Coincidentally (or not), 505 pounds is the same weight as Mercury’s direct-injected two-stroke model, the OptiMax 250. That engine is a staple of competitive bass pros and other high-performance boaters, whose world is being turned upside down, because for model year 2019, the OptiMax will not be part of Mercury’s lineup. They probably won’t miss paying $30 for a gallon jug of Quicksilver Premium Plus two-stroke oil, but will they miss the performance? In a word, no, because these new 4.6L FourStrokes outperform the OptiMax in every metric: acceleration, top speed, fuel economy and quietude.
In a total departure from Mercury’s high-performance fourstroke strategy that used supercharged, 2.6L displacement V-6 Verado outboards to make up to 400 hp, these new V-8s are normally aspirated. They come in either 250 or 300 hp ratings and are being delivered in four distinct platforms: FourStroke, Verado, Pro XS and Racing. I’ll focus on the first two here and circle back to cover the other two in a later issue.
The name Verado, since 2004, has been associated with outboards equipped with a supercharger, so it was a bit of a surprise to find that tag applied to a motor without one. Mercury’s rationale? Verado has been synonymous with high-end features and outstanding performance, which applies to its new Verado. Certainly no one looking at them side-by-side will mistake the two, given the new V-8’s radical angular look. There won’t be any confusion in the marketplace, either, since Mercury is discontinuing supercharged Verado outboards of 300 hp or less. It will still offer the 350 and 400R supercharged V-6 versions, though. Who knows how many horsepower it will eventually make out of this new block? (One tantalizing prospect is to look at the 400 hp Mercury is getting out of its 2.6L block. Apply a supercharger to the new 4.6L powerhead and keep the same ratio — 154 hp per liter — and the number is 708. Whoa! This is all wild speculation.)
There are a few differences between the 32-valve dual overhead cam V-8 FourStroke and the V-8 Verado models. To keep the FourStroke more affordable, it has the Conventional Mid-Section (CMS) and non-powered hydraulic steering as a standard, with power being an option. Repowering owners who want to keep their current controls can use mechanical or digital controls with the FourStroke. Verados are digital control only and feature the more upscale electro-hydraulic power steering or JPO steering system.
The biggest difference is the Verado’s Advanced Mid-Section (AMS), which uses innovations such as four perimeter motor mounts to reduce vibration and additional sound barriers to make it the quietest in its class. The AMS does push the weight of the Verado to 600 pounds compared to the FourStroke’s 527 pounds. And the Verado 250 and 300 come in shaft lengths of 20, 25 and 30 inches, the same as the 250 FourStroke. Curiously, the 30-inch shaft isn’t offered on the 300 FourStroke. Just for fun, Mercury gives Verado owners Advanced Sound Control, which temporarily alters the sound to a deeper, more aggressive Sport Mode tone by flipping a switch.
Another difference between the two platforms is the alternator. The FourStroke has an 85-amp alternator, which is massive … until it’s compared to the Verado, which puts out a more-massive 115 changing amps.
So how does it perform? I tested the new V-8 on a number of boats, including a Ranger 621 Fisherman, a Scout 251 and an ES Custom Boats Revolution. But perhaps the most impressive acceleration I felt all day was aboard a Berkshire 25 SB Ultra pontoon equipped with a 250 Verado. Out of the hole it was a monster, with a time to plane of two seconds and a very impressive time to 30 mph of 4.1 seconds. Top speed was 47.2 mph on this 25-footer whose estimated as-tested weight was 3,500 pounds. The mid-range snap was as impressive as its holeshot. Mercury’s fuel test showed it got 4.3 mpg at 24.1 mph (3500 rpm), thanks to its Advanced Range Optimization, which reduces fuel burn at cruise speed.
Maybe the coolest feature on the new Mercury V-6 and V-8 models is the Top Cowl Service Door. Anyone who has ever tried to check an outboard’s oil in 5-foot seas can attest to what a pain it is, having to take the heavy cowling all the way off and set it somewhere before getting to business. On the Verados and FourStrokes, just push down on the panel on the top of the cowling and it pops open to reveal the dipstick and oil fill. To pull the entire cowling, within the access hatch is a latch that is simple to pull up on, and that latch becomes a convenient handle.
For customization, the FourStroke and Verado come in black or three shades of white, to match most any hull. In addition, buyers have an optional choice of four colored middle panels, or they can get it with just primer and paint it a custom color.