It was just 10 years ago that Yamaha came out with its revolutionary 350 hp V-8 outboard, a power plant I certainly didn’t expect to see on boats such as pontoons. But that was before pontoons really became cool or as fast as they are now.
Recently, I tested a 72 mph Manitou X-Plode that had a pair of Mercury Racing 400R outboards, and the interest that boat generated was off-the-chart crazy. The video we posted on Facebook reached more than 4 million people and was clicked on and viewed by nearly 2 million. What many observers, myself included, thought when we first saw the 400R was it would be a nice niche engine for the go-fast crowd. Wrong, as usual (just ask my wife). This outboard has appeared on virtually every type of boat there is, from bass boats to center console fishing boats and everything in between.
This summer, Suzuki bumped up its power game with the DF350A: 350 hp and twin counter-rotating props (see page 20). I tested it — four of them, actually — on the SeaVee 390Z, which reached a top speed of 72 mph, and two more on an Avalon Windjammer pontoon. The hookup — with four props — was spectacular, with a time to 30 mph of just 4.6 seconds with six people on board.
The Seven Marine 557 hp outboard was one I expected to be little more than a low-production curiosity. I was certain its horsepower would be the benchmark for quite a while, but Seven Marine upped the ante with a 627 hp model. And it seems the company is poised to be a crossover mainstream hit, since Volvo Penta recently bought majority ownership. And I am pretty sure Volvo didn’t buy in just to be a fringe player. And yep, we’ve seen pontoons with a Seven Marine 627 on them. You know someone is going to install two of them.
Outboards are even showing up on boats from builders that have traditionally been sterndrive/inboard companies, including Chaparral (see page 32), Formula, Crownline, Sea Ray and Cobalt, to name a few. That’s not to say sterndrives are dead; take a look at the Formula on page 40 and tell me that isn’t floating awesomeness. Until last year there had only been two players in the sterndrive world, but then Ilmor jumped in with its One Drive system and horsepower up to 430. But no one in the near future will overtake Mercury Racing, which has horsepower up to 1,750. It even introduced a non-supercharged 860 Sterndrive model this year that carries a two-year warranty … something that never used to happen.
The horsepower race is definitely on, and nobody knows where it will end. The winner: everyone who wants to go just a little faster than the rest.