Hurtling across the water at almost the old magical imperial ton on an open dayboat can really focus your attention. Even more so when you attempt to stand and are instantly bent backwards by a hurricane-force wind that threatens to fling you like a rag doll over the transom.
Ahead lay the glistening waters of Miami, playground of movie stars and crime czars, while directly behind was a quartet of the angriest outboard engines to ever carry the Mercury badge.
I was in the southern Florida city at the invitation of Mercury Marine to attend the 2015 worldwide launch of its new 350 and 400R Verado engines, which happened to coincide with the 2015 Miami International Boat Show. The previous day we had attempted to absorb all the techno lingo and specs as part of the official launch. Today we were experiencing the sensory overloads inflicted by the American talent for excess in all things mechanical.
The missile I was travelling in is known as a Nor-Tech 39, a savagely sleek, pencil-nosed craft with a pretence for fishing and day cruising. But to an Aussie boatie it was plainly just a thinly disguised fibreglass platform for outrageous speed across water.
And propelling it to a shade under 160km/h were four pearly white, brand-new Mercury Racing 400R Verado engines.
Minutes earlier we had slipped quietly out of the marina, the four engines throbbing menacingly at our rear in anticipation of being unleashed in the open waters ahead.
Aboard we had Australian Mercury Marine representatives Nick Webb and Anthony Brown and, fittingly, Mercury’s head of product development, David Foulkes, who was plainly delighted to be showing off the outcome of his department’s efforts in front of a large and impressed international audience.
Once we had clear water on our bow, the skipper eased the special billet aluminium racing throttles forward and the world instantly changed shape. Within seconds it was a psychedelic whirl of colour as we hit wide open throttle, the sense of barely contained power both exhilarating and awe inspiring. Implausibly though, there was barely a whimper from the engines that were now delivering a total of 1600 unbridled horsepower to their Mercury Racing props.
SILKY AND SILENT
It is really a bit surreal to be in such close proximity to so much stupendous power, with the only discernible noise being the overpowering rush of wind as we sped across the water. The four engines were whirring over at close to 7000rpm, yet their quartet of belt-driven, air-mashing superchargers, 24 thrashing cylinders, and 96 furiously gyrating valves raised barely a whisper. If it were up to me, they would scream like the Flight of the Valkyries, howling like banshees and tearing the day asunder in an Apocalyptic ensemble of thunder and lightning. And something would be on fire. But instead, they merely emitted an emaciated high-pitched whine – far too clinical and well-engineered for a non-reconstructed petrolhead of the old school. My only complaint really, but one I’m sure other performance aficionados would empathise with …
And vibration at all revs was virtually nil. It is a credit to the work of engineers and designers that they could produce so much power from relatively small capacity engines while managing to virtually imprison noise and vibration.
We had earlier experienced the only marginally less exhilarating thrill of being propelled across the same waters in another impressive craft fitted with a quartet of Mercury’s brand-new Verado 350 ‘recreational’ engines.
While the 400R racing powerplant revs higher and delivers 50 more horsepower, you had to squint hard to really notice the difference in real-world terms.
Both engines boast all of the technological innovations incorporated into the impressive Verado range over the past nine years. And they deliver it all with an irresistible urge, courtesy of a transom-load of torque for both engines. Even approaching the outer reaches of their available rev range (redline for the 350 is 6400rpm and 7000rpm for the 400R), both engines have huge reserves of whale-towing oomph just waiting to be tapped.
We were able to sample other applications, including single, twin and triple rigs on a variety of craft and all exhibited the same impressive power delivery from idle to wide open throttle. Throttle response simply can’t be criticised. The new Verados are very, very fast.
Fuel figures varied widely depending on the application and boat. On the four-engined 350 Verado rig, the gauges could barely keep up with the demand. Travelling at almost 80mph (130km/h), we were churning through 153lt/h of homegrown high octane, whereas on a single-engined Ranges 2510 dayboat, I saw fuel figures of (US)9.9 gallons/hr spinning over at 5000rpm at 40mph (65km/h), which works out to 37.5lt/h in metric-speak. Not bad for a 350hp, high-performance engine.
A JOY TO PILOT
Mercury’s Joystick Piloting system was fascinating to watch with rigs being manoeuvred, each powerplant being controlled independently by the onboard computer in order to position the boats. At times all the engines seemed to have minds of their own, swinging this way and that in order to comply with the skipper’s orders. Gear shifting and engine movement was seemingly effortless, as some pretty large craft were made to move in any direction with ease.
I took the controls on a twin-engined rig on a large centre-console boat and, using a channel marker as a point of reference, was able to control the boat’s positioning easily, the joystick providing both throttle and directional control with very little manual effort required.
It would certainly be a welcome addition to any multi-engine rig when manoeuvring in tight confines.
The new engines will be available in the Australasian market in April, 2015. Pricing begins at $A35,992 ($NZ44,477) for the 350 and $A39,592 ($NZ48,925) for the 400R.
For more information, go to: mercurymarine.com.au.
The world was introduced to the new 350 and 400R Verados at an official unveiling at the 2015 Miami International Boat Show, with Mercury Marine President John Pfeifer delivering the opening address in a special media briefing before the public launch the following day.
“We’re proud to introduce the next evolution of this market-leading outboard series, the innovative and powerful Verado 350,” said Pfeifer of the flagship Verado powerplant. “Whether it’s installed in single- or multiple-engine configurations, Verado 350 delivers everything performance-minded boaters and anglers demand.”
Mercury claims the new 350 delivers unsurpassed speed and performance without sacrificing durability and cruise fuel economy.
During the presentation we were shown graphs claiming up to 10 per cent greater fuel economy from the 350 over competitive outboards, with a further benefit being the Verado’s relatively low weight of 668 pounds (303kg), which Mercury claims is 37kg lighter than its nearest four-stroke competitor.
Torque has always been a signature feature of the four- and six-cylinder Verado range, and the 350 continues the trend. While only diagrams were presented at the launch and in official documentation, Mercury claims the 350 delivers one of the broadest torque curves in the business. This also translates to industry-leading throttle response at anywhere pretty much from idle all the way through to the redline of 6400rpm.
Specific to the 2.6lt, six-cylinder 350 and 400R is a new cold-air intake system designed to collect cool and denser air from outside the cowl and deliver it efficiently to the new, larger supercharger. Its straighter path was engineered to create less turbulent air flow and more efficient combustion for more power.
In order to cope with the increased stresses associated with higher supercharger boost and power output, the cylinder head and block shared on both the 350 and 400R have been redesigned with more meat in critical areas for added strength.
Mercury says the engine cowl’s unique ‘labyrinth’ design keeps the powerhead dry, while the vented flywheel cover allows engine heat to dissipate more easily, improving overall efficiency and durability.
Optimised guide plates maximise driver handling at high speeds, claims Mercury, while its 5.44in-diameter gearcase is designed to be robust and durable. Like almost 70 per cent of all engine and driveline components, the gears are precision-machined inhouse at Mercury Marine to ensure the highest levels of quality and durability.
The 350 also boasts a new lower-gear lubrication system that reduces oil temperature and increases gearcase efficiency, which translates into more propshaft horsepower and better performance. It also means lower maintenance and longer engine life, says Mercury.
More power is also available from the 350’s charging system, providing additional current for the increased loads typically demanded by modern power-hungry electronics systems.
Not surprisingly, the 350 is compatible with Mercury’s SmartCraft Digital Throttle & Shift (DTS) system, offering smooth, quiet shifting and responsive throttle control.
Mercury’s Advanced Mid Section (AMS) design is part of the new Verado architecture and helps to isolate vibration.
Low maintenance is another feature the 350 shares with the rest of the range, boasting a lifetime maintenance-free valve train, eliminating valve lash adjustments, while dealer servicing is not required for the first 100 hours and only every 300 hours beyond.
Mercury also offers its own Joystick Piloting system for multi-engine applications, which is available for 250, 300 and 350 Verados, plus the 400R. The system integrates seamlessly with SmartCraft Digital Throttle & Shift (DTS) and Mercury’s electro-hydraulic power steering, while an integrated autopilot provides Auto Heading and Waypoint Sequencing functions. And Mercury’s Skyhook digital GPS positioning system can be used to maintain position when fishing or making preparations for mooring or berthing.
Every Verado comes with Mercury’s own comprehensive corrosion protection system, which incorporates special low-copper aluminum silicon alloys and a high-tech paint system, featuring an irridite metal preparation process in tandem with an electro-deposition paint (EDP) priming and powder-paint top coat. The whole process is backed up with a three-year limited corrosion warranty.
The 350 Verado is available in three colours: Phantom Black, Cold Fusion White, and Warm Fusion White.
David Foulkes is plainly a man at home with algorithms, slide rules and power curves. As Mercury’s head of product development, he was at centre stage for the 2015 world launch of the company’s new 350 and 400R Verados and was obviously enjoying the occasion enormously.
The expat Welshman has a BSc and Masters in Aeronautical Engineering, which propelled him on a rather circuitous path that ultimately led him to the Brunswick Corporation and, most recently, to its Mercury Marine subsidiary, based at Fond du Lac in Wisconsin. Previously he had spent 18 years with Ford in a variety of engineering roles in Europe, the UK and the US and even a couple of years on North Sea oil rigs applying the principals of fluid dynamics to their design and construction.
So the 53-year-old knows a thing or two about water and powertrains, which he has put to good use as head of Mercury’s Product Development Division, specifically on the new Verados.
Foulkes was initially involved in development of Mercury’s Joystick Piloting system for outboards, which he said provided a number of unique challenges.
“We migrated the Axius MerCruiser sterndrive system to the Verado platform, but the outboard application was unique; there are lots of differences in terms of trim-ability and thrust. And there was a lot more complexity with multiple engine applications.
“When we first showed people Joystick Piloting with four engines on the transom, it took them by surprise with the engines seemingly moving independently of each other.”
Plainly proud of his engineering team’s accomplishments with the new engines, Foulkes says the Verados offer major breakthroughs and benefits for customers.
“We have taken the Verado platform and significantly enhanced and upgraded most systems with the 350 and 400R,” he opines.
“Fortunately the people who originally designed the Verados did such a good job that we started from a very strong base. The key is the thru-bolt design, in which the main engine components, the cylinder head, block and base plate are all held together by bolts that run all the way through the castings and generate tremendous tension to hold the powerhead together.
“With other engines, you have separate bolts holding the head to the block and the block to the base plate and the system is not as strong.
“We’ve added a lot of performance in both engines, but in ways that retain the Verado characteristics of plenty of mid-range and top-end power and torque, while still being very smooth and quiet and with good fuel economy. It’s a very satisfying achievement from an engineering point of view.”
Foulkes says that while the Verado launch was personally rewarding, there is more than enough to keep him and his team busy going forward.
“Our pipeline is very full. Generally we’re looking at producing around one new product, from engines to propellers, every four to six weeks, so there’s always something to keep us busy.”
ELEPHANT IN THE VROOM
From an outright performance perspective, one engine really stole the show during the 2015 product launch.
The numbers tell the story: nine litres, eight cylinders, four valves-per-cylinder, and twin turbos. Oh yes, and one thousand, five hundred and fifty gob-smacking stallions at the prop shaft.
I speak of Mercury Racing’s Godzilla-like 1550 QC4v all-aluminium sterndrive racing engine. For those of a mechanical bent, it is an engine without peer, its eight massive pulsating cylinders gulping vast quantities of fuel and air force-fed to them by humongous twin turbochargers. The outcome is untold mechanical violence on an industrial scale that is making its impact on race courses in both hemispheres.
The engine was designed and developed entirely inhouse at Mercury Racing and is built to take – and deliver – a lot of punishment. Already in wide use in a variety of marine racing applications, including in Australia and NZ, the company has now released two special electronic key fobs which transform it, Jekyll and Hyde-like, from a comparatively mild mannered 1350hp ‘recreational’ engine, into a 1550hp raging race motor. So if 1350hp isn’t quite doing it for you, simply ‘swap the fob and drop your gob!’
The company has also experimented with automotive applications and currently has at least one street-legal prototype car powered by the monster motor.
Foulkes says Mercury has identified niche performance car applications for low-volume manufacturers looking for a high-output engine that can deliver high horsepower without too much stress.
“We’ve shoehorned it into a mid-engined Ultima GTR British sports car and I’ve driven it – it’s really quite thrilling,” says a man who I suspect also has a Masters in Understatement.
After the Miami show we visited the home of Mercury at frozen Fond du Lac in the northern state of Wisconsin, where we also enjoyed a fascinating tour of the Mercury Racing plant, which is situated high on a hill, 30km distant from the main factory.
R for R-Some
Claimed to be the most powerful consumer outboard ever produced and boasting the best power-to-weight ratio of all four-stroke outboards in its class, the Mercury Racing 400R shares much of its DNA with the 350, but with specific hardware and software to deliver a whopping 153 horsepower-per-litre from its 2.6lt, supercharged inline six-cylinder engine.
Enhancements include a custom cold air induction system for improved air flow and power, while significantly reducing intake noise for improved sound quality. The new water-cooled supercharger shared with the 350 is designed to reduce intake temperatures and significantly increase air density, which enables the 400 to deliver very impressive throttle response and power up to its 7000rpm redline. A new camshaft maximises cylinder-filling and emptying.
Electronic knock control means the 400R can be safely run on 89 octane fuel, while 98 is recommended for optimum performance.
Structural upgrades incorporated into the cylinder block and head improve integral strength to cope with the higher power output.
Also unique to the 400R is Mercury’s race-proven heavy-duty Sport Master gearcase, with low water pickups for added performance.
The 400R also features stainless steel guide plates with composite wear pads on its Advanced Midsection for enhanced engine stability and improved handling at speed, and is also compatible with all Smartcraft systems and Mercury’s Joystick Piloting.
Bold new 3D graphics accentuate the new engine’s performance focus.