“Imagine a four-stroke outboard motor, four years in the making, totally 3D-computer-designed and virtually run on a computer for thousands of hours, long before engineers touch the first piece of aluminium to build a prototype. Imagine an outboard engine so totally rethought that the only ‘traditional’ design concept is the propeller nut. Don’t imagine, it’s here now.”
So went the preamble from Mercury Marine chief of research and development Rick Davis at the preview of Project X, Mercury/Mariner’s 250hp four-stroke, due for global release at the Miami Boat Show in December. Australia’s boating press and Mercury/Mariner dealers from Australia, Asia and the South Pacific were given a sneak preview at Mercury Expo ’03 on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and everyone came away suitably awestruck.
The big engines, in pre-release livery, were paraded on a Mustang 25 Centre Cab and a flash Kiwi Rayglass 7.5 inflatable. in the lagoon at the Novotel Twin Waters resort. Their total lack of noise at idle, even 30cm from the cowl, was astonishing. These engines naturally use Mercury’s new electronic DTS (digital throttle and shift) system, which includes a special key ignition which simply needs to be touched once to start the motor and refuses to reactivate the starter motor once the engine is running. It’s a sheer necessity with these engines – unless you look at the tacho you wouldn’t know they were idling.
Acceleration was breathtaking, even in the 1100kg inflatable. Outside of a big. powerful ski boat, I’d experienced little like it. We weren’t allowed to drive these boats, nor were we permitted a peek under the big engine cowls. But to get performance this startling, a number of us agreed that the only way to feed enough air and fuel into the engine was by supercharger. We’ll know for sure after its release but, whatever the case, it’s certainly an awesome motor.
For the rest of us mere mortals, Mercury also had plenty of new goodies to drool over. Due for release in April 2004 are 8hp and 9.9hp 209cc four-strokes, weighing in at a slender 37kg. Impoundment trollers and car-toppers will love these engines, built in Mercury’s Japanese plant. They include a cleanable oil filter, handle-mounted throttle and shift, and a built-in trim system.
The ‘small’ three-cylinder 1.5-litre OptiMax two-strokes, 115hp, 90hp and 75hp, are now filtering into the country, with the first 163kg 75s due this month to complete the trio. Rick Davis said that Merc engineers had run a 115hp OptiMax for 350 hours continuously at wide-open throttle for a total distance of 22,500km. That’s a pretty tough way to test an engine’s endurance, but no less thorough than the hundreds of lower legs subjected to years of outdoor saltwater immersion in corrosion tests at Merc’s Florida test facility.
You get the feeling that right from president Pat Mackey to the technicians in the various labs and workshops around the world that there’s a genuine drive and commitment to quality and innovation and a pride in the new product coming from these people who practise the ‘black’ arts.
The commitment to quality and innovation continues with the Australian designed and built MerCruiser compact jet units – full-production drives designed to mount directly to MerCruiser engines in recreational and commercial applications. This space-saving drive features a 250mm impeller and a single-lever remote control. The compact 1.7TDI 120hp diesel will be the first cab off the rank with the new jet, with further powerplants to follow in 2004. The compact Optimax-powered two-stroke Sport Jet, with 19cm impeller, further enhances boaters’ power choices and boat builders are already are tooling up to accommodate these new drive options.
MerCruiser also released two newBlack Scorpion inboard performance models, the 330hp with custom-built Tunnel Ram intake and multi-port fuel injection and the factory-built 340hp V8 inboard MX 6.2 Black Scorpion, with its special long-stroke crank and custom-ground cam, offering 385lb/feet of torque .
The latest generation of SmartCraft Digital Throttle and Shift hardware was also on show. DTS brings digital precision to engine throttle adjustments and gear shifts, producing silky-smooth shifts and precise throttle control in single and dual-engine set-ups. The control units were released after more than 35,000 hours of failure free testing. The latest SmartCraft instrumentation is also an eye-opener, with three ranges of system monitors to suit boats from bass boats and skiffs to full-on cruisers. SmartCraft multi-gauges can monitor engine revs, fuel flow, fuel range, engine trim, engine hours, coolant temperature and pressure, battery voltage, oil pressure, fuel used, oil temperature and boat speed – and that’s just the entry-level SC100 system monitor. Up to 23 linked engine gauges can be made part of the display of the top-of-the-range SC500 SmartCraft unit.
With all these data and engine-management inputs and controls, melded with the obvious assets of Merc’s recent acquisition of the NZ Navman company earlier this year, the day won’t be too far away when, at the end of a day’s boating, the skippers of larger boats will be able to just hit a ‘home’ button on a screen and an integrated navigation and control system will do the rest.
And if the guys handling the ultra-sophisticated diagnostics programs at the Expo have anything to do with it, there’ll also be a record of just about every engine detail from the first time the key is turned.