Mercury Marine’s new 600-hp Verado made quite a splash in February during an exclusive media event at Lake X, the company’s test facility in Florida. The 7.6-liter, V-12 engine weighs 1,260 pounds and has two innovations that Mercury calls industry firsts: a steerable gearcase and an automatic two-speed transmission.
“With boats continuing to grow bigger and performance expectations continuing to rise, boaters have been asking for a better, more capable high-horsepower solution to meet their needs. The V-12 Verado is Mercury’s answer,” says Chris Drees, Mercury Marine president. “This is a remarkable engine that will change the future of boating.”
Mercury is embracing the trend of bigger boats powered by big outboards. Not long ago, an outboard 50-footer may have seemed a ridiculous notion, but there are more than a half-dozen builders producing these big boats. The V-12 Verado was designed expressly for this growing segment.
“The solution to powering these larger boats has been adding more outboards, but we felt a better solution was a higher-power outboard that could optimize cruise speed and top end,” says Jeff Becker, Mercury’s outboard category manager for engines over 75 hp. “These are big, heavy boats, but owners have the same performance expectations as [they do with] smaller boats.”
Mercury designed an engine with tons of power and torque that runs efficiently for an outboard of its size. That’s where the two-speed transmission comes into play. First gear has a 20 percent reduction ratio, which leverages the engine’s torque to get big boats out of the hole and on plane. The outboard then shifts into second gear, reducing the rpm for better fuel efficiency.
The shift is so fluid that it’s barley noticeable, especially as a passenger. I ran boats with triple and quad configurations, and unless you were looking at the tachometer, you could hardly tell when the transmission shifted. And the naturally aspirated outboard is quiet, with no turbocharger whining away.
To conserve space on the transom, Mercury designed the engine around its 8-cylinder footprint. The narrow V design is constructed on a 64-degree block — basically four additional cylinders on top of the V-8. Match that with the steerable gearcase, and the 600s can be mounted close together. Minimum spacing is 27 inches from the center of one engine to the center of the next, just an inch more than with 400-hp Verados.
The steerable gearcase does all of the work below the waterline. The cowling that’s visible on the transom doesn’t move, which can take some getting used to. There is a rudder indicator on the engine display, and I found myself checking that routinely when running the test boats.
Mercury eliminated the need for mounted steering, which keeps the stern clean. The company also says that the setup is easier on the steering system since it’s not moving the entire 1,260-pound engine, just the lower unit. There’s also a wider range of motion, Mercury says. A typical outboard swings 30 degrees in one direction or the other. Mercury says the steering on the V-12 Verado can pivot up to 45 degrees.
The gearcase spins dual, contra-rotating props with a four-blade wheel forward and a three-blade aft. The props come in various pitches and diameters to 18 inches, depending on the application. Having seven blades in the water has a distinct hydrodynamic advantage over a single propeller, which you really feel when using the SmartCraft joystick. The test boats could spin and track sideways with relative ease, without audible clunks or vibrations when shifting.
I tested the outboard in triple and quad installations on Lake X, Mercury’s longtime testing facility in central Florida. A Valhalla V-46 hit 74 mph with quad 600s. We raised one of the engines out of the water to see what the boat would do on three outboards. The V-46 didn’t skip a beat, planing quickly and reaching 66 mph. I had tested the same boat two weeks prior with quad 450R Mercury Racing outboards. That boat topped out at 69 mph and is reported to be even faster. Viking said its customers will embrace the option of going with 2,400 hp.
The biggest boat we tested was a Formula 500 SSC. With quad 600s, the 47,000-pound boat accelerated to 30 mph in less than 13 seconds and topped out at nearly 69 mph. The Tiara 48 LS, a 32,000-pound boat with triple 600s, hit 20 mph in five seconds and had a top end of 60 mph. The Tiara’s fuel burn at wide-open throttle was 150 gallons per hour.
Becker says the the 600 won’t need its first routine maintenance until 200 hours of run time. To conduct that maintenance, just open the hood. (Yes, the outboard has a hood.) With the push of a button, the top of the cowling raises on a gas strut and reveals neatly arranged, color-coded fluid fills and dipsticks. You can drain and fill the gear lube and transmission fluid from the top of the engine without hauling the boat. The full cowling, which weighs just weighs 44 pounds, doesn’t have to come off for five years or 1,000 hours.
Mercury says it spent five years developing the engine, but all of this innovation comes at a price. The 600 Verado will retail in the $77,000 range. Mercury says it should start to ship in late spring.