Lake X Monster

Merc’s new 600-hp V12 Verado isn’t just big, it operates like no other outboard has before.

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When Mercury said it was hosting an exclusive event to give the media a first glimpse at its latest outboard, our team of editors literally placed bets on the size of the new motor. A few of us got the horsepower right, but no one guessed the latest Verado would have a V-12 engine, let alone a lower unit that swivels and steers. Or a two-speed transmission that shifts automatically. And dual, contra-rotating props. Nobody saw that coming.

The specs of the 600 Verado are impressive: It’s a 600-hp, 7.6-liter V-12 powerhouse that weighs 1,260 pounds (Mercury’s 450R weighs 689 pounds). To put that in perspective, a full-ton Chevy pickup truck engine has four less cylinders and comes in at 6.6 liters.

Mercury is certainly embracing the trend of bigger boats powered by big outboards. Fifty-footers with outboards may have sounded ridiculous just five years ago, but there are now more than half a dozen builders cranking out these big boats with bolted-on engines. The new V12 Verado was designed expressly for this growing segment.

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“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,” said Jeff Becker, outboard category manager for motors over 75-hp, as we stared at the Verado V12 on display, its lower unit turning left to right. “These are big, heavy boats, but owners have the same performance expectations as smaller boats.”

To get that weight to plane, Mercury needed an engine that pumped out tons of power and torque, but didn’t guzzle gas. That’s where the two-speed transmission—an industry first—comes into play. First gear has a 20-percent reduction in gear ratio. This leverages the engine’s torque to propel these big boats out of the hole and up on plane. The motor then shifts into second gear automatically, dropping the rpm for better fuel economy. The shift is so fluid, you really don’t notice it, especially as a passenger. During our test day, I ran boats with triples and quads, and unless you were looking at the tach, you could hardly tell when the transmission shifted. It was extremely slight. And the naturally aspirated motors are quiet, with no turbo whining away, so you don’t hear them shift either—at least I didn’t.

To conserve space on the transom, Mercury designed the engine based on its existing eight-cylinder footprint. The narrow-V design is constructed on a 64-degree block—it basically added four more cylinders on top of its V8. Match that with the steerable gear case and you can mount the 600s close together. The minimum spacing is 27 inches from the center of one engine to the center of the next, which is just one inch more than 400-hp Verados.

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The steerable gear case—another industry first—does all of the steering below the waterline so the cowling you see on the transom doesn’t move. It’s really weird to look back at the transom when you’re carving a hard turn and see the motor standing fully upright, perpendicular to the transom. There is a rudder indicator on the engine display, and I found myself checking that routinely when running test boats from Boston Whaler, Formula, Tiara and Valhalla.

By going with this system, Mercury eliminates any mounted steering which cleans up the transom. The company also claims that it’s easier on the steering since it’s not moving the entire 1,260-pound engine, just the lower unit. There’s also a wider range of motion for tighter turning at low speeds. A typical outboard will swing 30 degrees in one direction or the other. Mercury says the steering on the 600 Verado can pivot up to 45 degrees.

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That moving gear case is spinning dual, contra-rotating props with a four-blade prop in the front and a three-blade prop in the rear. The props come in various pitches and diameters up to 18 inches depending on the boat. 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 boats spin and track sideways with relative ease, and you don’t hear any clunks as it shifts. I also found that when you trim the bow down you can really hop along in reverse.

I think it’s safe to say that the boats Mercury brought to Lake X, it’s longtime testing facility in central Florida, were by far the largest vessels this relatively small, tannic colored body of water has ever seen. The top speeds of the test boats were nothing short of mind-numbing. The Valhalla V-46 hit 64 knots with quad 600s. We raised one of the engines up out of the water on the Valhalla to see what she’d do with a triple configuration. The boat didn’t skip a beat. It hopped up on plane quickly and got up to 57 knots. I tested this same boat just two weeks prior with quad 450R Mercury Racing outboards. That boat topped out at 60 knots.

The Formula 500 SSC was the biggest boat I tested. With quad 600s, the 47,000-pound vessel accelerated to 26 knots in less than 13 seconds and topped out at nearly 60 knots. The Tiara 48 LS, a 32,000-pound hull with triple 600s, hit 17 knots in 5 seconds and had a top end of 52 knots. The Tiara’s fuel burn at wide open was 150 gph.

When I asked Becker about the maintenance schedule on the new 600s, he told me it was actually less demanding than Mercury’s smaller outboards. The 600 won’t need its first routine upkeep for 200 hours, but that’s not even the best part. To conduct that work, you just have to open the 600’s hood. Yes, it has a hood. With a push of a button the top of the cowling raises up slowly on a gas strut and reveals access to neatly arranged, color-coded fluid fills and dipsticks. You can drain and fill the gear lube and transmission fluid right from the top of the motor without having to take the boat out of the water. The cowling doesn’t need to come off till you hit five years or 1,000 hours. And although it’s a giant cowling, it only weighs 44 pounds.

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I’m not going to lie, I had a fun day running the new 600s. They’re quiet and powerful. With the instant throttle response you feel like a drag racer putting the hammer down. Mercury said it spent five years developing these engines, and I believe it. But all innovation comes at a price. The 600 Verado retails in the range of $77,000. The first 600s will be available in late spring.

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