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Swedish Renaissance

We traveled to Gothenburg, Sweden to test Volvo Penta’s new-gen D4 and D6 powerplants and got a sneak peek of an electrified future.

The updated Aquamatic sterndrive features a standard hydraulic clutch and fly-by-wire steering.

The updated Aquamatic sterndrive features a standard hydraulic clutch and fly-by-wire steering.

The waterfront of Gothenburg’s Lindholmen district was abuzz. Ferries picked up and dropped off passengers, many of whom pedaled off to their next destination or walked to the nearby hybrid bus line. As I ambled along, I passed a fully autonomous, self-driving bus—now in its second year of operation—and a tech company with a fleet of electric, Volvo SUVs which will soon take to the streets as the world’s first large-scale pilot project in autonomous driving.

It was crystal clear: The future is now in Sweden. And the Volvo Group is leading the charge with a vision to become the world leader in sustainable power solutions.

Here in Gothenburg, in a region that plans to be carbon neutral well before the rest of the world, is Volvo Penta HQ. I was invited not just to sea trial the company’s new D4 and D6 powerplants, but also to get a glimpse of the innovation that Volvo Penta hopes will propel us into the future.

I arrived at the company’s testing facility on the Gothenburg Archipelago via electric bus and learned how Volvo Penta’s way forward is through their total helm-to-prop solutions. “We are a company built by boat dreamers [to] get out there and experience nature,” Volvo Penta President Johan Inden told the assembled journalists. “After a decade of building a platform and integrating technology, easy boating is our way forward.”

With this in mind, they’ve updated their proven Electronic Vessel Control—with an all-new architecture including On-Board Maintenance Assistant—that informs users of service dates, faster software downloads and improved diagnostics, all through a single connection point. CTO Peter Granqvist then spoke of the company’s approach to keep investing in disruptive tech, working toward “the integration of systems for a fully connected experience” by leveraging the parent company’s innovations and experience to make boating even easier.

A refined dynamic positioning system and bird’s-eye view cameras look to take Volvo Penta’s assisted docking system to full automation in the near future.

A refined dynamic positioning system and bird’s-eye view cameras look to take Volvo Penta’s assisted docking system to full automation in the near future.

Volvo Penta’s Easy Connect app allows the user to view engine data, access maps and navigate a trip computer, with a variety of alerts and the ability to communicate with the dealer for service issues. I got a look at the new engines that can be matched to IPS, Aquamatic sterndrive, shaft and waterjet installations. 85 percent of the powerplants have been reengineered with stronger, more robust materials. New fuel injection and fuel management systems equals better efficiency, with an updated air cooler and a redesigned supercharger giving the engines a better power-to-weight ratio. For an easy repower, both the D4 and D6 blocks maintain the near-exact footprint and weight of the ones they will replace.

Following 40,000 hours of testing, the engines have shown to be more reliable and fuel efficient, with better performance. They will be more powerful as well, with the 3.7-liter D4 now topping out at 320 hp and a high rating of 480 hp for the 5.5-liter D6. Also, expect less maintenance on those engines, with longer periods between service intervals. For example, the crankcase gas separator was once a service point with a filter that had to be changed out; it’s been replaced with a system that lasts the engine’s lifetime. And don’t go looking for that oil dipstick—levels will now be checked on your MFD. Again, easier boating. Another interesting note: Both the D4 and D6 are built at the company’s Vara engine plant, a carbon-neutral facility.

After multiple land-based presentations, it was time to take on choppy seas and 30-knot gusts to sea trial the new powerplants on a variety of vessels: a 33-foot Sargo with twin sterndrives matched to the largest D4s and a pair of 46-footers from Jeanneau and Prestige with straight shafts and IPS drives, respectively, and 480-hp engines. The vessels were a joy to pilot, with pinpoint control, a fine turn of speed and the ability to get out of the hole and onto plane fast. The Garmin Glass Cockpit helm station displays were easy to read—all the vital info was there in a sensible layout. With new, matte gray binnacles and joystick control—the chrome touches have been updated for a more environmentally friendly material—and joystick docking and driving, dynamic positioning and autopilot integration, it certainly should make boating more accessible and less daunting to someone with less experience, or for a helmsman in unfamiliar waters.

We also got a glimpse of the future aboard a 68-foot Azimut equipped with assisted docking, the company’s self-docking system. Then a sneak peek—no cameras, please—at an all-electric IPS drivetrain that will soon undergo extensive testing. The drives are coupled to a reduction gear, each then connected to two electric motors, battery banks and a heat exchanger for cooling.

Speaking of testing, an all-electric ferry will be on the water all summer, serving Gothenburg commuters. It will utilize proven components from the company’s on-road division, marinized for the marine segment. With a known route, overnight fast charging is easier to manage. The company believes that fast charging will be the last piece of the electrified puzzle, preceded by advances that they’ve already achieved in hybrid and full-electric power.

The Volvo Penta team assured us that a complete integrated hybrid IPS package is coming. They just didn’t tell us when. Backed by the massive R&D that is the Volvo Group, you can be sure it’s going to be sooner than later.

This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.