Small outboard engines usually don’t grab headlines, which are dominated big powerhouses like the Mercury Verado 400R or the Seven Marine 627. But when Suzuki introduced their new DF15A and DF20A three years ago our Outboard Expert, Charles Plueddeman, did bring you the news in New Fuel-Injected Suzuki DF15A and DF20A Offer Easy Starting. Why? Because these engines weren’t mere re-hashes of other small outboard designs; they were a new design that incorporated a number of features and parts never before seen on a portable outboard this small.
One of the most significant advances was incorporating EFI. Previously, EFI had only made it down to the 25 HP size, and only with one manufacturer (Mercury). The others stopped at 40 horses. And EFI offers a long list of significant advantages: easier starting, better fuel economy, and perhaps most important these days, vastly reducing ethanol issues. Since fuel in the EFI system isn’t exposed to air and remains pressurized at all times, it doesn’t deteriorate and gunk things up the way the fuel sitting in a carburetor does. But to make EFI for an outboard this small, Suzuki had to miniaturize the injectors, high-pressure fuel pump, fuel cooler, and vapor separator. And, as Plueddeman put it at the end of his article, “Time will tell if this EFI system is durable and trouble-free.”
Well, time has told—I’ve now been using a DF15A on my crabbing skiff and duck hunting boats for three solid years. This engine has been shuffled back and forth between the transoms of the two boats, getting around 150 hours of use during the warm months of the year and 50 hours of use during the late fall and winter. It’s been thoroughly abused, as is often the case with a small portable outboard used for diverse purposes. It’s been abruptly shut down by running over a trot-line; it’s been rained and snowed on; it’s been run hard aground in mud, sand, and marsh; it’s been operated at or near full-throttle virtually every time it’s been used; and it’s been run on month-old, regular octane ethanol gas.
This motor has not yet (knocking on wood, here) seen the inside of a service center. It has needed zero service, beyond regular oil changes and one water pump rebuild. It has never once left me or my kids stranded at the dock or on the water—yes, that’s right, I let my teenage kids use this engine on a regular basis. And while I haven’t recorded each and every pull on the cord, my best guess is that it starts on the first tug 90 percent of the time, the second tug nine percent of the time, and the third tug once in a blue moon.
That easy, reliable starting is the real high point of this motor, especially when one considers how regularly small four-stroke carburetors get clogged up with ethanol gunk. Sure, EFI is also more fuel efficient than carbs, but the truth of the matter is that an engine this small barely sips down any fuel in the first place, so it's not much of a factor. In the case of the DF15A, I shake the three gallon remote tank every few trips and when it feels light, fill ‘er up. On average, maybe it burns out a half a gallon of gas during an afternoon of crabbing or on an eight to 10 mile round-trip to the duck blind.
Of course, no outboard engine is perfect, and there are a couple areas where I’ve noted room for improvement. The adjustable tiller steer tensioner, which allows you to change how much force it takes to turn the engine, vibrates loose through the course of a day and requires regular re-adjustment. And the shift linkage requires a very exact setting; it took me a dozen or so adjustments to get the engine shifting properly again, after pulling the lower unit for the water pump change.
That’s it. I’m not sure I’ve ever run a small outboard—or any outboard, for that matter—for an extended period of time with so few complaints.
You want the specs? The DF15A comes in 15” and 20” shaft lengths, with or without electric start, weighs 97 pounds, and displaces 327cc. A remote-control kit is optional. Current pricing for the DF15AS (short-shaft, base motor) starts at around $3,300.
Sure, the DF15A has a list of other features Suzuki likes to talk about. There’s lean-burn, which leans out the air/fuel mixture in the mid-range. It’s a few pounds lighter than its main competitors. It has a low-oil caution light. But truth be told, a 15 horse portable is simple and small enough that all of this stuff pales in comparison to plain old easy starting and reliability.
Thanks for breaking the news, Plueddeman. And now that time has done its thing, we have the rest of the story.
For more information, visit Suzuki Marine.