During the past decade outboard engines have grown dramatically in size, popularity, and reliability, with technological advancements so important that the once-settled two-stroke versus four-stroke debate has been re-opened, alternative fuel outboards have become a viable option, and significant benefits like joystick steering are now a consideration. So, how will you know which outboard to choose? Truth be told there aren’t many “bad” options on the market these days, but there certainly are some stand-outs that warrant some added attention. So before you make any moves, be sure to check out these 10 best-of-the-best outboard engines.
Small portable outboards don’t get a lot of emphasis from manufacturers since they represent a tiny part of the bottom line, but one that got a full technical overhaul just a year ago was the Honda BF6 (also available in four and five HP models). The engine’s update was the first in 20 years, and Honda gave it features like a decompression mechanism that opens the exhaust valves when the recoil starter is engaged (for easier pull starting), an ECU that monitors oil pressure, and a vibration-isolating mount. We tested it on a 14-foot jon boat and this little eggbeater managed to bring it on plane and hit speeds in the mid-teens.
See our written and video reviews of the BF4, BF5, and BF6.
In 2014 when the new Suzuki DF25 hit the market, it was the very first outboard of its size to incorporate battery-less EFI. This enables reliable one- to two-tug starting—for real. We tested one for an entire season and never ever had to pull the starter cord a third time. EFI also improves fuel efficiency. But perhaps the biggest advantage to eliminating the carburetor is that the closed pressurized system doesn’t leave any fuel exposed to the air, which eliminates most of the ethanol issues that plague small carbureted engines.
The DF25 also has a unique air intake system which improves performance; check out a video by our Outboard Expert of the Suzuki 25 and 30 outboards to learn more.
Another strong contender in the 25 horsepower class is the Yamaha F25. One of our contributors spent a day running the F25 and as you can see in the test and review video, it actually offers peak performance at the top of the RPM range. At 5500 RPM it burns a mere 1.8 GPH and on the AlumaCraft Escape 145 test boat, cruised along at 12.1 MPH. Most outboards of this size get run for extended periods at or near wide-open throttle, so this high-end efficiency is a big deal. On top of that, the F25 has battery-less EFI and weighs 136 pounds, making it the lightest 25 HP outboard currently on the market.
Find out more about all the newest Yamaha outboard models in The Outboard Expert: New F25, F75, F90 Outboards from Yamaha.
Three years ago Mercury rolled out a new 2.1-liter outboard in 75, 90, and 115 HP ratings, and these engines have close to the most displacement in their class while keeping weight at the lowest end of the class. At 359 pounds, in fact, it under-cuts the older 1.7-liter Mercury offerings by 40 pounds. Our Outboard Expert Charles Pluddeman described these engines as running “sewing-machine smooth,” and according to Mercury, an amazing 17,000 testing hours went into developing these outboards.
Read Mercury Debuts All-new 75 HP, 90 HP, and 115 HP FourStroke Outboards.
Torqeedo Deep Blue
The Torqeedo Deep Blue is an electric outboard which marks this well-known manufacturer’s first attempt at building a mid-sized outboard, with a 60-watt power output that produces thrust approximately equal to an 80 HP gasoline outboard. The advantages of running on all electric are obvious: there’s no exhaust, little noise, no gasoline purchases nor fuel tank to fill, it produces full torque at all speeds, and has no service costs. It is an expensive package—although the engine itself lists at under $20,000 you’ll also have to buy a number of $15,000 lithium-ion battery packs—and battery weight (328 pounds per pack) is significant. But it’s also a serious leap forward in the world of electric outboards. Four battery packs provide five to seven hours of cruising, which gives the Deep Blue range comparable to a gasoline-powered outboard.
See our review and video of the Torqeedo Deep Blue.
Suzuki’s DF90 is a bit long in the tooth, but in this case that’s a good thing—because one of our contributors has owned a pair for eight years, put over 2,000 on them, and reports that in this entire time all he’s had to do is regular maintenance and replacing the AIC valves (an inexpensive, simple repair). If you want the ultimate in reliability when it comes to 90 horsepower four-stroke outboards, the Suzuki DF90 is a clear winner.
We don’t have a full review of the DF90, but you can see the pair we were talking about in action in our Boating Tips: Docking a Twin Engine Powerboat video.
Yamaha V-Max SHO 115
In the 115 HP class we love the Yamaha V-Max 115 SHO, a juiced version of their uber-reliable and time-tested 1.8L F115. The V-Max model spins 5300 – 6300 RPM (as opposed to 5000 – 6000 for the F115) thanks to revised camshafts, a re-mapped ECU, and electronically-controlled throttle. As a point of comparison, that shakes out to an additional 2.7 MPH at top-end on a Skeeter TZX 170 bass boat. Industry standards allow for horsepower ratings with a plus or minus deviation of up to 10-percent, and our Outboard Expert Charles Pluddeman surmised that the SHO version may actually produce as much as 126 horsepower at top-end.
Read Outboard Expert: Yamaha V Max SHO 115 to learn more.
Evinrude ETEC G2
A few years back Evinrude introduced their new line of DFI two-strokes, called the G2. These started out at 200, 225, 250, and 300 HP models in a 3.4 liter package, and then were complemented with 150, 175, and 200 HP models built around a 2.7 liter powerhead. We’re including the entire batch here as one of the top 10, because the entire G2 line has some rather awesome advantages. They have a power hydraulic helix steering system built in; rigging and mounting is self-contained and much slicker than usual; systems are all digital; gearcase lube can be visually inspected via a reservoir; and regular maintenance is greatly reduced with a five-year, 500 hour stretch between visits to the dealer. Perhaps most shocking is that in test after test, we’ve seen a fuel efficiency advantage ranging between 10 and 15 percent as compared to four-strokes. And while they still aren’t as quiet as those near-silent four-strokes, just in the past year Evinrude has managed to re-engineer out a significant amount of the volume.
For more information on the 150, 175, and 200 HP models read BRP Debuts New 2.7-Liter Evinrude E-TEC G2 Outboards. To read more about the 3.4-liter versions, read New Evinrude E-TEC G2 outboards.
When it comes to four-stroke outboards used to power mid- to large-sized boats, the ubiquitous Yamaha F250 is the hands-down favorite of boaters across the nation. In fact it’s become something of an icon, powering fishing boats, cruiser, and even large pontoons as well as everything in between. This 4.2-liter powerhead has been around for close to a decade and has proven itself with unbeatable reliability in countless situations on countless transoms.
To learn more, check out Yamaha Reveals New 4.2 Liter V6 Model. This may be an old article, but it’s still accurate and in this case, the engine’s age proves its worth beyond any question.
Suzuki shocked the marine world when it rolled out the DF350A, a 4.4-liter V6 which is not only the most powerful Suzuki has ever offered, but also has contra-rotating propellers. These are counter-rotating props spinning on a single shaft, and they give the lower unit gobs of bite to harness every bit of torque and get large, heavy boats on plane quickly. The arrangement is so effective that engine trim has little impact on hole-shot, and although this engine is barley a year old, early reports are of customers wearing wide grins at all times.
Check out Suzuki DF350A Twin Propeller Outboard Engine Introduced to learn more.
While we said we’d tell you about these 10 best outboards, we can’t let you go without covering two more powerplants which have an important place in this discussion. First is the Seven Marine 627, the world’s largest outboard. This is also the world’s most expensive outboard (prices vary depending on options and paint jobs but breaking the 100K mark isn’t uncommon) and there were some early reports of corrosion issues, so we hesitate to bump one of these other proven contenders to get the Seven Marine on the list. However, Volvo Penta bought Seven Marine last year and the company has a deep well of knowledge when it comes to marinizing GM blocks. As a result, expectations are high for the future of Seven Marine’s offerings.
The other item we can’t let pass us by is the recent Mercury V-6 FourStroke Outboard debut in Miami, at the 2018 Miami International Boat Show. These 3.4-liter engines are available in 175, 200, and 225 HP models, and unlike the Verados which they share the stage with, are naturally aspirated. These are the lightest models of their size, have Adaptive Speed Control (to maintain RPM regardless of load or wave conditions) and a service hatch in the cowl for easy access. If they’d been on the market for any significant period at the time of this writing we think they may well have made the top 10. But without any sort of track record to point to, we simply can’t give them a spot yet. Stay tuned, though, because a year or two of experience with these new FourStroke models may well cause a juggling of the list the next time it comes to naming the 10 best outboard engines.
For more information about different outboard models, makes, and sizes, be sure to peruse our Engines & Parts Reviews pages.