Honda Struts Its Stuff!

The final instalment of our ground-breaking engine testing program sees Honda’s brand spanking new BF200 four-stroke take on its 200hp rivals. By Jim Harnwell

AS detailed in previous editions, Boat Fishing has embarked on an ambitious testing schedule which has seen a range of 200hp outboards fitted to the Fishing World Stabi-Craft 659 Super Cab project boat and tested for between 20-50 hours. The aim of this project is to provide an independent and unbiased perspective on the pros and cons of the various outboard options available. So far we’ve put the E-TEC 200 H.O. and the Yamaha F200 (Note – this engine has since been superseded) to the test (see full report in the February 2009 edition) and we compared those engines with Suzuki’s DF 200 in the June 2009 issue. This was followed in August 2009 by Mercury’s Optimax DFI 200. This year’s February issue saw Mercury’s unique supercharged Verado four-stroke take on its 200hp rivals. Now Honda’s brand new BF200 is the final engine tested.

The Honda @ 28 hours
Honda launched its new BF200 late last year. Fisho was the first Aussie fishing mag to get hold of one of these new donks and give it a serious workout. So what’s our opinion after 28 hours spent driving the engine in inshore and offshore fishing scenarios? Well, this is one sweet thing!

The Honda represents the new breed of four-stroke outboards. Smaller, lighter and much more responsive than traditional outboards, the new generation four-strokes compete with DI two-strokes in offering excellent performance and fuel economy.

The new Honda BF200 is a 3.5 litre V6 24 valve single overhead camshaft engine with a narrow 60 degree “v” profile. This gives the engine cowl a slightly “wedgy” look, but cuts the bulk and weight of long intake runners and multi-camshafts.

The test unit runs an 18-inch SS four-blade Solas prop and was installed by Amara Boats, on the NSW South Coast. At just over 28 hours of use involving bay and offshore fishing, the Honda has proven to be a smooth and powerful modern outboard. Like all the other test engines, the Honda has proven 100 per cent reliable in regards to starting, although when you turn the key the engine turns over twice before actually firing up. This is in contrast to other engines (such as the Verado, E-TEC and Optimax) which start immediately when you turn the key.

Responsiveness and general performance is on a par with the other engines tested. Like all the four-strokes tested, the Honda doesn’t have the “rip off your head” instant acceleration of the E-TEC 200 H.O. (which remains, in my view, the clear leader in regards to power to weight ratio) but it is certainly no slow poke, especially out of the hole. In my view, the Honda demonstrated the smoothest progression from stationary to planing – there was no abrupt surge of power as you find with DI two-strokes, nor was there any sense of “wallowing” or “winding up” – just a very smooth progression up out of the water until you were cruising along. Like the other engines tested, the Honda boasts a comprehensive digital engine data system via two dedicated gauges. After coming from the innovative SmartCraft system used by Mercury’s Verado and Optimax, I thought the Honda’s gauges were a bit fiddly but all the info – RPM, speed, fuel use etc – was readily available. Oddly enough, the gauges wouldn’t record fuel use at neutral or idle – the engine would only be using a litre or two an hour at most but I would have thought the software would have been sensitive enough to record usage.

Honda uses technology generated by its world-class automotive division in its marine engines. The BF 200’s engine is actually based on that used in Honda’s Acura NSX sports car. The 200 features what Honda calls “Lean Burn Control” to “automatically adjust the engine’s air/fuel mix according to speed and load for maximum fuel efficiency in cruise mode”.

A new feature on this engine is Honda’s much-vaunted “Boosted Low Speed Torque”, aka BLAST. This, according to Honda, “dramatically improves holeshot and acceleration by advancing ignition spark timing to within one degree of the knock limit during ‘hammer down’ acceleration. The Engine Control Module (ECM) then steps in to increase injector timing, creating a more potent air/fuel mixture. The resulting boost in available torque at low rpm contributes to a strong holeshot to get the boat up on plane quickly. The ignition spark timing is appropriately adjusted under slower throttle advancement, ensuring a leaner air/fuel mix and class-leading fuel efficiency”.

Cool-sounding anachronisms aside, the tweaking and refining of engines is the reason four-strokes are becoming more responsive, more compact and much lighter than in previous years. Mercury went for supercharger technology with its Verado; Suzuki and Honda have played with torque, gearing, timing and so on; and Yamaha is releasing an updated range of new-age four-strokes which reportedly offer similar levels of performance and technology. Interestingly, the Yamaha F200, tested more than a year ago, is the sole example of “old” four-stroke technology. It was big, heavy, slow and unresponsive compared to the other engines tested. But it was great on fuel and very quiet. The challenge for Yamaha – and the other four-strokes – is to keep the quietness and fuel economy traditionally associated with four-stroke technology on their new engines and also to equal or better the power-to-weight performance benefits of new age DI two-strokes. 

Performance observations
• Like the other engines tested so far, the Honda maintains speed in a variety of ocean conditions without having to adjust the throttle (ie, minimal surges in a following sea).

• GPS measured top speed at WOT in calm water was 40 knots; the Optimax and the E-TEC both recorded 42 knots in the same conditions; the Suzuki 40 knots; and Yamaha recorded 37 knots. A top speed of over 35 knots is more than adequate, in Fisho’s view, for any offshore fishing boat. Interestingly, the Honda required a lot of positive trim to achieve high speeds/revs. This is probably because of the big four-blade prop.

• The Honda ranks with the Suzuki in being very quiet at idle and low speed. Engine noise at WOT is about the same for all five engines tested so far. The Honda and Suzuki are the quietest engines tested, followed by the Verado, the Yammie, the E-TEC and then the Optimax.

Ease of use
There are some differences between all the engines tested relating to ease of use.

• I found the Honda’s gearbox to be fairly stiff and it was occasionally hard to find neutral. I didn’t like the positioning of the trim button on top of the control lever. As far as the other engines were concerned, the E-TEC had by far the smoothest gear shift, with the Suzuki being less “clunky” than the Yammie and the Optimax. The Verado’s DTS shift was surprisingly “clunky” going in and out of gear, although it was very smooth and responsive when engaged.

• The Honda’s tilt/trim hydraulic system matches the Suzuki and E-TEC in being marginally quieter than that on the Yammie and the Optimax. The Verado’s tilt/trim system was surprisingly noisy.

• At low revs/idle, the Verado, Optimax,  Suzuki and Yamaha vibrate slightly, causing a rattle in the portside cabin window. This is not evident with the E-TEC or the Honda. It needs to be noted that the Verado’s innovative electric-hydraulic steering system would negate any rattle or vibration from the engine, but this was not fitted to the test boat.

• There are no noticeable fumes or smoke from any of the four-strokes, but the E-TEC and the Opti sometimes produced a burnt oil smell when trolling with the wind.

• All four engines feature innovative engine and fuel data systems to provide incredibly accurate fuel use and engine system information via dedicated gauges. Mercury’s SmartCraft system available with the Verado (and the previously tested Optimax) is particularly informative and easy to use. The Verado and the Opti engine management systems can also be used with Northstar units and, as from just recently, any NMEA 2000 compatible unit. As noted above, the Honda’s gauges did not record fuel use at idle.

 • All the engines tested have factory backed warranties. Honda offers a five-year warranty with the BF200. All the engines tested comply with the latest international pollution control regulations. Like the Yamaha, Suzuki, E-TEC and Verado, the Honda is CARB 3 star, rated as “ultra low emission”.

Size & weight
Despite being a relatively compact size, at 267kg dry the Honda weighs only two kilos less than the Yammie. The Verado is the lightest of the four-strokes tested so far, coming in at 231kg dry. The Optimax is the lightest and most compact engine all up. At 225kg dry weight, it is 42 kilos lighter than the Honda, 44 kilos lighter than the Yamaha, 38 kilos lighter than the Suzuki, 13 kilos less than the DI two-stroke E-TEC and 6kg less than Verado.

Fuel & oil
The Honda used 16.8 LPH in the key “cruise” rev range of 3000rpm, compared to the class-leading Verado using 14.2 LPH. The Honda beats Suzuki, which used 18.9LPH at 3000rpm. At 4000rpm (25.91L per hour) the Suzuki beats Honda (27.4) and Verado (27.5LPH).

In the same rev ranges, the Yamaha records 27.7 and 30.5 LPH, the E-TEC 29 and 44 LPH and the Optimax 22.5 and 40LPH.  The E-TEC retains its lead in the low rev range of idle and 1000rpm (slow trolling/jigging) while the Yamaha just retains its superiority at Wide Open Throttle (WOT), beating the Honda by a miniscule .9 of a litre, the Suzuki by almost 5 litres, the E-TEC by 14 litres, the Opti by 11.5 litres and the Verado by 12.5 litres. The E-TEC and Opti share the No.1 position for top end speed at 42 knots. The Honda, Verado and the Suzuki are neck to neck at about 40 knots while the Yammie maxed out at 37 knots. The Verado holds the No.1 spot at the marlin trolling speed, using 7.1 LPH at 2000rpm and 8.8 knots. The DI two-strokes previously held this benchmark performance figure with the Opti using 8.6LPH at 1900RPM and 8 knots compared to the E-TEC’s  9.6 LPH at 1800rpm and 8 knots.  The Verado beats the Yamaha by 5.5LPH and the Suzuki by 3.7LPH. The Honda used 10.8 litres at 8 knots and 2350rpm.

Based on these figures, we maintain our previously published view that none of the engines tested so far has a significant advantage in regards to fuel use when used in typical offshore fishing scenarios.  Most boats either troll or travel at a cruise of about 20-25 knots – it’s rare you can go flat out for extended periods out at sea – so average use between long periods spent trolling and shorter periods spent travelling would, in our view, see overall fuel use to be similar. The Yammie would offer benefits if you travel more than you troll and vice versa with the E-TEC and Opti if you troll more than you travel. The Honda, Verado and the Suzuki are impressive in that they perform well across the board, especially at cruise speeds. All six engines use significantly less fuel than a traditional two-stroke 200hp outboard.

• An important point to note is that the above performance and fuel data has been compiled using different propellers on each test engine: a 17-inch high cup on the E-TEC, a 19-incher on the Yammie, a 21-incher on the Suzuki, a 19-incher on both the Opti and the Verado and a 19-inch four-blader on the Honda. Engine performance, speed and fuel use can vary radically depending on the prop used. The props used in our tests were selected by dealers and manufacturers to provide what they regarded as “typical” offshore fishing boat performance. Fishing World invited all manufacturers involved to thoroughly “prop” the boat to ensure maximum performance. The above data needs to be assessed with that in mind. Consideration also needs to be given to engine performance/speed at stated RPMs. For example, one engine may be going slower or faster than another at the same RPM and thus using differing amounts of fuel.

• All three engines have been operated with 91 octane unleaded fuel with fuel data for the E-TEC and Yamaha provided by NMEA 2000 connections between engine EMMs and a Lowrance X37c sounder/chartplotter for maximum accuracy. The DF200 was tested using an interface with Suzuki engine management data on a laptop computer operated by a Suzuki technician, the Optimax and Verado via the SmartCraft gauges and the Honda by its proprietary gauges.

See comparison chart below for detailed fuel use data.
• The Honda, Yammie, Suzuki and Verado offer a benefit over the E-TEC and the Optimax in that as four-stroke they have wet sumps and thus don’t require the addition of expensive XD100 or OptiMax/DFI Synthetic Blend 2-Cycle Outboard Oil, the synthetic DI two-stroke oils recommended for use with E-TECs and Optimax engines. Both of these oils are expensive, retailing for about $65 for four litres (or more than $16 a litre).

• The cost of oil needs to be considered when comparing fuel use between DI two-strokes such as Evinrude’s E-TEC and Mercury’s Optimax and their four-stroke competitors. The DI engines use very little oil compared to traditional two-strokes, but the cost of the new-age synthetic oils is far more than what you’d pay for a bottle of standard marine two-stroke oil. Our data indicates that the Fisho E-TEC used about 330ml of XD100, worth about $5.20, per 100 litres of fuel with the Opti recording similar figures.

• The Suzuki requires about eight litres of engine oil when the sump oil is changed annually or once every 100 hours. Based on current prices for engine oils, this involves a cost of about $70 (or $9 a litre). The Yamaha and Verado both require six litres each service (about $54 worth of oil). The Honda requires 7.8 litres (about $70 worth of oil).

Evinrude’s main claim to fame is that its E-TEC engines only require servicing once every three years, or 300 hours. This gives the Canadian outboard company a significant advantage over its competitors in regards to savings on servicing costs and reducing time off the water.

The Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Optimax and Verado all require an initial 20 hour service and then a service once a year or every 100 hours.

A typical 300 hour E-TEC service would cost about $550 (including impeller change), Nowra-based E-TEC specialist Noel Hill, from Dave Hill Marine, said. According to South Coast Yamaha dealer Abby’s Autos & Marine, a 100 hour service on an F200 would be about $450 (not including impeller). An annual service for the Suzuki is also about $450 (including impeller), according to Suzuki. An annual Opti service would be about $530, according to the service guys at Nowra Marine. A Verado service would cost $545 (including impellor), according to Mercury. Gavin Daly, of Sydney Honda dealer Webbe Marine, said the BF200 would cost around $650 to service in the first year (plus parts).

Extrapolated over a three-year period, the Verado would cost $1635 to maintain, both the Yamaha F200 and Suzuki DF200 would cost about $1350, the Opti would set you back about $1590 and the Honda around $1550. An E-TEC would cost $550, resulting in an $800 saving over both the Yamaha and the Suzuki and more than a grand over the Optimax, Verado and Honda.

You need to think about oil use, however, when considering these figures. The $50-$70 of oil used in a year by the Yammie, Suzuki and Verado is included in the above service cost but DI engines’ oil use isn’t.

Sum up
Like most of the other outboards tested, the Honda BF200 is an impressive engine. Overall performance is excellent and its quietness and lack of fumes makes it very pleasant to use. It’s hard, in fact almost impossible, to fault this prime example of Japanese outboard technology.

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