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Outboard Versus Sterndrive

Which marine engine is best for you?

March 9, 2018

We will always jump at the opportunity to test two identical boats with different propulsion systems. Here, we pit a Sea Ray SPX 230 powered by a 250 hp MerCruiser 4.5 MPI ECT sterndrive against a Sea Ray SPX 230 with a 200 hp Mercury Verado 200 Pro outboard to find the answers.

Outboard Versus Sterndrive
The outboard costs more, but it is lighter, ran quieter and is more corrosion-resistant. Mercury Marine

Performance/Handling Apples to apples, outboards typically hold a performance advantage. Credit power-to-weight ratio. The Verado weighs in at 635 pounds; the MerCruiser 4.5 tips the scale at 761, plus 148 pounds for its Bravo Three drive. Though the sterndrive holds an edge in ­horsepower (250 versus 200), the outboard’s weight advantage and its location helped the outboard 230 plane in 3.8 seconds. The sterndrive leveled off in 5.9. The outboard also proved faster to 30 mph, reaching that benchmark in 6.9 seconds versus the sterndrive’s 8.1 seconds. Top speed favored the more powerful sterndrive. It peaked at 45.8 mph; the outboard 43 mph. As to handling, cornering was agile and precise on both, with neither scrubbing off significant speed when pushed hard-over.

Outboard Versus Sterndrive
The sterndrive costs less, allows for a broad swim platform and delivered better efficiency. Mercury Marine

Layout Both SPX models feature an identical L-shaped bench/sun-pad combo in their cockpits, with a portside transom ­walk-through. That walk-through is left open aboard the sterndrive; on the outboard, a gate and filler cushion close off platform access. The big difference lies below that sun pad. The sterndrive occupies much of the compartment, leaving ­segmented storage to starboard. The outboard uses the entire space as a 4-foot-6-inch-by-2-foot-by-2-foot-6-inch locker. Aft, the sterndrive features one uninterrupted 8-foot-6-inch swim platform. The outboard divides the platform, flanking the motorwell with two 2-foot-6-inch sections.

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Outboard Versus Sterndrive
The sterndrive is faster at WOT and features an open transom walk. Sea Ray Boats

Economy At identical cruising speeds of 28.8 mph, the sterndrive proved more efficient, consuming 7.1 gph and achieving 4.0 mpg. In contrast, the outboard burned 9.4 gph, achieving 3.1 mpg. At its 43 mph peak, the outboard spun 6,500 rpm and burned 20.9 gph. The sterndrive topped out at 45.8 mph at 5,100 rpm, burning 18.8 gph. Low speeds, however, favored the outboard. At 1,500 rpm, the sterndrive burned 2.2 gph at 5.7 mph; the outboard burned only 1.8 gph while running 6.8 mph.

Outboard Versus Sterndrive
The outboard offers more stowage and a gated transom walk. Mercury Marine

Price The sterndrive version of this Sea Ray is less expensive, listing at $56,060 with its Bravo Three sterndrive, a $2,000 upgrade over the base-model Alpha drive. The outboard version retails for $61,267, of which $9,667 went to the upgraded Verado 200 Pro (which includes power steering and other goodies) over the base Mercury 150.

Outboard Versus Sterndrive
Each power option offers its own set of benefits. Boating Magazine

X Factors Other considerations? The outboard proved quieter by 4 dBA at cruising speed and 10 dBA at full throttle. An outboard can also be fully trimmed out of the water to avoid corrosion, is less prone to internal corrosion, doesn’t require ventilation prior to starting, is easier/less expensive to service/winterize, and can more easily be upgraded or replaced. The sterndrive’s ­greatest advantage is positioning. It tucks the prop under the swim platform, so it isn’t in the way for tow sports or while hanging out at the cove. Sterndrives offer clear sightlines aft, while you can see which way an outboard is turned by looking at it.

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