Mercury Racing unleashed a new 500-hp monster to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
By Gregg Mansfield
Continuing to celebrate its 50th anniversary, Mercury Racing in June released the new 500R outboard and two drives for the V8 package during a gala in Charleston, South Carolina.
The supercharged 500-hp outboard is the second major product launch this year from Mercury Racing, following the 400R V10 outboard that debuted at the 2023 Miami International Boat Show.
Taking more than three years to develop, the 500R has a host of new features including a new crankshaft, a beefier midsection and humidity compensation technology.
“We’re really proud of this flagship. We’ve got two nice, normally aspirated engines (the 300R and 400R) and now when you go to the 500R you get that supercharged performance,” said Stuart Halley, Mercury Racing’s general manager, after the curtain dropped on the new outboard. “We needed a new gearcase, our team took the challenge, and they invented the R-Drive.”
In on-water testing, the 500R delivered more midrange power and better top-end speed with an additional 50 horsepower.
The event featured the who’s who of the high-performance industry. Attending the Mercury Racing event in Charleston’s historic district. A few of the attendees included industry legends Peter Hledin of Skater Powerboats, Mystic Powerboats’ John Cosker, Marine Technology’s Randy Scism and TNT Custom Marine’s John Tomlinson.
Representing the West Coast builders were Eliminator Boats’ Jake Fraleigh and DCB Racing’s Jeff Johnston and Tony Chiaramonte.
According to Mercury Racing, the 500R delivers more than 500 horsepower, 50 more horsepower and 10 percent higher torque than the 450R model. Its 4.6-liter 64-degree V8 FourStroke powerhead is boosted by a Mercury Racing supercharger. The engine runs on a minimum of 89-octane fuel.
To handle the power, Mercury Racing upgraded the powerhead, cooling system, midsection and steering system. Engineers developed a new gearcase specifically for the 500R outboard dubbed the R-Drive.
The R-Drive, available in a base or sport variant, features a crescent leading edge and long aspect torpedo hydrodynamically tuned for high speeds, according to Mercury Racing. The new 5.9-inch gearcase can accommodate propellers up to 17 inches in diameter, one inch larger than the 450R gearcase. Both drives are designed for semi-surfacing or full-surfacing applications, and a 1:60:1 gear ratio.
“That is a new gearcase from scratch, just for this product,” said Chris Jenks, Mercury Racing’s technical development manager for the 500R. “It’s a larger input shaft, it’s a larger prop shaft, it’s larger internals, larger bearings. We really focused on the water pickups and the hydrodynamics.”
The 500R features the first humidity compensation technology for a marine engine. A new sensor in the intake attenuator measures the humidity level of the incoming air. This allows the engine ECM to combine reported humidity with air pressure and air temperature data to determine the ideal spark timing for prevailing conditions.
Mercury Racing says boaters will notice a significant power gain in very humid conditions. The technology reportedly provides an additional 30 horsepower that otherwise wouldn’t be available because of high humidity.
The 500R is designed for catamarans, center consoles and pontoon boats, and comes with a three-year warranty. While the industry was anticipating a 500-hp outboard to make its debut at the Mercury Racing gala in Charleston, it caught some folks by surprise it was based on a V8 platform and not the V10 platform for the 400R that launched in Miami.
Halley said the planning for the 500R started after the release of 400R in 2019, which is a V8 platform. Mercury Racing currently offers six outboards from 60 to 500 horsepower. The 500R is available in phantom black or cold fusion white, but buyers can get the 500R ready to paint.
“There’s things that were kind of thought about during the 450R but couldn’t quite be integrated,” Halley said. “We always kind of knew we were going to do a follow on.”
The day after debuting the new 500R outboard, Mercury Racing gave its invited guests and marine media an opportunity to experience the power plants at its 50th anniversary gala in Charleston, S.C.
Mercury Racing brought together catamarans, center consoles and stepped-bottom boats to showcase the new 500R that was unveiled on June 15. Builders from the West Coast to South Carolina were represented for the on-water experience.
Among the boats Mercury Racing showcased in Charleston were the Cigarette 42 Artemis, DCB Racing M37R Wide Body, Fountain 43NX, Fountain 38 CCF, Freeman 47, Midnight Express 43 Open, MTI 44 Cat, MTI V50, Mystic C4000, Nor-Tech 46 Flyer, Nor-Tech 400 Sport and Performance Boats’ new PBC P360.
With a strong Ashley River current and steady winds creating small white caps, the Safe Harbor Bristol Marina was a real-world test for the new Mercury Racing 500R outboards. Our first test boat was the Mystic C4000 with the company’s general manager Ryan Zivitski running the twin-engine catamaran with 15 1/4” x 34” propellers.
The Mystic catamaran got on plane quickly and within a few seconds the boat was running comfortably at 70 mph with five people onboard. The outboards were so quiet everyone onboard was able to maintain a conversation.
Pressing the sticks forward, Zivitski got the catamaran up to 108 mph and it still had some speed left on the top-end. Most of the manufacturers participating in the on-water experience received the new Mercury Racing 500R outboards just a few days before the event, giving them little time for fine-tuning.
“From the bottom end all the way it’s better,” Zivitski said. “The new lower units, because they’re a little larger, they have more stern lift and we changed prop rotation. The boat lifts the stern getting on plane and you don’t get that prop buzz we used to get the 450R (outboards).
“Midrange torque and punch is much better and of course top-end is better, as of right now at least 5 mph. I think as we dial it in, that’ll even get better.
Dr. John Mehalik of Fort Myers, Fla., saw similar midrange and top-end gains on his Nor-Tech 46 Flyer that was part of Mercury Racing’s on-water experience. Mehalik upgraded his quad-engine boat from the Mercury Racing 450R outboards to the 500R outboards with the extra 200 horsepower making a big difference.
“I love the boat just the way it was. I had no issues with my 450Rs, they were perfect for the whole time on the boat,” Mehalik said. “These 500Rs obviously are awesome. They’re super fun. They’ve got tons of spunk, especially in the midrange.”
Mehalik said the new engines offer far more torque and power in the midrange on the 46 Flyer. On the top-end, he saw at least 1 mph improvement with the stepped-bottom boat running 84 mph in less-than-ideal weather conditions.
The 46 Flyer with the additional 2,000 horsepower now cruises between 60 and 70 mph (up from 50 to 60 mph) and offers better range.
“Range is a big deal because we travel a ton on this boat,” Mehalik said. “Usually, we have the boat loaded up with 10 or 12 people when we’re going to the Bahamas. The fact it has adequate range and efficiency to do that is important to me.”
Mercury Racing’s 500R outboards are already in production and the starting retail price is $72,000. The 500R comes with a limited three-year warranty and up to five additional years of Mercury Product Protection is available.