PBR’s Mark Featherstone travels to the Genoa Boat Show to be among the very first journalists in the world to witness and experience Honda’s new flagship engine, the V8 BF350.

Many might ask: why did Honda choose to stage the momentous world launch of their brand-new V8 BF350 flagship outboard – indeed, their first new product to hit the market since 2009 – at the Genoa Boat Show? After all, while undoubtedly being recognised internationally, Genoa remains largely a ‘national’ event, one chiefly dedicated to its own Italian home market. Honda’s response, however, is interesting, not least because they cite Italy as being a prime market in Europe for their outboards – a fact underpinned by Italy’s boat lovers, who, no doubt egged on by the clement Mediterranean weather, clock up on average a resounding 200 hours a year aboard their craft! Compare that to the rather paltry 50 hours we apparently score here in the UK while contending with every Met Office forecast and weather outcome imaginable. But despite this, upon walking the show site with its plethora of powerboats, and in particular the notable array of Med-styled RIBs showcased, I must confess to not finding a single Honda outboard on the transom of any of the boats being displayed – save, of course, on the Honda stand! But I digress. Let’s get down to business.

Honda V8 BF350

Honda launch their first V8 engine – the new Honda Marine BF350 at Genoa Boat Show

Unveiled

The much-anticipated V8 350 Honda launch was packed with members of the media, Honda representatives, technicians and marine experts, all with mobiles drawn and at the ready. Before them, a phalanx of smartly dressed Honda officials stood ‘stage side’, just as a large mesh screen enclosing a dais slowly lifted to reveal the gleaming ‘Grand Prix white’ casing of Honda’s striking new flagship. Powered by an impressive 60-degree 5L V8 engine, thanks to the accompanying commentary, the audience were left in no doubt that the V8 BF350 encompasses all the technical ‘know-how’ the boating world expects from this original 4-stroke pioneer. 

The Storm 46, sporting the first BF350 triple installation

The Storm 46, sporting the first BF350 triple installation

Standout features

‘The advent of the 350hp engine is a highly important development for Honda Marine. This engine demonstrates Honda’s commitment to improving customer experience through our precision engineering and drive for innovation,’ stated Katsuhisa Okuda, Chief Officer and President of Honda Motor Europe.

The BF350 is certainly a big commitment on the part of Honda, but it can’t be denied that it comes very late in the day when compared to the commitments already made by Honda’s peers, particularly the likes of Mercury and Yamaha. Nevertheless, the launch of this new product reaffirms the fact that Honda still wish to be recognised as a valid outboard entity and get back in the ring as a player in what has now become the mid-range category of the contemporary outboard power market.

Mark at the helm of the Honda test craft. Honda V8 BF350

Mark at the helm of the Honda test craft.

With its 60-degree 5L V8 engine featuring VTEC (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) technology, the new BF350 is designed to maintain ultra-low noise and minimum vibration – qualities the market has come to expect from all the leading manufacturers and their 4-stroke product lines. Being a performance-orientated product, Honda point out that the BF350 delivers a distinctive, rich sound when climbing up through the rev range. And it’s true that besides an engine’s looks, its sonic qualities definitely play a key role in terms of its driving experience and overall desirability – particularly so in the case of an outboard.

Complementing this V8 outboard is Honda’s all-new BF350 controller, which comes in an ergonomic form to support various grips and operations, featuring an intuitive five-button multifunction panel complete with a high-visibility neutral position indicator that incorporates iST (Intelligent Shift and Throttle). Extending the ergonomic values of this new motor further is its single throttle lever operation, which ensures that multi-BF350-engine-rigged craft are simple and straightforward to helm.

Once the key is turned and the engine fires into life, the BF350 runs in BLAST (Boosted Low Speed Torque) mode. This effectively pulls all 350 horses into line with a figurative gathering of the reins and a purposeful jab of the spurs! In an instant, these fiery chargers are made both ready and eager to respond without delay to the will of their master. But once ‘up and away’ and thereupon settling into a steady cruising speed, Honda’s ECOmo technology is automatically engaged. This allows the engine’s system to continually adjust and refine fuel consumption to optimise efficiency. Finally, when the throttle is pushed to the very stops and all-out performance is called for, Honda’s proven VTEC system is there to boost peak power and enable instantaneous, all-out acceleration. This latter feature, of course, is what water sports enthusiasts in particular seek and regard as essential.

A proud moment for Honda. The ‘big’ reveal attended by the Honda development team.

A proud moment for Honda. The ‘big’ reveal attended by the Honda development team.

Honda V8 BF350 launch

First impressions of the new Honda BF350

Following the fanfare of the big reveal, the day of the trial saw Honda staff reluctant to take the test boats out in the ‘moderate to rough’ sea conditions and freshening wind. It therefore took a fair bit of persuasion from both myself and my Swedish counterparts to assure our Honda friends that this was standard fare back home. Besides, the Altamarea Storm 46ft RIB with its triple BF350 installation was more than capable of handling the rough.

First impressions? Most positive. The test boat’s joystick control system immediately made an impression, making the business of dockside manoeuvring relative child’s play. While negotiating our way out of the show marina, the motors ran, just as one would expect, whisper-quiet. Then on out into open water where for the first time the throttle could really be applied, and yes, you’ve guessed it, the power delivery was silky-smooth. As the RPM and engine tone rose, so the acceleration multiplied exponentially. But throughout the process, the triple BF350 rig exuded confidence coupled to a healthy degree of bullish power. It certainly lacked none of the latter throughout the relatively brief sea trial we were given, and it was only the weather conditions that dictated speed and performance. Even so, the intuitive Honda auto-trim system took the hard work out of helming the maxi-RIB through the challenging seas. And if the conditions had been a little more in our favour, I have no doubt that the cruise control would have come into its own too.

Honda launch their first V8 engine – the new Honda Marine BF350 at Genoa Boat Show

Honda launch their first V8 engine – the new Honda Marine BF350 at Genoa Boat Show

A weighty subject

Thanks to my experience of owning a 20-year-old 10hp Honda auxiliary outboard, if nothing else, I can testify to the fact that Honda engines are reliable. Indeed, they have a worldwide reputation for being so. Nevertheless, the issue of weight cannot be ignored. Just as in the case of my 10hp, which I have to admit to being at least as heavy as a 15hp motor, likewise the BF350 is also a fair few kilos heavier than its Mercury counterpart. The new Honda totals 355kg, but its rival, the Mercury 5.7L 350hp, weighs in at just 316kg!

Honda V8 BF350

Honda V8 BF350

Upon reflection

Honda were undeniably the 4-stroke leader back in the late 90s/early 2000s. They led the revolution. But as we know, over time, the other big players caught on. Acknowledging the reality that 2-stroke technology was about to be overreached, Yamaha, Brunswick and Suzuki likewise all started to redirect their blows in pursuit of the 4-stroke’s alternative, ‘cleaner’ lifestyle, coupled to the growing list of legislative and commercial benefits associated with 4-stroke power. Today, the entire market has gone this way, but as I said earlier, from once being the leader in this technology, one now gets the strong impression that Honda are now seeking to ‘play catch-up’. Some would say Honda are 10 years behind the curve in terms of their advancement into the bigger-horsepower market. And not just at Genoa, because as was evidenced at all the international boat shows PBR attended this year, Honda’s footprint in the market has reduced dramatically – no doubt due in no small measure to the fact that the competition is able to offer their dealerships a far greater range of motors right across the power spectrum. This is something that, even with the introduction of the new BF350, Honda are still unable to do. The company’s noticeable lack of investment in the promotion and marketing of its brand has also resulted in public awareness waning over the years. You’ve no doubt heard the expression ‘He who shouts the loudest’ … You get my point.

Triple installation underway. Honda V8 BF350

Triple installation underway.

Honda BF350 – The verdict

Clearly, Honda have a lot of catching up to do and a great deal more investment to make if they are to regain their position in the market. The launch of the BF350 is undoubtedly a commendable step in the right direction, but it doesn’t strike us that it’s particularly groundbreaking. It possesses little in the way of truly unique technical features to set it apart from the competition. When subjected to more in-depth testing and the greatest test of all, time, perhaps more will become apparent. But for now at least, this new motor, coming in at a starting price of £24,583.33 (excluding VAT), has a lot of work to do in helping to restore Honda’s 4-stroke mantle. Let’s hope the BF350 represents the ‘shape of things to come’ for this legendary Japanese manufacturing giant.

www.honda.co.uk

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