Boat Review by: Rick Layzell
Volvo Penta has enjoyed a well-deserved reputation as leaders in industry. Their passion for innovation have lead them to many industry ‘firsts’. They were the first to market with a stern drive, first with duo prop technology, first with joystick control, and first with forward drive. That’s quite a list. There’s an old saying: “if you’re not the lead dog the scenery never changes,” and the scenery is always changing at Volvo Penta.
On a cool September morning (that eased its way into a beautiful September day), the BoatDealers.ca test team were granted the opportunity to experience first-hand the benefits of the V8 380 HP gas engine with Forward Drive technology. Technical references below are reflective of Volvo Penta’s gas engine platform.
But first, a few words about the engine itself before we dive into the drive system.
Volvo Penta has a long-standing relationship with General Motors, a well-known brand to millions of owners. Currently, GM is building some 3,500 engine blocks per day. The blocks and manifolds are aluminum and are shipped to Volvo’s own facility in Lexington, Tennessee to be marinized under the scrutiny of Volvo team. There’s a significant competitive advantage, and owner advantage, to the lower weight of aluminum versus Volvo’s competition.
All Volvo Penta engines utilize Direct Injection Technology, which delivers better fuel economy while producing lower emissions. Owners also benefit from the use of Variable Valve Timing which delivers a ‘linear power curve.’ After testing I smiled repeatedly as I came to understand that this simply meant an incredibly consistent amount of power at my fingertips throughout the entire RPM range. It was also nice to note that there’s a 120-amp alternator under here which makes sure all those electronics can be kept readily charged -- so I get longer days on the water with the family.
I stand 6’ 1” and weigh in at 235 lbs (on a good day), and upon opening the engine hatch I quickly spotted something that was clearly intentional by the R&D team and beneficial to me as an owner. Volvo Penta took the time to position maintenance items up front to give me easy access. What things? The impeller housing was super easy to access, as was the serpentine belt, the oil dipstick, and the oil filler cap.
I also noticed a blue button on the forward port side of the engine. The blue button is another great Volvo feature called Easy Drain. Knowing that all Volvo Penta engines incorporate closed cooling systems, it was easy to see how any owner will benefit – simply push the Easy Drain button to drain all the water from the manifolds. Boating early in the spring and later in the fall just got a whole lot easier and knowing this is even safe to do dockside really made me smile.
The entire package is wrapped up with a 5-year warranty ‘out of the box.’ Owners deal directly with Volvo Penta staff should the need arise, and there are no admin fees, transfer fees, or deductibles at any time during the 5-year warranty period. Now that’s reassuring.
Now, to the Forward Drive itself. To paint the picture, imagine taking the props (it’s a duo prop) and moving them up to the front (towards the bow instead of the stern) of the lower unit. It’s that simple. There’s a lot more to the actual engineering, but in simplicity that’s all it is.
Why would Volvo do this? The answer is simply market demand and Volvo’s desire to create something with wide-ranging applications. As wakesurfing exploded across our waterways, so too did sales of purpose-built wakesurfing boats. Enter Volvo Penta -- who took several years to listen to the needs of their boat builder partners, and then, after meticulous and stringent testing, launched the industry’s first Forward Drive.
Forward Drive delivers wake surfing performance capabilities behind a traditional, comfortable to drive, V-bottom hull design. Not only is she capable at wake surfing, she’s also great for skiing, tubing, or other waters sports. Not to mention, after a long day of playing with the kids, Mom and Dad get to go out and enjoy a comfortable ride with friends. This truly is multi-purpose technology at it’s finest and you’ll find Volvo Penta’s Forward Drive offered on over 40 models of boats in today’s marketplace.
Forward Drive owners also benefit from Volvo’s ‘Water Sports Control,’ which is all about easy boating. From the helm, the captain can fill the ballast tanks, input data for up to 20 user profiles including pre-setting GPS based speed control, and fine-tune left or right wake preference and trim tab settings to adjust the wake to the desired size and shape.
There’s a lot to be said for all the technology that Volvo Penta has painstakingly invested into the Forward Drive. As an owner, the benefits list is very long. For me, the multi-purpose capabilities of this design make it an absolute winner.