Bravo One or Alpha One: Which Would You Pick?

The Alpha One drive has a long track record. It offers, as MerCruiser says, "reliable performance in a value package." But it's not as robust as the Bravo One drive.

The Alpha One drive has a long track record. It offers, as MerCruiser says, “reliable performance in a value package.” But it’s not as robust as the Bravo One drive.

Let’s say you’re looking at two boats that are identical except for two items. They both have V8s with roughly the same hours. One is more expensive and has a MerCruiser Bravo One drive. The other is cheaper and comes with an Alpha One. How much less? Say, a thousand bucks. Which would you choose?

I’ll tell you which one I’d choose. I’d take the one with the Bravo drive. Of course, I’d try to negotiate a better price, but even I couldn’t get the guy down, I’d pay the price and get the Bravo drive. Why? It’s better. Here’s how.

First, the Bravo One uses larger components, which are built to handle more power. The Alpha One just isn’t as strong. When a Bravo One is handling less than the maximum power than it’s rated for, that added brawn translates to longevity and reliability, something we all should value in a boat.

Bravo One drives were built to handle more power than an Alpha One. When used for lower horsepower applications, they are practically bulletproof.

Bravo One drives were built to handle more power than an Alpha One. When used for lower horsepower applications, they are practically bulletproof.

Second, the Bravo One shifts better because it uses a cone-style clutch in its upper housing. A cone clutch alternates between two always-engaged ring gears spinning off the same pinion. The upper spins in one direction, the lower in the other direction, and the clutch shifts up or down between the two, giving you forward and reverse. The Alpha One uses a dog clutch in its lower housing, which requires a shift shaft to go all the way down to the propeller shaft.

But what’s most appealing about Bravo One is how it feels when you engage a gear. It’s got a nice solid clunk as opposed to the tinny clank of the Alpha One.

Of course, I don’t mean to bag on the Alpha One with too heavy a hand. It has been around for decades and it gets the job done reliably, but the Bravo One is by every measure a better stern drive. So if you find yourself with a choice between the two, try to spring for the Bravo One. In the long run you’ll be glad you did.

What about if you have a choice between a Bravo One and a Bravo Three? Well, that’s another story.

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