Three 20 Horsepower 4-Stroke Bargains Reviewed and Compared
The 20 HP outboard motor is a popular choice with anglers and boaters – and for good reasons. An outboard engine in the 20 HP class provides enough power for most small to medium-sized, and even some large, recreational watercraft while still remaining relatively light in weight to be easily portable.
Whether attached to a Jon boat, an inflatable boat/dinghy or sailboat, these lightweight, portable engines have enough power and performance to easily push you and your passengers through the water for a day of fishing, cruising, or just about any type of activity.
Add in 4-stroke performance, and you have an efficient and durable outboard that not only boasts of lower emissions and better fuel economy but also one that puts out more torque at low RPMs, is much quieter, and should last you nearly twice as long as a comparable 2-stroke motor. And there’s one more thing to love about the 4-stroke… no more messing around with mixing fuel and oil!
But there are many outboard brands from which to choose, and the choices can seem endless, not to mention often costly. But we all want to find the best value for our money. That is the goal of this review.
We will take a look at 3 portable, 20 HP 4-stroke carbureted outboards from 3 different brands, with each offering its own compelling value, and see which offers the best deal for your money when we consider cost, quality, performance, and warranty.
Parsun 20 HP 4-Stroke Outboard Motor with Tiller Handle
A relative newcomer to the outboard market, the Chinese outboard manufacturer is growing fast. Parsun Outboards, which is registered in the U.S and Canada along with about 100 other countries, started mass production of its inexpensive outboard engines in 2006 and sells to both the commercial and recreational outboard markets worldwide.
While Parsun has made significant inroads into the outboard market, in particular in Australia and New Zealand where they enjoy a growing dealer network, expansion into Canada and the U.S., has not been as easy as they face stiff competition from better known, more established brands. In fact, if you are in the U.S. or Canada, finding a Parsun dealer nearby for sales, service or repairs will prove difficult at best.
Something else to be aware of is that their 3-year limited warranty covers only parts and not labor for repairs. However, parts are readily available from the manufacturer and, if you are one of those who can and enjoys your own service and repairs or don’t mind taking your engine to a reliable independent marine mechanic, then not having a large dealer footprint may not be a deal breaker. But this fact is worth keeping in mind, nonetheless, in any purchase decision.
With that said, the Parsun 20 HP 4-Stroke tiller outboard appears to be a solid product and a viable option in a market dominated by a handful of big companies. But right off the bat, I’ll tell you that its biggest selling point may be a price that is significantly lower than the competition – as much as more than $1000 less in some cases.
So, if you are willing take the trade-off of minimal authorized local support for a much lower costing 20 HP 4-stroke engine, then this outboard may just be the best bargain out there, especially given the host of premium features with which it comes.
The Parsun 20 HP outboard motor comes with the option of either a 15″ or 20″ shaft in a package that is designed to deliver exceptional reliability, top performance – and value. It’s noteworthy that the outboard is the only DOHC design (Double Overhead Cam) in this review.
That’s quite a feat, given that it is the lowest-priced outboard, by far, in our review. The DOHC configuration provides greater air/exhaust flow for powerful, smooth performance and low emissions while maximizing fuel economy (6.9 L/ 1.8 U.S. gal. per hr) for fishing or cruising out on the river or lake.
The motor is a relatively lightweight for a 4-stroke (114 to 123 pounds, depending on shaft and starter option) and compact unit that has the convenience of carry handles for greater ease of transporting to or from your RIB, aluminum boat or skiff. The outboard comes with the option of a 15″ short shaft or 20″ long shaft.
It also comes with a choice of 2 starting systems: manual/electric start and a manual-only option for a cost-savings of roughly $200. Regardless of starting system, getting this outboard running is easy with a CDI ignition system, while a start-in-gear prevention feature is in place for greater safety in use.
The relatively quiet nature of this motor makes it a practical choice for a wide range of uses such as trolling for fish or simply having fun out on the water. The unit has 4-position tilt and trim capability for complete ease of operation in shallow waters, with drive possible in multiple positions.
The Parsun 20 HP 4-stroke carbureted outboard meets both EPA and European CE standards and so outputs lower emissions for a more environmentally friendly experience. It does not, however, meet the more stringent CARB standards (for use in California).
The engine is crafted from high-grade marine aluminum alloy to give it the long-term protection needed in harsh marine environments. It also comes with a 3-blade aluminum propeller and stainless steel water pump housing liner for better corrosion protection.
Other notable features include a low oil indicator for more reliable monitoring, a water cooling system that is thermostatically controlled, an emergency shut-off with safety lanyard, and a vibration reduction system for a smooth ride.
- Least Expensive 20 HP 4-stroke outboard on the market
- Corrosion-resistant marine alloy construction,
- Freshwater/saltwater compatible
- Electric and manual pull starter
- 2-cylinder/DOHC design for increased performance
- 362 cc displacement (largest of reviewed motors)
- Large 6.35 U.S. gallon (24 L) external fuel tank
- 3 year limited warranty on parts only
- Lack of extensive dealer network in U.S. and Canada
- Not CARB-approved (cannot be sold/used in California)
Mercury 20 HP Electric Start 4 Stroke Tiller Outboard
Mercury Marine is the largest and perhaps most recognized brand of marine engines in the world. They have been producing some of the best outboard motors for almost 80 years, ever since Carl Kiekhaefer turned a converted barn in Cedarburg, Wisconsin into small machine shop.
But the Mercury 20 HP 4-Stroke Outboard is actually built by another legendary outboard manufacturer, Tohatsu. Yes, the name on the side may say Mercury, but engine is built at Tohatsu’s facility in Japan. In fact this outboard, with very minor variation, is basically the same engine as the the Tohatsu offering (not something you read much about in Mercury or Tohatsu outboard reviews). That’s right. But I don’t want to digress too much – more on that later.
Ok, so what are the merits of the Mercury 20 HP Electric Start 4 Stroke Outboard Motor? For one, you get exceptional all-around performance backed by a 3-year factory warranty from the premier marine propulsion company in the world. Mercury’s extensive dealer network for service and repairs is also a big plus when considering this outboard. You won’t have to search too long and far to find an authorized service center – that’s peace of mind.
Now, for the engine itself. The Mercury 20 HP comes with either a 15 or 20 inch shaft, manual tilt and delivers the low end torque that is necessary to get a boat to plane with complete ease. Its throttle response is quick and crisp when it comes to acceleration, thanks to the tuned intake manifold. This motor will have no problem moving you effortlessly across the water to your favorite fishing spot.
The multi-function tiller handle is designed to operate single-handed for complete ease in steering, tilting, throttle control, stopping and shifting. Operating this outboard is almost effortless.
Mercury 20 HP models are built with a few exclusive features to give you the best all-round performance, such as a multifunction tiller, vibration-absorbing wishbone mounts, auto-ratchet tilt with 6 manual positions.
The electric start is quick and efficient with a no-primer button and a 3-position choke to simplify the process as well as improve the rate at which the engine warms up.
This outboard motor is lightweight (about 118 lbs) and is built with the durability and reliability generations have come expect from Mercury. One of the key features of this engine is that it runs clean and efficiently – it is CARB 3-Star ultra-low emissions certified and economical in its use of fuel. In fact, this 4-stroke outboard has the ability to consume nearly 40% less fuel than alternative 2-stroke units for exceptional running costs and savings.
Overall, this Mercury 20 HP Electric Start 4-Stroke Outboard Motor is the perfect unit to deliver portable power for your small boating needs. It runs amazing and is really easy to install. Plus, it gets up and goes fast really quickly, while also being very maneuverable.
The only possible drawback, voiced by some owners, is that the motor can be slightly loud at idle.
- Mercury name brand & support
- Large network of authorized dealers/service centers
- Electric start w/ manual backup
- Lightweight marine alloy construction
- Anti-corrosion design/saltwater-rated
- Ultra-low emissions/ CARB 3-Star Rating, EPA-approved
- Warranty is 2 yrs shorter than the Tohatsu version
- A little loud at idle
Tohatsu 20 HP 4 Stroke Tiller Outboard Motor
Though not a household name in the U.S., Japanese outboard manufacturer Tohatsu is an industry leader and has been building quality outboard engines since 1956. Tohatsu is the second largest outboard manufacturer in the world and continues to produce some of the best 2-stroke and 4-stroke outboards on the market in their Komagane facility, which boasts having the largest outboard motor production capacity in the world.
Through the years the company has also partnered with industry heavyweights including Nissan and Mercury to manufacture outboards for their own marine lines. Though Nissan discontinued global sales of their outboard engines in 2014, Tohatsu continues to provide parts, service and warranty support for all Nissan outboards still in the marketplace.
The manual-start Tohatsu 20 HP 4 Stroke Outboard Motor offers unsurpassed quality and performance for boaters with its lightweight build (114 lbs for the 15″ shaft motor and 117 lbs for the 20″ shaft offering), powerful 2 cylinder SOHC (Single Overhead Cam) design, Advanced Digital CD Ignition System, tuned intake performance and a host of other premium features.
The Tohatsu outboard comes in a sleek, light and compact design that makes it relatively easy to handle when transporting to and from your inflatable or boat. Six-position tilt and trim make maneuverability in the shallows a breeze.
The latest cross-flow induction technology helps to create the smoothest ride and operation possible, while the tuned intake system is great for efficient and quick takeoffs. The outboard is built to have significantly reduced induction noise to produce a much quieter and pleasant ride.
The low maintenance design of this outboard makes it easier to service, with its large capacity oil reservoir for complete ease in lubrication and a canister-style oil filter to really simplify the replacement process.
The saltwater-rated Tohatsu is built to weather the elements. It is made from high-grade marine aluminum alloy, has a stainless steel water pump housing and comes with a sacrificial anode to protect the motor from electrolysis. The anode also serves as a trim tab to improve steering and performance. A high-grade, 3-blade aluminum propeller will provide years of worry-free operation.
Other useful features include the ESG over rev RPM limiter, the low oil pressure warning system, decompression device for quick starting and start-in-gear protection/neutral safety switch.
To summarize, the Tohatsu 4-stroke 20 HP outboard is an excellent portable choice for medium to large inflatables, pontoon boats and Jon boats with its light weight engineering, high durability, exceptional fuel efficiency, low maintenance features and a best-in-class 5-year factory-backed warranty.
(Also, see the Tohatsu 20 HP 4-Stroke outboard with electric start and power tilt)
- Tuned intake system for added performance
- Ultra-low emission/EPA-approved & CARB 3-Star Rating
- Marine alloy construction/saltwater-rated
- Low-maintenance configuration
- 5-Year Tohatsu warranty (longest in its class)
- No electric start option (manual only)
Ok , time to summarize our thoughts and choose the best 20 HP 4-stroke outboard value of this review.
The Parsun 20 HP. Let’s get right to it – the biggest reason why anyone would consider this one over the other 2 choices is price. Yes, it has some nice features such as the DOHC design and the largest displacement of the 3 outboards reviewed…but also has some glaring shortcomings.
Yes, the price is significantly lower than the Mercury or even the Tohatsu, but given its country of manufacture (sorry, but China isn’t renowned for its quality control), a 3-year warranty that does not cover labor costs and the absence of adequate dealer support in the U.S and Canada, I would buy this only if I were working with a very tight budget and primarily concerned with the upfront savings, felt confident enough to work on the engine myself or have a trusty and reasonable marine shop nearby.
So, our top value recommendation, unsurprisingly, comes down to Mercury vs Tohatsu.
As I stated in the previous section on the Mercury outboard, Tohatsu is the actual manufacturer of Mercury’s 20 HP 4-stroke motor as well as all of their outboards under 40 HP.
It’s no coincidence that both the Tohatsu and Mercury engines are both made in Japan, come with 2 cylinder SOHC designs and 351 cc (21.4 cubic inches) displacement, have the similar bore and stroke (61 x 60 mm / 2.40 x 2.36 inches), come with an identical full throttle range or WOT (wide open throttle) of 5400-6100 RPM and so on – they are essentially the same outboard motor repackaged, with some minor variations.
Most of those variations are peripheral to the motor itself – things such as the Mercury having an electric starter as opposed to Tohatsu’s manual start on this model, and Mercury’s external fuel tank being larger at 6.6 U.S Gal. (25 L) to Tohatsu’s at 3.1 U.S. Gal., or just under 12 L.
Though similar in almost every aspect, where they do differ is important. Two things separate these 2 otherwise twins.
The first is the retail price of the motors. You are going to pay a little more for the Mercury because it has the electric starter and …well, they are the name brand here and therefore can sell at a higher premium.
The second and most important point of separation between the two is Tohatsu’s factory-backed limited warranty is for 5 years as opposed to Mercury’s 3 years. That is a very big deal, given that everything else is pretty much equal between the outboards. While both motors offer outstanding performance and value, I can’t justify buying Mercury’s outboard when I can buy virtually the same motor for a little less from Tohatsu while getting an additional 2 years of warranty!