The moment we returned to the dock a year ago in Chaparral's first Wide Tech model, the 224 Sunesta, we determined it to be one of the 10 best boats of 2008. Those unmistakable Sunesta deck boats were so well received that Chaparral has carried their unique Wide Tech qualities over to the SSi bowrider series for 2009. The easiest of them to trailer, store and afford is the 196 SSi.
Onlookers at the public lake where we tested the 196 fixed their gazes on the forked bow. What they didn't take time to notice is how the style up front bleeds from the entire boat. The molded-in swim platform, tower, interior lines, even the sharp angles in the windshield and instrument panel carry out a look all its own.
We had to spend an afternoon in the boat to understand that "looks" are only half the equation. The three-pronged bow widens the seating and accommodates an anchor locker there — a bonus for a bowrider less than 20 feet. Storage compartments are deeper and the swim platform much larger than comparable models. Even the freeboard is higher than expected, so passengers of all ages are safe.
Away from the dock we noted how the Extended V-Plane hull reaches economical running speeds with no bowrise. It's also able to stay on plane at 16 mph, which means we could run all afternoon without burning much fuel — or just sit there adrift in the best-looking boat on the lake.
Key Note: Adding big vents to the in-floor storage and scuppering the cockpit will help keep the boat dry, also giving it the durability for calm saltwater bays.
• In-floor storage and a deep compartment under the transom walkthrough will help boaters keep the cockpit tidy.
• Molded-in cooler under the front bow cushion is ready for ice and drinks — it drains overboard.
• Side panels are designed for a one-of-a-kind look along the gunwales.
* Length Overall: 19'6"
* Beam: 8'
* Dry Weight: 3,000 lb.
* Fuel Capacity: 32 gal.
* Maximum HP: 225
* MSRP (w/ MerCruiser 4.3L): $31,330
* NMMA Certified: Yes
* Test Engine (carbureted): MerCruiser 4.3L
* Test Prop: 20-pitch aluminum
* Test Load: People (300 lb.); Fuel (16 gal.)
* Top Speed: 45.2 mph @ 5,000 rpm
* Time to Plane: 3.3 sec.
* Time to 30 MPH: 8.1 sec.
* Minimum Planing Speed: 15.5 mph @ 2,600 rpm