The advantage of buying a small bowrider from the market leader in recreational boatbuilding is that for $17,000 you still get the expertise and materials that go into bigger, more expensive boats. So a boat like the 180 Sport does not drive or ride like a tight budget-conscious model.
Typically, a boat under 18 feet will lift dramatically out of the hole before dropping onto plane. But the 180 barely tipped up before settling softly to a level ride, all in less than three seconds. Add in surprisingly deep bow seating, and this is clearly one of the safest bowriders under 20 feet we've tested.
It's also solid, with no soft spots or rattles, which is credited to the all-fiberglass construction (no wood) and the injection of closed-cell foam to assist flotation and rigidity. Like more expensive Sea Rays, the 180 has a fiberglass liner and gelcoated storage compartments -- something you rarely find on a boat for this price.
We also noted the use of space on the 180. The driver's seat is on a low pedestal, so the view under the three-piece windshield is clear. Legroom isn't an issue because the helm base is hollow and the seat slides way back or swivels -- easily, without working it. Even when we slid the seat back, it didn't impede the legroom at the corner seat next to the engine box. The in-floor ski locker is sizable, too, with room for a wakeboard and boots, and the hatch stays up on a pressurized shock.
The word "Sport" was sewn into our pewter-and-red seats. It's fashionable, but meaningful too. The boat turns quickly, almost on itself, and it holds 2,400 rpm without corrections. At that speed the wakes are clean and narrow -- perfect for recreational wakeboarding.
We were surprised at how quickly the 3.0-liter MerCruiser got our test boat up to 30 mph. It was dropping onto plane practically before the stopwatch started. That fun power package keeps the price down. Sea Ray even includes a standard trailer with the 180 because they know buyers will want to show it off on the road.
Length Overall: 17'6" Beam: 7'0" Dry Weight: 2,100 lb. Seating/Weight Capacity: 7/900 lb. Fuel Capacity: 21 gal. Max HP: 135 MSRP (test boat): $16,340
Test Engine: MerCruiser 3.0 Test Prop: 14.25 x 21, aluminum Test Load: People (190 lb.); Fuel (21 gal.) Top Speed: 44.1 MPH @ 4,800 RPM Time to Plane: 2.7 sec. Time to 30 MPH: 7.3 sec. Min. Plane Speed: 15.5 MPH @ 2,400 RPM
Carpeted coaming areas protect gear from bumps and scratches.
Standard tilt wheel and a Clarion CD system are usually options on value boats.
Fire port built into the engine box for safety.
Battery is conveniently located under the stern seat.
Ski locker in deck opens easily without interference from seats.
All hatches line up and snap shut cleanly.
Large storage net with elastic band under port console.