Some boatbuilders are taking a new look at 18-footers, the roots of recreational boating. Typically, these are pale, bargain boats with scarcely a glimmer of stainless steel, which seldom elicit the "ahhh" one should utter when sinking into thick, rich upholstery. Al Fink, president of Stingray Boats, thinks that's the wrong way to capture new boaters and built the new 185 LX with a higher goal in mind.
I stepped up to the test boat, admiring the two-tone blue hull and sporty graphics. I ran my hand along the freeboard, feeling the molded contours of the hull that give it the appeal of a more-expensive boat. It turned out some of these style points were not just for looks.
"Most people don't notice this," Fink said, running his fingers along a shallow gutter inside the windshield base. "Around water, condensation will form on the inside of the glass. We mold this gutter in to carry water out of the boat, so it doesn't cause problems inside."
I settled into the bucket helm seat for a much-anticipated test ride. The back wrapped around my hips and lower back, keeping me secure in the seat — something I appreciated later, as I put the boat through its paces on the water. The passenger bucket seat swiveled 360 degrees, a feature that gives the cockpit a roomier feel and also puts one passenger in the ideal position to observe board riders.
Full-beam, aft-bench seating rolled into the sun pad, and thanks to the arrangement of the bucket seats, deck space was comfortable for this boat's rated passenger load. Forward, Stingray skipped the vinyl padded grab handles and added full-length stainless-steel grab rails. Other stainless bling includes a pull-up bow cleat, two midship cleats, two aft cleats, engine compartment louvers, a ski tow and boarding ladder.
The inspection was over. It was time to ride. Under the engine hatch was a 3.0-liter fuel-injected engine that I'd been aching to test, after hearing rumors about it for more than two years. I wasn't disappointed. This one started instantly at the tweak of a key. It idled smoothly and quietly away from the dock and pressed the throttle gradually forward looking for dead spots in the acceleration curve, kind of like looking for chinks in the armor. But at each step the engine responded, with satisfying power, purring into ever-greater speeds. But more than speed and acceleration, something else tripped our trigger.
Bottom line, though, Stingray's combination of superior power and quality features gives entry-level boaters something that will keep them interested in their craft far beyond the first summer.
• Upholstery is of the same high quality used in upscale Stingrays.
• Armrests along the bow seats flip up, turning those seats into true loungers when desired.
• A full complement of stainless-steel fittings give the 185 LX a rich look.
• Passenger buckets and aft bench are arranged to leave comfortable passageways.
• Cup holders are tucked out of the windstream to keep drinks in place.
• Pull-up bow cleat is centered for simple three-point mooring.
• Swim platform is integrated into the hull and deck for strength and good looks.
Vital Stats * Length Overall: 18'5" * Beam: 85" * Dry Weight: 2,219 lb. * People/Weight Capacity: 7/1,070 lb. * Fuel Capacity: 21 gal. * Maximum HP: 150 * MSRP (w/Volvo-Penta 3.0L GXi): $20,742 * NMMA Certified: Yes Test Drive * Test Engine: Volvo-Penta 3.0L GXi * Test Prop: 21-Inch Stainless Steel * Test Load: People (225 lb.); Fuel (8 gal.) * Top Speed: 49.9 mph @ 5,000 rpm * Time to Plane: 3 sec. * Time to 30 MPH: 7.0 sec.