When you look at the brands that play in Chaparral’s waters, there are only a handful: Cobalt, Monterey and Sea Ray are the first three brands our team ponders. These are the companies that make a top-quality runabout with a trimmable drive for smooth riding in rough seas, ultimate maneuverability and easy maintenance. Those are all attributes of these premium luxury runabout builders and the running characteristics key to sterndrives. But that paradigm is changing and the field of competitors narrowing thanks to Volvo Penta’s new Forward Drive system that creates a drive system with the best of both sterndrive and pod-drive systems. And the new twist they bring is even more watersports fun by creating safe, surfable wakes thanks to the forward-turned propeller.
But Chaparral added more magic than just a ballast tank to provide top-class surf wakes with a large green room with a sweet spot that lets you slide fore and aft on the wake.
It did it by adding a trick from the inboard-powered wakesurf boatbuilders. The trick is Surf Gate, licensed by Malibu Boats, along with a reshaped hull to generate outstanding surf wakes.
Chaparral gambled that the system would work on its boats when equipped with ballast and Volvo Penta’s Forward Drive.
Boating partnered with Wakeboarding magazine’s Emily Dale to prove how well it works, surfing in a great pocket, sliding far back and coming forward to the platform, all with confidence provided by a drive system tucked under the transom and with exhaust piped under the water. The beauty of Forward Drive is it retains the superior ride of a trimmable drive system, improving efficiency and easing through chop instead of pounding it down.
Here’s what we noticed right away. On acceleration, the boat lifted to plane as if it were levered horizontally from the water, with all the thrust applied in alignment with the keel, perfectly aimed for forward motion. With trim, the system can be adjusted for ideal running at slow speeds and all speeds from there to full throttle. As we accelerated and trimmed the drive, we got the same drag-free, breezy ride you expect from trimmable sterndrives.
It was when we ran the 246 SSi Surf into hard-over turns that our eyes were opened to the excellent versatility and controllability of the drive system. We tucked the trim in just a bit, as you would with a sterndrive, and the 246 carved gracefully and smartly, holding its grip on the water without tripping or sliding sideways. Of course, the V-hull comes into play as well. In any case, we think the boat will make harder turns than you should attempt.
Cobalt has also entered the Forward Drive marketplace with surfable models that bracket the 246 in length. Both Cobalt’s R3WWS ($131,022, plus $3,755 tower) and R5WWS ($142,812, plus $3,755 tower) boast Volvo Penta’s Forward Drive system benefit, with hefty surf wakes and superior handling that alone can make the cost of the Forward Drive worthwhile.
Both models go toe to toe with Chaparral in terms of luxury appointments, like fully featured helms with digital ballast control and glass cockpit displays via Garmin’s proven 7607 displays, crisply stitched and supple vinyl, plus opulent, highly polished stainless-steel trim and hardware.
At the Chaparral’s helm, a sunlight-bright Medallion Viper II touchscreen panel offers navigation and sonar, ballast control and audio controls. Only Chaparral’s 246 SSi boasts Surf Gate with digital controls. The glass cockpit display serves as engine instrumentation as well. Through the touch panels, Surf Gate can be quickly switched from port to starboard, and individual ballast tanks can be controlled to the gallon.
Sometimes small things mark the success of a brand, and in the SSi, we found both the passenger and skipper bucket seats had unquestionably the most convenient mechanical adjustments of any boat for legroom and swiveling. Chrome levers integrated in the armrests allow the passenger or skipper to adjust legroom or swivel with fingertip ease, all without crawling under the seats.
Interior seating wraps around the cockpit, and removable cushions aft provide a step-through from the swim platform. A large sun pad will be the favorite lounging spot at anchor or on the sandbar. Underneath are compartments for ski ropes, mooring lines and fenders. Additional storage accommodates boards and tubes.
Our tester was equipped with a beautiful, powder-coated wakeboard arch, perfectly blending style and function for this exciting ride.
* One-touch control helm and passenger seats adjust from the arms instead of hidden levers underneath.
* Hideaway bow navigation won’t impede use of the bow ladder.
* Medallion Viper II touchscreen control provides sleek engine instrumentation and control.
* Transom walk-through arrangement divides the wraparound seating in the cockpit.
* More clearance between the portside console door and companion seat would make it easier to get into the console.
Price: $115,142 (as tested)
Available Power: Forward Drive
How We Tested
Engine: Volvo Penta 350 Forward Drive
Drive/Prop: Volvo Penta F3 stainless steel
Gear Ratio: 2.14:1
Fuel Load: 35 gal.
Crew Weight: 400 lb.
Chaparral Boats - Nashville, Georgia; 727-595-2956; chaparralboats.com