We pick the 10 models that will most change the shape of boating this year and beyond
The question we hear most often is, “What boat do you think I should buy?” Readers, friends, acquaintances — they want us to make the decision. But we can’t. A boat is too personal. While we can’t say any boat is a must-buy, we can say that the boats below rank as our “must-considers.”
BEST GETAWAY VALUE
Bayliner Discovery 288
We could make a case that this new ’07 boat falls into the sport-yacht category, what with the flybridge, glassed-in cockpit/salon and two helm stations. It even has the sliding door to the aft cockpit, which could be the most popular open-air stage at the marina when the enclosure is drawn up. We see the fiberglass head, full galley and forward sleeping quarters, and it isn’t hard to imagine long weekends on board.
The boat is built for all-weather exploring — anywhere, anytime. So it seems that the cruiser designation does not do the Discovery 288 justice. But sport yachts do not come in under 30 feet. They don’t come in under $100,000 either. And that’s why we’re still abuzz about the Discovery 288.
The standard bridge and enclosed salon make the price difficult to fathom.
Best of All
The helm station and salon are fully protected from rain, wind or worse, so excursions don’t have to be interrupted in anything but the nastiest weather.
More on this boat: www.bayliner.com
BEST NEW CUDDY
Even in a crowded boat show, this new Regal stands out like a predator amid its prey. Gone are the sloping ballet-slipper lines of so many boat designs produced since the early ’80s. The 2750 sports razorlike edges that flow together with the sleek gracefulness of a cheetah while conjuring the traditional lines of boats from a bygone era.
Its heavy-duty, highly polished stainless-steel hardware and durable, leatherlike vinyl add to the admiration we have for its graceful profile. Its ride is crisp, solid and quick. But Regal sports yet another feather in its cap that never goes out of style — quality. The careful attention Regal pays to quality control won the company a J.D. Power award, taking this juicy morsel out of the mouths of some very stiff competition.
Superior handling, construction and quality control distinguish it from competitors.
Best of All
Some are drawn to the forward berth or the spacious sun pad. We gravitated to the helm, which features instrumentation with aircraft precision.
More on this boat: www.regalboats.com
_BEST STEP FORWARD
In the past three years, Tahoe has confidently stepped up to the plate with new, all-fiberglass hull designs that perform well, stand up to hard use and give a great combination of comfort and convenience. The new 265 deck boat is the largest entry in the Tahoe lineup and includes a spacious changing room, thick, contoured upholstery and a stylish combination T-top and wakeboard tower that adds on-water comfort and fun.
New high-quality hardware and vinyls are among the upgrades we think bring the Tahoe onto a higher competitive level. Couple that with Tahoe’s attractive pricing and NMMA certification and we see the 265 as the top competitor in its class, perhaps putting a little pressure on traditional premium brands as well.
A strong commitment to quality and value pricing put the 265 high on our list.
Best of All
Wraparound seating and an aft-facing lounger for passengers to enjoy are among many noteworthy comforts found on the Tahoe 265.
More on this boat: www.tahoesportboats.com
BEST OVERALL APPEAL
Formula 310 Sun Sport
It’s easy to pick a Formula boat for any “best of” list. The company does not push marketing cliché on the boating public, and allows its boats to speak for themselves. Still, our resulting analysis of the 310 sounds like jargon. But it’s true: The 310 Sun Sport carries the dock appeal for which the brand is known, exuding a Formula-only mix of aerodynamic flair, elegance and sportiness.
Everything about the 310 is rock solid because of all the top-end fiberglass, gel and stainless steel that’s used. The only element that isn’t rigid is the Ultraleather used in the cabin, which we rank as the plushest upholstery in the business. There are 31-foot boats with larger berths, but none with a better combination of open-air cruising and quality construction.
Boaters have high expectations for Formula, and the 310 clears the bar.
Best of All
The cockpit galley includes a stainless-steel fridge, solid Corian counter and a fiberglass sink, all of which far exceed the industry standards.
More on this boat: www.formulaboats.com
_BEST BIG-WATER RECREATIONAL BOAT
Four Winns Horizon 310
We braced ourselves for impact in wind-blown two-foot waves during a trial run on the 310. Months later we still remember the smooth ride. The 310 could be the brawniest bowrider we’ve ever tested, and we were only running on 65 gallons of fuel (half the capacity).
The 310’s size isn’t what leaves the deepest impression. It’s the endless features, the most extraordinary being the day berth. The berth is deceptive because it does not infringe on the big open bow like a mid-cuddy does. It stretches under the long port bench, and is ample enough to be tricked out with a flat-screen TV, DVD player and microwave. Even our tallest editor did not feel scrunched. Oh, a 53.5 mph top speed didn’t hurt the boat’s standing either.
They didn’t infringe on the space of a big bowrider or the qualities of a day berth.
Best of All
The berth is big enough for a seven-foot person to lie down and watch tv, and it has a sliding hatch to the cockpit so you can stay involved with the action.
More on this boat: www.fourwinns.com
BEST PREMIUM BOWRIDER
Doral Elite 235
African mahogany trim with Italian varnish and vinyl so supple you must examine it with a magnifying glass to prove it’s not leather are just a couple of the most obvious clues that Doral has raised its game with its Elite series. For those in southern climes, Doral offers a cooler-to-the-touch off-white vinyl that is just as supple as the tanned buckskin interior that adds such a dashing look.
The 235 is a downsized version of the 275 introduced last year. Both models sport Volvo Penta power with DuoProp drives, and a full selection of gasoline and diesel Volvo Penta and MerCruiser engines is also available. A top speed of 49 mph with the fuel-injected 5.7-liter engine adds to the cache of a boat built like a luxury sport sedan.
The mahogany wheel and trim crown the rich interior, making this one of our favorites.
Best of All
We have to give the nod to another well-designed helm with comfortable driving positions. And the gauge cluster looks great.
More on this boat: www.doralboat.com
_BEST HIGH-END BASS BARGAIN
Charger Pro Team 296
What was missing? We kept looking the boat over at its intro last fall wondering where Charger cut corners. We found dual livewells with timers and dual pumps to keep bass fresh for weigh-in. We found bow and helm depth finders, plus a foot-operated trolling motor and a bow-trim switch for creeping into the shallows. There’s even a second console to protect the buddy angler from pelting rain.
All storage is lockable and includes water-resistant hatches. Special design touches like the recessed trolling motor pedal make stand-up fishing easier on your back. The Charger Pro Team 296 has something else we like, an agile, quick and stable hull that handles rough water. At $34,995, what it lacks is a head-thumping price tag.
Powerful, fast, tough and affordable, with hard-core fishability.
Best of All
Charger’s unique rod locker with tube tips and butt racks nests several rods safely. Additional fishing tackle and gear also stores away neatly.
More on this boat: www.chargerboats.com
_BEST BIG-FUN OFFSHORE BOAT
Sailfish 30-06 CC
Sailfish always ranks high in our testing rodeos. Tiptoe through the company’s plant, and you’ll see a well-organized, clean-as-a-whistle facility. A composite transom and an all-fiberglass stringer system with Plexus bonding are what make the boats solid and reliable for offshore fishing. Ride them and the deep-deadrise hulls lope through rough water with ease, giving passengers a comfortable ride without white-knuckle cramps.
Fish the 30-06, and you’ll know anglers designed it. Tackle and rod storage abounds. It’s lockable, too. Rod holders are nearly innumerable. Fresh water on board, a flushable head and shade from the T-top provide friendly comfort for family outings. But everything on board still points to hard-core angling success.
Tough as the bullet it was named for — and just as efficient at bagging its game.
Best of All
The console-top storage on the 30-06 CC is a tactful way to add plenty of organization possibilities and easy access for anglers.
More on this boat: www.sailfishboats.com
_BEST OUT-OF-THE-BOX BOAT
Bennington crumpled up every previous interior sketch of pontoons and looked to other lifestyle markets for ideas. Such as:
• The side panels are polycarbonate, like Saturn uses in its cars (we hammered it with a mallet and it didn’t crease).
• The top rail is a 2.5-inch flat piece, same as the handrail you’d find on an elaborate porch.
• The front gate has no visible hinge, and swings open and closed like a car door — sounds like one too.
• Subtle transition pieces are used throughout the cockpit, so the boat looks less modular and more like a lavish runabout.
• The high-back passenger seats have pillowed cushions and ostrich texture. All told, it’s the freshest boat interior we’ve seen in a long time.
It took much more than rearranging the furniture to create this new pontoon boat.
Best of All
Incliners allow the passenger seats to slide into a more relaxed position. The ottoman has a granite top, upholstered sides and a concealed cooler.
More on this boat: www.benningtonmarine.com
_BEST BOWRIDER DEAL
Sea Ray 210 Select
In today’s market, Sea Ray could have introduced the 210 Select for around $50,000. It has rich design lines that could be from a European or picnic-boat builder. The bottom line is, the boat we tested is not just another 21-foot bowrider. But Sea Ray did not give it a premium price, instead making the 210 Select available for around $40,000. They even made the 5.0-liter engine standard, which turns this into a 49 to 50 mph pleasure ride.
One of the standout features in the 210 Select is the molded swim platform that’s an outgrowth of the hull and deck. It transitions to an ingenious aft-facing lounger on the sun deck. A limited lifetime structural warranty and one of the best service networks in the industry seal the deal.
The 210 Select is a big step up in what tends to be a mediocre bowrider category.
Best of All
Using the majority of the cockpit as an elevated lounge is a great idea. The feature works so well because of the quality under it.
More on this boat: www.searay.com