The idling rumble of MerCruiser’s two new 430 hp 8.2-liter stern-drives greeted us at the dock on our test day — our first experience with a pair of these new engines. The experience was made even more notable because of the hull in which they were mounted: Chaparral’s new 327 SSX — the latest yacht-size bowrider we’ve seen with a cuddy that didn’t compromise the bow walk-through or fall down on the promise of belowdecks comfort.
We approached our test with optimism, and our experience did not disappoint.
Mike Fafard, Chaparral’s vice president of engineering, was on hand to tour me around, and he stepped back a minute to watch me drink in the deck plan before stepping aboard to comment.
Entry to the cockpit was easy with a step from the dock to the platform and then an easy step up, then down to the deck. The entry is nearly fully shaded by a fiberglass hardtop, now a trademark of Chaparral’s yachty runabouts and express cruisers.
My attention was drawn from the ample cockpit and well-appointed helm to the step up to the bow seating area — a feature one might simply assume was created to enhance the view in what could have been a too-deep seating area. To port of the walk-through, we spied a door one might also assume was simply the entry to an onboard head. But, no, the two features worked hand in hand to offer up the most delightfully unique belowdecks feature we’ve seen on a bowrider, an easy-to-access full beam cabin with a 40-inch berth converting from a starboard-side lounge. The cabin included a private head compartment, comfortably entered through a typically short door and offering enough elbowroom for convenience. A galley to port offered only a microwave and a counter with handy cabinetry for stowing either kitchen or wardrobe accouterments; as is the trend, Chaparral moved most cooking facilities to the cockpit, where culinary treats can be more pleasantly prepared.
Yes, we’ve seen living compartments in bowriders before, as in the Monterey 328 Silver Anniversary edition bowrider ($235,858), just released in Boating in January 2011 (page 32). But access to all its belowdecks features are divided by the walk-through with the berth entry to port and the head entry to starboard. Both are located in the walkway to the bow, at times creating a traffic problem. Aside from that, we can take nothing away from the Monterey’s luxury approach, but we give Chaparral the nod on combining living quarters under the “roof” of one comfortable and contiguous compartment with one convenient door. The boat’s beauty belowdecks is further enhanced by side windows, leather-grain upholstery and wood accents, such as the Venetian blinds, that give it more richness.
Topside, we found the ample cockpit space and the food prep portion of our galley, which included an optional wet bar with sink ($2,934). Standard configuration includes additional seating, should one opt away from this entertainment feature.
Bow seating is still securely deep and wide, despite the cabin below, and the forward seat lifts to reveal a cooler. All the upholstery features Chaparral’s multidensity foam support and thick vinyl, custom-sewed in its factory.
On the hull side the Chaparral 327 SSX sports the company’s painted power stripe and a 3-D concave hull feature. Careful molding techniques make it possible to build this feature and pull it from the hull without disturbing the multicolor gelcoat molded into the sides. Only Cobalt echoes this feature in its A25 ($107,190, June 2010), a smaller bowrider, and it enhances it with “fins” that morph into its platform, adding retro style to a modern luxury build.
All this would have been nice but not as exciting if it were not for what happened when I slipped behind the helm. The instrument panel was equipped with analog gauges with digital screens for showing any engine data we could’ve requested. I punched a button and brought up the reading for fuel burn rate, and we pulled away from the dock, notebook and GPS in hand. The 327 SSX topped out at a shade over 57 mph in our test on a humid 75-degree day. In cooler weather it was reported to peak at 60 mph. top speed is not the rank of any boat, but this one was pleasing in this category.
Where we found even more fun on board was in the acceleration from the boat’s twin power plants. We kept using yachty or yacht-size while describing the 327 SSX, but upon acceleration, sport boat became the mantra. We hit planing speed in 6.5 seconds and reached 30 mph in 11.6 seconds. OK, it’s lackluster for a 20-foot Mastercraft, but this is a 9,800-pound joy rider. Acceleration put us back in our seats. further, though I put it in what I called hard-over turns at speeds in the 40s, our captain was unafraid to wrench the wheel over at 55-plus, and this Chappy came around as sweetly as a Tennessee walking horse.
We expected Chaparral to excel at luxury and were not surprised by the performance, but we had to give it a smiling two thumbs up for its trendsetting design that provided comfortable quarters below without compromising sport-boat accommodations on deck.