Cobalt 296

The start of a chain reaction.

Step aboard Cobalt's 296, and you'll discover upscale boating beyond the pale. The aft bench cushions resemble loose, oversized throw pillows. Think they're impractical? Think again. Made of textured Sunbrella, the pillows are secured with a hidden track. Inwale space boasts a rich, diamond-pattern vinyl and some unique contours. The seat vinyl feels soft and supple, and its lush mix of colors, texture, and stitching makes it seem like real leather. Cobalt admits to trying to evoke the feel of a living room, but a colleague hit the nail on the head: The 296 thinks it's a fine English motorcar.

That's not to say this boat is for stuffed shirts of a bygone era. Just look at it. Square stainless-steel tubing frames the hard-angled swim platform. A dramatic air vent design rivets your attention. Seat design in the main cockpit is conversation-friendly, with flip-over, three-position backrests that can focus attention fore or aft. A unique L-shaped port bench and single starboard seat redefine the standard bow cockpit. Cobalt admits that the 296's faceted design aft is a glimpse at the design of their future boats.

However, what lies beneath the skin is classic Cobalt. The keel and chines are backed with Kevlar, which provides strength and dampens vibration. The floor is cored with honeycomb composite, not plywood. The fiberglass stringer grid is bonded to the hull with Plexus adhesive. Motor mounts are through-bolted into heavy-duty aluminum plates. Even the smallest details don't escape the company's scrutiny. The windblock door is made from Lexan, which won't warp or discolor. Its radiused edge is achieved with a quick touch of a torch, not sandpaper.

The 296's ride is as soft as its aft bench upholstery. Hit a sizable wake and you won't hear the rattles and bangs typical of many bowriders. You won't feel them, either. The 296 delivers a heavy, solid feel that passengers will love. It also handles and turns like a boat that's far shorter, cranking corners without scrubbing off speed or questioning the driver's authority. My test boat, equipped with twin 420-hp Volvo Penta 8.1 GXi stern drives, planed in four seconds flat, ran from 0 to 30 in 6.8 seconds, and topped 65 mph.

MSRP(w/test power): $169,902

Contact: 800-468-5764 www.cobaltboats.com