Donzi 35 ZR 009 Edition

It's alive inside.

Every era of high-performance boating has a magic number-the top speed that a boat needs to run to be a member in good standing with the go-fast set. Recently that number has been 80 mph. But now there's a twist. Because buyers today have gotten more conscious about efficiency-and, of course, cost-the trick is to build a high-performance boat that can hit 80 mph without needing obscene amounts of horsepower to do it.

Donzi has figured it out. The proof? Take a close look at its new 35 ZR 009 edition. Here's an offshore boat that handles great, has classic good looks, and sports a family-friendly freeboard. But most important: It hits 82.2 mph with bone-stock 425-hp MerCruiser 496 MAG HO Bravo Ones. And quite frankly, those engines are all you'll ever need.

Step Right Up. The 35 ZR 009 rides on a twin-stepped bottom. The first step is placed under the faring, and the second one is 4' aft, situated under the driver's bolster. The outer strakes run full length, but the inners stop at the first step. There's a 10" deep by 10" tall transom notch that spans the gap between the outer strakes and feeds water to the drives.

Also noteworthy: my test boat was able to pick up an extra 2 to 3 mph over the stock model due to its Lightweight Racing Cabin, which saves 300 pounds. More commonly called a half-cabin, this layout has only facing lounges, with no V-berth in the forward section. It also has a pair of coolers in dedicated holders and a concealed portable commode. Most owners of offshore go-fasts don't use a cabin for anything other than kids' naps and stowage, so I think this layout works fine.

Less weight in the bow definitely helped the boat's running attitude. I like to run with the bow up slightly, and was zipping the 35 ZR 009 through some light 1' chop, trimmed out for top end. While I was looking down momentarily to read the trim indicators, I hit a series of 3' swells over a shoal and launched off the first wave. Whoa! Often when you're trimmed out like this and strike a wave, your boat's bow will pop up and the boat will land on its drives. The danger? The bow could easily stuff into the next swell. Instead the 35 ZR 009 flew level off the second and third waves. I felt so comfortable and confident, I didn't even pull back when we hit another bump. Laughing, I launched the boat again and kept right on running. That's when you know your boat is truly dialed-in.

Donzi chose the right props for the boat, too. It planed easily, and even with the stock power, I could feel the acceleration when I advanced the levers. In turns, the props held their bite without a hint of slip. The 35 ZR 009 is just plain fun to drive. Turns at 70 mph felt as smooth as those I made at 50 mph.

If your heart's set on a high-performance boat with a full cabin, you have two choices, both from Washington, North Carolina-the Fountain 35' Lighting ($283,940 powered like my test boat) or the Baja 35 Outlaw ($206,012 also powered like my test boat). The Fountain outweighs the Donzi, so speeds would be similar with the same engines; whereas, the Baja might run a little slower but should offer more cabin room.

Instrument Approach. Let's take a look at the 35 ZR 009's cockpit, starting with the helm. All the Livorsi Marine instruments were well placed in a dash that had a decidedly sports car-like feel. Even with the Lowrance GlobalMap 5200C chartplotter centrally positioned, I could find all the instruments easily when running at speed. The acrylic windscreen was effective, and the bolster offered comfortable support. I had only a couple gripes. First, the controls were too close to the inwale upholstery; my right hand was constantly rubbing against it while I was running the boat. Second, placing the circuit breaker on the underside of the dash ahead of the driver's legs was a good choice, but having to remove screws to get to the helm rigging is inconvenient. To port, the double-level cooler in the port dash has a shelf so you can keep ice and drinks in the lower wet section and sandwiches dry in the upper half. The steps molded into the cabin hatch make it easy to get on deck, but unfortunately our test model had black steps, which will singe bare feet on a sunny day.

Abaft, the bench seat is set up perfectly for rough-water comfort with three individual buckets and grabhandles in the gunwale cutouts that also offer shallow stowage for sunblock or a hat. Map pockets on the bolster backs add some stowage, too.

One thing Donzi didn't need to change on the 35 ZR 009 is the engine hatch, which is the best in the game. The centrally padded section is perfect for sunbathing while the intakes, which angle in and down, feed cool air into the engine and quickly remove hot fumes.

Beneath the hatch, the motors were installed on gusseted aluminum L-angles with the center units using each other as backing plates. To keep the weight balanced, the batteries and trim pumps were separated on each side of the compartment, but a drain hose will make it tough to add fluid on the port side. For a custom touch, there's diamond-plate decking on each side of the engines and the underside of the hatch is mirrored. On a boat such as the 35 ZR 009, the engine compartment needs to have a custom touch because everyone's going to want to know what power you have when you pass them at 82 mph. Ha! Wait until they see those stock engines.