No style of boat has changed more radically in the past decade than the pontoon. If your perception of pontoons hasn’t changed with the times, it’s time to think again. Gone are the days of giant rectangles mounted atop floating logs, puttering around the lake with a 40 hp outboard. Gone too are the old accommodations that looked like the equivalent of cheap patio furniture bolted to the deck. Today there’s a ’toon to meet almost any style of boating out there, with the exception of long-distance and offshore cruising. Here are five boats that provide excellent performance and look good while doing it.
Styling: Bennington 2575 QCW Mahogany Edition
If there’s one vessel out there that shatters the old perception of pontoon boats as functional eyesores, it is the Bennington 2575 QCW Mahogany Edition. The 2575 already was an intriguing pontoon thanks to its stylish lines and sterndrive power, but Bennington absolutely transformed this boat by collaborating with legendary wooden-boat builder StanCraft to fit it with mahogany fencing. For over 80 years, StanCraft has been building classic wooden runabouts by hand. Recently, it has been collaborating with production fiberglass builders, such as MasterCraft, to produce eye-popping special edition models. Bennington is the first pontoon manufacturer to do so.
Here is a pontoon meant to compete in the curb appeal department with classic Chris-Crafts and Hackers. It will deliver unique performance as well, thanks to the aforementioned sterndrive package. We tested a 2575 QCW fitted with the triple-tube Elliptical Sport Package, a 430 hp MerCruiser 8.2 Mag ECT engine and a Bravo Three drive. With it we exceeded 50 mph, a number not often reached by a pontoon boat, and enjoyed the superior bite in turns and around the dock afforded by the dual contra-rotating propellers.
Along with the customization, Bennington offers several layouts; we really enjoyed the rear-facing reclining lounges on our tester, great for sunning or spotting tubers behind the boat.
Top Speed: 51.95 mph at 5,000 rpm
Best Cruise: 20.2 mph at 2,500 rpm, burning 2.32 mpg
Fuel Capacity: 58.7 gal.
Seating Capacity: 13
Custom Price: $132,069
Key Features: Mahogany fencing by StanCraft
Carving: Larson Escape 25
Larson is a newcomer to the pontoon market, but what it does bring is decades of experience building V-hull fiberglass runabouts. With that in mind, Larson wanted to offer customers performance results similar to what they’d expect from a V-hull boat. So its designers took to the task at hand and came back with what Larson calls Tapered Tube Technology.
While most pontoon tubes are round or elliptical, Larson engineered its tubes to mimic V-hulls, almost like the hulls of a planing catamaran. The Escape is the only series of pontoons we know of with a published deadrise — 15 degrees at the transom. On the flagship 25-footer, the tubes employ a Delta pad that extends about 12 feet from the stern to generate lift and then tapers to a sharp, narrow entry forward. The tubes employ reverse chines, no small feat to engineer with aluminum.
The efficient planing tubes allow Larson to work with smaller power; with a 175 hp Mercury Verado, the Escape 25 hit just shy of 40 mph wide open while still recording 2.1 mpg. And, of course, with the V-hulls it enjoys smoother cornering and tracking than typically found with round pontoons.
With all the focus on performance, Larson did not neglect the pontoon boat staples on deck. There are 12 seating options for customers to choose from. The boat also enjoys a sleek modern look due to fiberglass components at the bow and stern that integrate seamlessly with the aluminum fencing — Larson put the extrusion on the inside of the fencing for a streamlined look.
Top Speed: 38.7 mph at 6,300 rpm
Best Cruise: 24.6 mph at 4,500 rpm, burning 4.5 mpg
Fuel Capacity: 49 gal.
Seating Capacity: 16
Key Features: Tapered tube technology
Hanging: Premier 290 Grand Entertainer PTX
Premier is a pontoon builder that has incorporated several innovative ideas for keeping a crew well entertained on board. Some include the Sky Dek, a ’toon with a second story featuring a swimming slide, or the Grand View, which creates an elevated viewing platform around the helm. But no model says entertainment as well as the one named Grand Entertainer, and much of that has to do with the aft Island Bar.
The crescent-shaped bar has a fiddled Corian countertop and four pedestal bar seats. Behind the bar there are stainless-steel covered drawers, a fridge, a sink, a bottle holder, a paper towel rack, a dedicated bottle holder, dedicated stemwear holders and hooks on which to hang bags or towels. A cabana sunshade keeps patrons protected overhead while also employing dedicated stemware storage racks. To steal from a famous television-show song, it creates the kind of place where everybody knows your name.
With the three-tube PTX performance package, this 290 Grand Entertainer is no slouch underway, either. With a 300 hp Mercury Verado outboard, this boat hit nearly 42 mph and climbed onto plane in 3.4 seconds. Adding the third tube gives this boat excellent handling characteristics as well, so the entertainment can extend behind the boat for tubers, boarders and skiers.
Top Speed: 41.7 mph at 6,000 rpm
Best Cruise: 19.2 mph at 3,000 rpm, burning 3.1 mpg
Fuel Capacity: 80 gal.
Seating Capacity: 18
Key Features: Island bar
Towing: Sylvan S3
For towing and tubing, you want a boat that can quickly climb on plane, rapidly accelerate to 30 mph and handle aggressive turns. The Sylvan S3 does all three. Sylvan accomplishes this via its Revolutionary Tube Technology — it has engineered V-shaped, 27-inch outer tubes that feature a keel and hard chines. Adding a third traditionally round tube along the centerline increases overall buoyancy.
The benefits were instantly noticeable on takeoff. With a 200 hp Yamaha four-stroke outboard, the S3 climbed onto plane in 3.5 seconds with almost undetectable bow rise. It reached 30 mph in 8.5 seconds before topping out at close to 40 mph. We also took note of how well the S3 cornered, blazing through turns and maintaining an excellent running attitude throughout its acceleration curve.
Such traits make it a wise choice for tow sports, particularly when you add in the Wake Package, which includes a forward-rake tow arch. The arch puts the tow point closer to the boat’s center of gravity, which eliminates side-pull from cutting skiers and boarders. Other features in the package include a Bimini shade, additional stereo speakers, a light bar and a board rack.
Top Speed: 38.1 mph at 5,800 rpm
Best Cruise: 20.4 mph at 3,500 rpm, burning 3.9 mpg
Fuel Capacity: 30 gal.
Seating Capacity: 11
Price: $48,555 (as tested)
Key Features: Tow arch
Cruising: Harris FloteBote Crowne 250
When Harris won a 2013 innovation award for its design, it signaled to the rest of the boating community that pontoons deserve to be taken seriously. Harris won the award with its space-age-looking topsides design, eschewing traditional aluminum fencing in favor of molded fiberglass components that seamlessly fit with the aluminum side rails on deck. The components are sleek and aerodynamic with a sheer line that curves downward aft. Add in the forward raked arch, and it sports a sexy look that rivals many fiberglass V-hulls out there.
We chose this pontoon as the cruiser because the molded fiberglass components are less likely to flex and rattle on an all-day jaunt across a choppy lake and, for coastal boaters, will better withstand a little salt spray. Several options will enhance a day cruise, particularly the optional touch-screen digital helm display with integrated GPS-based cruise control. The plush high-back seating and optional seagrass flooring add to the cruising comfort.
To further enhance it, go with the Performance III package, which adds a 25-inch center tube lowered an inch below the outboard tubes. With a 300 hp Mercury Verado outboard, the triple-tube version of the Flotebote Crowne 250 hit a top speed of 47 mph.
Top Speed: 47 mph at 6,400 rpm
Best Cruise: 27 mph at 4,000 rpm, burning 2.5 mpg
Fuel Capacity: 50 gal.
Seating Capacity: 16
Key Features: Fiberglass deck components