Some boaters value robust construction, predictable handling, and ease of maintenance. Others treasure bold style, lots of amenities, and exciting performance. Monterey's 298 SSX will have both camps scampering to get aboard. To be sure, the uncovered battery terminals don't conform to ABYC recommendations. Still, I like this boat. No boat's perfect but the glitches I found are easy to fix. More important, the 298 SSX simplifies the fast, brash quest for fun without neglecting the safety of its occupants or the confidence and long-term ease of ownership that any skipper will appreciate.
Packing up to 640 horses under its hatch, the 298 SSX can take the punishment all that power is bound to provoke. Check out the way the hull and deck are screwed together. Good boatbuilding dictates that the distance between the edge of the flange and the screw be twice the screw diameter. This prevents the screw from tearing out as deck and hull flex in opposite directions while underway. I've seen boats where the fasteners were right on the edge-with some screws missing the hull flange entirely! Aboard the 298 SSX the fasteners are more than ¾" from the edges, three times the recommended distance.
Good practice also shows in its rigging. Wiring is supported well and chafe-protected everywhere I looked. Same goes for most of the plumbing, though I would change the position of the mesh bag into which the transom shower hose retracts when it's not in use. Aboard my tester, the hose and bag rested on the engine exhaust. A melted hose is a distinct possibility. I laid my hands on the bilge pump, dipsticks, filters, batteries, and the discharge through-hull for the holding tank-all without undue bodily contortions. This is especially good news for the head discharge. Since you need to run the boat offshore to pump overboard, the engines are usually hot when you do it. But aboard this boat, you won't brand your cheek with an exhaust riser bolt pattern in the process of reaching for the lever.
The maintenance topper is the 298 SSX's engine hatch. This opens completely, flipping forward to grant step-in, as opposed to climb-down-and-duck-under, access from the transom boarding walkway. Running back to the truck for a forgotten tool or part is a hard fact of playing Capt. Fix-It. The geometry of this hatch will save time and your temper.
Now Have Fun
Twist the key and fire the engines. Gauge needles jump to attention as the Corsa Quick and Quiet exhaust ($3,654) produces the satisfying rumble of just-roused V-8s. The day is good. And you've yet to leave your slip.
Palm the Gaffrig racing controls ($1,692). They provide positive shifting, a ratcheting action that eliminates throttle creep, and great aesthetics. Every click of these levers surged the 298 SSX forward with seat-squishing force. Equipped with twin 300-hp MerCruiser 350 MAG MPI Horizon Bravo Three stern drives, my test boat showed no handling quirks.
Boasting a highly raked entry that warps aft into a steep transom deadrise, the 298 SSX took everything I put it through with grace. Whip into a turn. You'll pull progressive g's instead of being hurled into a corner, the turning radius and heel angle smoothly increasing. Posting a time to plane of 3.2 seconds, and doing so without exceeding 5 degrees of inclination, makes it great for tubing and provides excellent visibility, even with crew seated in the bowlounge. It rides soft, allowing you to freely use its power to charge through chop. I'd have no qualms taking the 298 SSX offshore. But I wish Monterey had incorporated a larger anchor locker. There's room for about 100' of rode in there, or enough to anchor in 20' or so of water if there's any wind or current. Also, when a windlass is standard, as it is here, a chain stop should be installed to take the load off the capstan. Sea Ray's 290 Select EX ($131,134 powered like my test boat) has one. However, with the Sea Ray you'll have to purchase Optional Plan A seating ($2,369) and the sport spoiler ($5,615) to match the standard layout and standard radar arch aboard the 298 SSX, which offers just one seating plan.
The 298 SSX's most remarkable accommodation features lie within its dual consoles. To port is a double berth, the size of which presupposes familiarity with your bunkmate. There are lots of amenities, including a TV, DVD player, and microwave. A 20"-diameter opaque hatch mounted vertically, like a window, provides ventilation. Within the starboard console is a head, vanity, and sink with an extendable shower faucet. A screened port provides venting, and there's a drain in the fiberglass sole so you can hose it out. Its island sunpad provides seamless water and boarding access; its wetbar and plush seating offer entertaining luxury; and its construction and performance evoke pride and generate excitement. But it's these console cabins that make the 298 SSX so tough to beat.