Shootout: 17' Entry-Level Runabouts

Four inexpensive bowriders. One best value.

17' Entry-Level Runabouts
Bayliner 175
The Basics
LOA: 17'6"
Beam: 6'11"
Draft(max.): 2'10"
Displacement(lbs., approx.): 1,847
Transom deadrise: 19°
Fuel capacity(gal.): 21
Price(w/135-hp MerCruiser 3.0 Alpha 1): $13,124 Details: The Bayliner 175 has been freshened up for 2009 with a sportier curved windshield, updated gauge cluster, and sleek new engine box. The latter's hinged lid rises on pneumatic struts and features a thick rubber seal. The bow cockpit is sized for kids, but the sheerline reverses, creating a dip to the bow that makes seating less secure. Single-color hull, with taped graphics. Two-color vinyl. Open tray, rather than glovebox. No standard radio. Construction: Bayliner features a lifetime warranty on its traditionally laid-up hull. Stringers are fabricated from lifetime guaranteed marine plywood, then encapsulated in glass. They absorb engine and hull vibration. The cockpit floor is likewise marine ply, with a glued-down carpet. Vinyl trim eliminates any rough edges on fiberglass inwales. Cleats are secured against a backing block, which is glassed into the underside of the deck. The bow cockpit is part of the deck mold. Performance: The Bayliner is the lightest boat here by nearly 200 pounds, a stat that gives it an impressive power-to-weight ratio given its 135-hp MerCruiser 3.0 engine. It jumps onto plane in 3.5 seconds and tops out at 44.5 mph. Although we expected its light weight to affect top-end stability, the ride was surprisingly solid. Cornering ability was also impressive, making the 175 a fun and nimble performer. The 135-hp MerCruiser is the only engine option. Highs & Lows
Highs: Engine vents under the hatch lid reduce noise. Nonslip on transom, top of motorbox. Good windshield support. Removable engine box offers maintenance access. Standard trailer.
Lows: No standard radio. No strap to secure windshield. No stowage liner. Four cleats total, no real bow cleats. Two-step ladder. No armrest for driver's throttle arm.
Contact: www.bayliner.com
17' Entry-Level Runabouts
Glastron SSV 175
The Basics
LOA: 17'1"
Beam: 7'4"
Draft(max.): 2'7"
Displacement(lbs., approx.): 2,040
Transom deadrise: 21°
Fuel capacity(gal.): 23
Price(w/135-hp Volvo Penta 3.0 GL): $13,995 Details: This is the shortest boat here, but it makes good use of its space. A white hull is accented by stick-on graphics in red or royal blue. The white and gray vinyl also adds a third color accent. The bow features a nonslip step for boarding, but its low height is less secure for those riding up front. A stowage tray is molded into the port console. Only a tinted polycarbonate windscreen is standard; a full glass windshield is a $453 option. Construction: Glastron uses closed-mold VEC construction, which incorporates stringers, transom, and hull into a single part and includes a lifetime warranty. The deck's traditional fiberglass construction incorporates the bow cockpit, consoles, and aft bench. The main cockpit floor has glued-in carpet. As VEC produces a smooth finish on both sides, it gives the bilge a surface that's easier to keep clean. Deck hardware is backed with aluminum plates. Performance: VEC construction gives the Glastron a secure feeling on the water. The hull responds with relative precision, and handling is aided by standard power steering. The SSV is quick to plane, leveling off in about 3 seconds. Top speed with the base Volvo Penta 3.0 was 40.2 mph. Glastron offers the widest variety of engines for a bargain model, including base 135-hp choices from MerCruiser and Volvo Penta, as well as two fuel-injected options. Highs & Lows
Highs: Supports below aft bench hold skis, wakeboards. Good engine and battery access. Power steering. Molded stowage compartments in bow. Standard trailer.
Lows: Only four cleats. White gel coat at helm doesn't prevent glare. Individual aft seats not as comfortable as a large bench seat. No strut to hold open ski locker lid.
Contact: www.glastron.com 800-452-4834
17' Entry-Level Runabouts
Larson 180 Sport
The Basics
LOA: 17'7"
Beam: 7'4"
Draft(max.): 2'7"
Displacement(lbs., approx.): 2,375
Transom deadrise: 21°
Fuel capacity(gal.): 23
Price(w/135-hp Volvo Penta 3.0 GL): $19,907 Details: The tiered helm is attractive and features a full complement of instruments. Vinyl is two-tone with a pleasing texture. The bow dips forward to improve visibility and offer a convenient boarding point, but with only 4" of fiberglass above the seat, it's less secure for those riding up front. Unlike the competition, Larson adds a pair of midship cleats, for a total of six. Also standard is a Sony AM/FM CD with MP3 jack. Construction: Like Glastron, Larson uses VEC construction. It features a lifetime warranty. The cockpit features a fiberglass liner, which gives the boat the advantage of an easily washable floor rather than glued-down carpet. Consoles are screwed into position. The bilge is smoothly finished and easy to keep clean thanks to VEC producing a smooth finish. Aluminum plates back up essential deck hardware. Performance: VEC construction displays a solid, rattle-free ride. Part of the reason is weight. Larson vies with Four Winns for the title of heaviest boat here, which gives the 180 a secure presence on the water but may hamper its performance. With a 3.0-liter Volvo Penta, the 180 Sport topped out at 41 mph, and planed in 3.3 seconds. Cornering is smooth and without hiccups. Larson offers a single engine upgrade, a 4.3-liter Volvo Penta. Highs & Lows
Highs: Six cleats. Deck hardware backed with aluminum plates. Twin buckets have flip-up bolsters. Canvas strap secures walk-through windshield. Standard trailer.
Lows: Ski locker has simple plastic lid, no strut to hold in open position. Some window reflection off shiny gray dash. No side panels in windshield. Multiple puckers on loose-fitting sunpad vinyl.
Contact: www.larsonboats.com 320-632-5481 The Bottom Line: There's not a bad choice here. All are well-made boats from major builders. If you want to spend the extra cash, the Four Winns and Larson are a notch above the others. Both enjoy fiberglass cockpit floors, stylish helms, and seating that's superior to the rotomolded shells found elsewhere. Their $5,000-plus premium, however, can be a deal breaker. Glastron is the more stylish of the two less expensive models, and VEC construction offers nice benefits. To get a real windshield, however, you must upgrade. That once again leaves the venerable Bayliner 175. Its construction is solid, speed and handling spirited, and the new curved windshield and sleek motorbox update its look. Best of all is its price-just over $13 grand. Looking for a great bargain? This is the boat to beat.

Another sign of the times? Builders are paying increasingly more attention to the lowest end of the price scale in boats. For most families, that means the 17' bowrider, a boat that costs little, is simple to trailer and store, and can handle taking Mom and Dad for a cruise one minute, and the kids skiing and wakeboarding the next. If he's lucky, Dad might even squeeze in a little fishing. All for a price that will allow him to afford the gas to use the boat each weekend rather than watch it collect mold in the driveway. Which of these contenders is the best steal?