Years ago, waterbike pundits proclaimed if a company could build an inexpensive four-stroke, the customers would come. It happened. Now so-called “entry-level” machines account for the majority of the top-sellers, featuring price tags around $8,500 and fuel consumption stats that promise to squeeze every last ounce from your budget. Even so, these boats do it while offering surprising performance and amenities. Which offers the most for your money?
KAWASAKI STX 15F
Dry weight (lbs.) 845
Engine 1,498cc, four-cylinder
Fuel capacity (gal.) 16.4
Combined stowage (gal.) 23.5
Fuel capacity and stowage top the class, the latter provided by a large front tub under a pneumatically dampened lid. There’s also a small glovebox and a compartment under the aft portion of the seat. A magnetic key disables the engine for theft protection, and a beginner-friendly, programmable speed governor can be activated through a switch on the instrument display. Collision avoidance maneuvers are enhanced by Smart Steering, a system that increases thrust when it senses a collision-avoidance move at the handlebars. The boarding platform is about a foot deep and features a flip-down boarding step for assistance.
This hull was originally designed for the racecourse. As you might expect, the handling is aggressive. Yet it always remains stable and predictable, with a forgiving ride in rough conditions. It also has the most solid-feeling ride of the three, a testament to Kawasaki’s fit and finish. A low-slung driver position works in concert with the craft’s performance attitude, but may occasionally cramp larger riders. A sculpted, bolstered seat, however, provides more support for longer rides. The reverse lever is located on the starboard side of the console, preventing the driver from comfortably working both reverse and throttle to help maneuver in tight quarters.
It has the largest displacement and highest horsepower combo here, edging others by 30 to 50 hp. Both acceleration and top speeds are best in class. Expect to reach 61 to 62 mph and 0-to-30-mph acceleration times of less than two seconds. This may initially make the boat feel intimidating to novices, but it also promises to avoid the situation where the rider’s skills ultimately outgrow a boat’s performance capability. The 15F features surprisingly good fuel economy given its horsepower, burning only 5.4 gph at 35 mph.
HIGHS & LOWS
HIGHS Highest horsepower and largest displacement engine stacks the deck; tops in both speed and acceleration. Race-derived hull design. Best stowage and fuel capacity. Handy split-seat stowage aft. Spacious boarding deck and flip-down step combo.
LOWS Starboard reverse handle is awkward. Ergonomics may cramp taller drivers. Old-school looks need refreshing. A lot of engine crammed into a tight compartment.
SEA-DOO GTI SE 130
Dry weight (lbs.) 745
Engine 1,494cc, three-cylinder
Fuel capacity (gal.) 15.9
Combined stowage (gal.) 12.4
Although it’s the priciest of the three, it offers a lot of bike for the money. A 17-feature display includes a compass and a water temperature sensor. Theft prevention and speed governing are accomplished through a digitally encoded set of safety lanyards. The boarding platform is about 9″ deep and has a standard flip-down step. A unique, deployable rudder system provides steering assistance in off-throttle collision-avoidance situations. Stowage capacity is the smallest. There’s a removable tub that’s watertight, but it’s hard to access underway. A large glovebox can accommodate a pair of drinks or small gear.
With less deadrise than the other two bikes here, the Sea-Doo captures a little of the playful personality of early models. With minimal seat time, drivers will learn how to carve an aggressive corner, as well as how to break the stern loose when desired. Plenty of power is on tap, and the boat holds speed well in the midrange, important for wakeboarding and other watersports. Sea-Doo’s excellent reverse is located to port, enabling the driver to work through forward/neutral/reverse positions while continuing to apply throttle. A one-piece seat offers sculpted bolsters to enhance driver and passenger support.
The engine has been detuned from 155 hp to 130 hp in this entry-level model. The cutoff, however, seems to be mostly on the top end of the powerband. Acceleration and midrange performance remain strong, and the powerband is quite linear. Zero-to-30-mph acceleration times average three seconds; top speeds hover between 53 and 55 mph. Fuel consumption, however, is the worst of the three contenders. At a 35-mph cruise, expect the GTI to burn around 6.4 gph.
HIGHS & LOWS
HIGHS Closed-loop engine cooling keeps saltwater at bay. Large glovebox; removable, watertight stowage bin. Portside reverse. Handling can be precise or playful. Collision-avoidance method works with engine on or off. Best maintenance access.
LOWS Highest price tag. Smallest stowage and fuel capacity. Watertight stowage bin can be difficult to access on the water. Exhaust still requires flushing out when used in saltwater.
YAMAHA VX DELUXE
Dry weight (lbs.) 710
Engine 1,052cc, four-cylinder
Fuel capacity (gal.) 15.9
Combined stowage (gal.) 18.7
Here’s the lowest price tag of the trio. An automotive-like remote transmitter is used for theft protection and can be used to activate a slow-speed mode. Stowage capacity is middle of the pack, with a finished front tub and a glovebox. Rearview mirrors are functional, but their low and forward position on the cowl makes them vulnerable to damage at the dock. At 1’5″ deep, the boarding platform is the largest here, but there’s no flip-down ladder. For watersports Yamaha opts for a simple U-bolt, rather than a standard tow eye. Collision avoidance is accomplished through an increase in thrust at the pump, similar to Kawasaki’s.
Despite having the least horsepower, it delivers similar performance to the more powerful Sea-Doo. The hull tracks predictably in calmer waters and is the best at negotiating rough conditions, pounding its way across the waves while never getting pushed off course. The tradeoff is a slightly more jarring, and occasionally wetter, ride. The high-rpm low-displacement engine runs smoothly throughout the powerband and settles in well at towing speeds. Reverse is located on the starboard side of the cowl and requires a somewhat awkward reach to access. The one-piece seat provides a series of bolsters for driver and passenger comfort.
Per company policy, Yamaha no longer publishes horsepower numbers, but they used to when the 110-hp VX was first introduced. Using those numbers, this detuned variant of the company’s FX models is the least powerful candidate here. The engine is designed to get horsepower through rpm, rather than displacement, and on paper it appears to be at a distinct disadvantage. On the water, however, expect it to top out around 53 mph; going from 0 to 30 mph takes slightly over three seconds. The one place where this Yamaha definitely holds the edge is fuel efficiency. At a 35-mph cruise, the VX burns about 4.1 gph.
HIGHS & LOWS
HIGHS Solid, predictable ride in all conditions. Lowest retail price. Best fuel economy. Strong power delivery despite lowest horsepower. Auto-like, remote-based security system. Roomy aft platform good for tow sports.
LOWS Awkward reverse placement on starboard side of cowl. Lacks boarding step. Simple U-bolt, rather than tow eye. Low-slung mirrors susceptible to damage.
The BOTTOM LINE
The Sea-Doo GTI SE 130 is full featured and the easiest to maneuver around the dock thanks to its portside reverse lever. Its price, however, is the highest here. Plus, it has less stowage capacity and the highest fuel consumption. The Yamaha VX Deluxe is the best-selling boat in the industry. Its stylish looks, predictable handling, low price, and class-topping fuel economy make it impossible to ignore. However, the Kawasaki STX 15F comes to this gunfight packing heat. It’s tops in speed, acceleration, stowage, and fuel capacity, and nearly equals Yamaha in fuel conservation. A boarding ladder and ski-tow-eye seal the deal. It looks a little dated, but it’s the best bang for the buck.