When Should You Buy a Bigger Boat?

Shop smart with these key boat-buying tips.

We’ve all known a boat owner afflicted with “two-footitis,” a desire that burns hotter than athlete’s foot to trade up to the next-bigger model. The malady is as seasonal and as contagious as the flu. I found myself pondering incremental growth on the day I tested the four new Cruisers Sport Series runabouts from KCS International.

This is the company known in recent decades for its larger Cruisers Yachts line of cruising boats as well as Rampage sport-fishermen. But, indeed, both those marques have small boats deep in their DNA, especially Cruisers Yachts, which, as Cruisers Inc., built a slew of runabouts in the 1960s. These new boats range in length from 23 feet 8 inches to 29 feet — that’s just 5 feet 4 inches separating the shortest from the longest — and represent a return to that heritage. That brings us back to the original question: As a buyer, how would I choose between the 23-foot-8-inch Cruisers Sport Series AZ238 and the 25-foot Cruisers Sport Series AZ258? What exactly do I get with 16 inches more length?

Specs
Both the AZ238 and AZ258 have the same 8-foot-6-inch beam. The 5,160-pound AZ258 weighs 729 pounds more than the 4,431-pound AZ238, which could be a concern if you trailer frequently. Base power is 260 hp for the AZ238 and 300 hp for the AZ258. The AZ258 carries 13 more gallons of fuel, but a heavier boat with a larger engine needs more tankage. Both have in-sole stowage compartments and an enclosed head.

Amenity
It's hard to tell the boats apart from the helm seat. They share many components, including the swim platform, the helm and head consoles, the motor box and its integrated pivoting seat back, and the windshield. The aft seats are shorter on the AZ238, and it lacks the 48-quart cooler below the seat, as on the AZ258. There's less headroom in the AZ238's head, and its bow seating area is also a few inches shorter than that of the AZ258.

Performance
We tested both boats with base power. The Cruisers AZ238 tops out at 43.1 mph with the 260 hp MerCruiser for power. The AZ258 proved 14 percent faster at 49.3 mph with a 300 hp Volvo Penta sterndrive for power. If we average fuel economy across the 3,000 rpm to 4,000 rpm cruising sweet spot — where you'll really run these boats — the AZ238 has a 10 percent advantage at 3.2 mpg, compared with 2.9 for the AZ258.

Price
The Cruisers Sport Series AZ238 has a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $63,000 with a 260 hp MerCruiser 5.0 MPI Bravo Three sterndrive. For about $8,800 more, you can move up to the longer Cruisers Sport Series AZ258 with a 300 hp Volvo Penta sterndrive, like the one we tested. If you want to crunch numbers, that's 14 percent more cash for 6 percent more length, 14 percent more speed and 10 percent less economy.

Conclusion
We could have chosen boats from any number of manufacturers for this comparison, but we presupposed a scenario in which a boat buyer who is ready to step up would have settled on a builder based on a variety of factors, including the reputation of any one brand's local dealer. (This is always a shrewd shopping strategy.)

We also didn’t address the quandary of single versus twin engines — a dilemma that two-footitis begets once you start looking at boats a bit bigger than the two Cruisers Sport Series runabouts we tested and used as an example here.

If you set your sight on still bigger boats, you’ll need to consider the pros and cons of sterndrives and outboards versus inboards and pods. Gas and diesel. Flybridge and express. And on it goes. Two-footitis is an equal opportunity affliction.

Be that as it may, here’s what we found.

The AZ238 is less expensive, more economical, lighter and thus easier to tow, and shorter and thus easier to store if you keep your boat protected in a garage, carport or barn.

The AZ258 is faster, is perhaps more comfortable in rough water, has more cockpit space and comes with a cooler. You’ll need a somewhat larger, or at least longer, building to store it in if you want it under a roof.

Do you feel the itch or not?

Cruisers Sport Series AZ258
LOA: 25'0" Beam: 8'6" Draft (max): 3'4" Displacement (approx.): 5,160 lb. Transom Deadrise: 22 degrees Bridge Clearance: 4'10" Fuel Capacity: 68 gal. Max Horsepower: 320 Available Power: Single MerCruiser and Volvo Penta sterndrives up to 320 hp

Price
$71,840 (with test power)

How We Tested
Engine: Volvo Penta V8300C sterndrive
Drive/Prop: Volvo Penta Duoprop/FH-5 stainless-steel propset
Gear Ratio: 1.95:1
Fuel Load: 35 gal.
Water on Board: 0 gal.
Crew Weight: 360 lb.

Cruisers Sport Series AZ238
LOA: 23'8" Beam: 8'6" Draft (max): 3'3" Displacement (approx.): 4,431 lb. Transom Deadrise: 21 degrees Bridge Clearance: 4'9" Fuel Capacity: 55 gal. Max Horsepower: 300 Available Power: Single MerCruiser and Volvo Penta sterndrives up to 300 hp

Price
$63,000 (with test power)

How We Tested
Engine: MerCruiser 5.0 MPI sterndrive
Drive/Prop: MerCruiser Bravo Three/24-pitch Bravo Three stainless-steel propset
Gear Ratio: 2.00:1
Fuel Load: 25 gal.
Water on Board: 12 gal.
Crew Weight: 360 lb.