Outboard vs. Sterndrive

Outboard and sterndrive go head-to-head using a Glastron GTD 200 and GTD 205.

It’s an existential question for our time: Would you like your new fun boat with outboard or sterndrive power? Ouch! I get a headache at the mere thought of having to make this choice. It’s almost as bad as the classic Ginger or Mary Ann … and just as vexing, because there really is no wrong answer. But there must be a better answer, or we wouldn’t have a choice to make in the first place. For example, would Glastron even offer the new outboard-powered GTD 200 deck boat if the almost identical sterndrive-powered GTD 205 was the better power option? No, it would not, because Glastron wants us to have the best boat. But apparently, Glastron can’t decide, because for 2018 it will offer both models and leave the decision to the customer. Talk about passing the buck.

Well, dear reader, the buck stops right here. We tested both new Glastron deck boats back to back and did our best to pick a winner.

Outboard vs Sterndrive
Outboard power provides easier maintenance access and can be trimmed completely out of the water when the boat is in a slip.Glastron

Glastron has not offered a deck boat for about six years, and the GTD models are new from the keel up. Which means, unlike many of the “new” outboard-powered family boats that have hit the market recently, the GTD 200 is not a retrofit sterndrive; this new platform was designed from scratch for the outboard- or sterndrive-power option. Overall length for both boats is officially 23 feet 4 inches, but that does not include the outboard motor on the 205 because there are nine different Yamaha, Evinrude and Mercury Marine outboard options, and I guess each would make the complete length overall a little different. Running surface length is 20 feet 3 inches, and the beam is 8 feet 6 inches. Deadrise is a modest 17 degrees, and in typical deck-boat style, the chines are carried far forward to a wide bow that creates a spacious forward seating area and a boarding platform. The styling is crisp, with some sharp edges and creases molded into the deck part as highlights. This is a great-looking boat.

Outboard vs Sterndrive
How We Tested
Engine: Single Evinrude G2 E-Tec 200 gasoline outboard | Drive/Prop: 14.5" x 21" BRP Viper 3-blade stainless steel | Gear Ratio: 2.17:1 | Fuel Load: 30 gal. | Water on Board: 0 gal. | Crew Weight: 875 lb.

Rock-bottom base pricing for the outboard-powered GTD 200 is about $36,000 with a Mercury 115. For the sterndrive-powered GTD 205, it’s about $41,000 with a 200 hp MerCruiser. In each instance, that price includes a single-axle trailer, four-speaker audio system with Bluetooth, and complete instrumentation with a GPS speedometer. If you’re cross-shopping, look at the Starcraft MDX 211 E (base $35,000), the Stingray 212SC or the Hurricane 220 OB (each about $44,000 with a 150 hp outboard).

Both Glastron models are offered with a choice of three deck layouts. The base boat has a single console at the helm with seating wrapped all around the port side of the cockpit. The console is topped with a smoked windscreen. The second option adds a portside console ($913) with a similar windscreen that also incorporates a pocket for a 25-quart cooler in its base but eliminates one seating position. This console is equipped with a sink only if the rinsing shower option ($413) is also selected. The third choice adds a full glass windshield ($967) to these dual consoles. Your climate and general hardiness will determine the value of the full windshield. There is no carpet option, but snap-in vinyl “reed” matting ($553) is available.

Outboard vs Sterndrive
Outboard Advantage: Lighter weight | Prop set back farther from the transom | Self-draining eases winterization | More cockpit space | Quieter (usually)Glastron

The helm is the same on each boat. You get a tilt wheel, bucket seat with flip-up bolster, and a pair of multifunction gauges on the dash that flank a pocket on center with 12-volt and audio-input jacks. The bow seats are long enough for my 6-foot frame to stretch out in comfort. The base boats have plastic grab handles, which are the only clue that these models are striving for a price point. One more nice detail is a boarding accommodation to port. The gunwale and coaming pad are hinged and pivot 180 degrees outboard, and the support under the seat cushion is designed to be a step. These work together to ease dockside boarding. That seat base can also flip up and secure to the inwale and, when combined with a removable backrest, creates a forward-facing seating position roughly adjacent to the helm. The backrest is included with the port console.

Outboard vs Sterndrive
Glastron GTD 200 Certified Test ResultsBoating Magazine

Let’s get down to this comparison business. The deck is different on each boat, and it accommodates a specific layout in the aft cockpit. The GTD 205 has a sterndrive’s typical sun pad over the motor box and an L-shaped bench-style seat with stowage below the seats. The starboard seat cushion lifts off to uncover a step, and the starboard third of the 31-inch-deep sun pad can flip over to create a walkway to the transom platform, or it can prop up at an angle as a backrest. This boat has a full-width boarding platform that’s 17 inches deep, and our test boat had the optional ($800) 19-inch-deep platform extension.

The GTD 200 exchanges the motor box for 15 inches of additional floor space. Its rear seat wraps all the way around the aft cockpit. The center aft seat cushion is hinged and covers a mesh liner for wet gear. The other cushions lift off to reveal a smooth bottom and access to the inner transom, fuel lines and the freshwater tank to port, and the battery in the center. The starboard cushion covers a step, as it does on the 205, and lifting the step reveals a small wastebasket. There’s a walk-through to starboard to a boarding platform that’s about 24 inches deep on each side of the outboard motor, with an 8-inch-deep pass way in front of the motor. Of course, that extended platform is not an option on the GTD 200.

Outboard vs Sterndrive
The sterndrive posted quieter operation by 8 db at cruising speeds, as well as better handling in close quarters.Glastron

The stern living area has become an important point of boat comparison because so many of us like to hang out at the back of the boat, whether beached or at anchor, and in this regard, the advantage has to go to the GTD 205 just because there’s no motor in the middle of the transom. It also has that sun pad and the potential extended platform, which is great for swimming and managing boards and tubes, and also helps keep swimmers’ feet away from the propeller. The GTD 200 has more room in the cockpit and a little more seating space. Both boats are rated for 11 passengers, but the GTD 200 has a 2,400-pound capacity compared to just 1,650 for the GTD 205, because engine weight is included in the load for a sterndrive boat but does not count with outboard power.

Outboard vs Sterndrive
How We Tested
Engine: Single Mercury MerCruiser 4.5L 250 hp sterndrive | Drive/Prop: MerCruiser Alpha outdrive/14" x 17" Mercury Spitfire 4-blade aluminum | Gear Ratio: 1.62:1 | Fuel Load: 30 gal. | Water on Board: 0 gal. | Crew weight: 875 lb.
Mercury Marine

Pre-recession we could request boats to make a real apples-to-apples performance comparison for a story like this — same horsepower and similar options. But these days they build boats for dealer orders, not for magazine tests. So we got a GTD 200 with a 200 hp outboard and a GTD 205 with a 250 hp sterndrive. To make the performance comparison more fraught, the GTD 205 was equipped with a watersports tower ($1,967) and the platform extension, which combine to add significant weight. It’s real-world weight, however, because I think both options will be popular with GTD 205 buyers. We used an overhead scale to determine that the GTD 205 weighed 740 pounds more than the GTD 200, and only about 300 of those extra pounds can be attributed to the sterndrive powertrain. I would expect the lighter outboard-powered GTD 200 to start with a performance advantage, which was exaggerated by the weight of accessories on the GTD 205 — the outboard was faster and delivered slightly better fuel economy.

Outboard vs Sterndrive
Sterndrive Advantage: Shorter LOA | Dual contra-rotating props may be available | Full-width transom platform | Sleeker-looking | Less expensiveGlastron

We tested on a really rough lake — stiff flags, whitecaps, etc. — which is a good thing! With just 17 degrees of deadrise and the typical extended chines of the deck-boat platform, we anticipated a slow, pounding ride to the lee at the other end of the lake, but we were wrong. With outboard or sterndrive power, this hull charged through the head sea with little drama, and at half-throttle, I don’t think small children would be sobbing if they were aboard. On flat water, the hole shot was good in both boats, but the outboard was faster and offered no bow rise. It just took off flat and accelerated. I could feel no advantage for either powertrain in overall handling on smooth water, which was excellent.

Outboard vs Sterndrive
Glastron GTD 205 Certified Test ResultsBoating Magazine

The performance of the GTD 200 has to be tempered by the high sound level produced by the Evinrude G2 200 outboard, which was always present as unpleasant background noise. Note the 8-decibel difference at cruising speed. That’s huge. And the Evinrude also passed high-frequency vibration through the sole, which we did not feel in the sterndrive-powered boat. My personal experience tells me this is an Evinrude problem, not an outboard problem. A Mercury or Yamaha four-stroke outboard will likely be even quieter than the sterndrive. The Evinrude G2 platform does have its virtues. We love the onboard oil reservoir and the slick integrated power steering, the clean rigging, and the motor’s ability to “self-winterize.” The Evinrude 200 is also the most expensive engine option, with a base price of $50,700. The Mercury Verado 200 ($46,267) and Yamaha F200 ($44,467) undercut that price significantly, though they may not match the on-plane performance of the spunky two-stroke Evinrude. The outboard choice offered by your Glastron dealer will depend on its brand affiliation. The MerCruiser 4.5L 250 is smooth and quiet, and produces delightful midrange power. At $45,033, it also has a lower base price than any of the 200 hp outboards.

Outboard vs Sterndrive
Glastron GTD ComparisonBoating Magazine

Outboard vs. sterndrive? Here’s how you decide. How will you use this boat? If you engage in a lot of stern-area living, the outboard is always going to be in the way. If you do much tube and board towing, the outboard will be in the way. The outboard will prove more corrosion-resistant for coastal boaters and will be easier and perhaps less expensive to maintain, in addition to delivering better acceleration and top speed. Of course, if you care about performance, why are you even considering a deck boat? Ginger was built for speed, but in this case, I’ll stick with the sterndrive. I hear Mary Ann loves to hang out at the sandbar.

Outboard vs Sterndrive
Glastron GTDX 200Glastron

Glastron GTDX 200
The new Glastron GTDX 200 was designed to relieve the head-spinning "option-sheet paralysis" that often afflicts first-time boat buyers; confronted with too many choices and multiple decisions to make about power, options and color potential, buyers have been known to simply walk away from a boat show or dealership. The X version of the new Glastron GTD deck series makes buying easy because there are only three options and the price is friendly. For an MSRP as low as $33,333, you get a white with denim blue GTD 200 with a 115 hp outboard and a single-axle trailer. The interior color is Savannah Sand. The only add-ons are a wind deflector for the helm console ($367), an audio system with two speakers ($367), and a cockpit cover ($667). Powered by a Merc 115 FourStroke, the boat has a top speed of 40.7 mph, cruises at 23.3 mph and 4.5 mpg, and planes in about 8 seconds, all with five people on board. The GTDX 200 offers the same handsome lines, solid construction and smooth ride as other GTD models. This boat makes it easy to take it easy.