What constitutes an “Entry-Level” bowrider? Basically, one thing – price – because everything else flows from there. The size of the boat is limited by the price, the equipment, horsepower of the engine, the amount of amenities installed, the quality of the upholstery, the length and breadth of the warranty and much more.
At one time, entry-level boats were pretty basic, and even today some are little more than a hull and deck molding glued together with as little as possible put inside. But for the brand name builders, entry-level sportboats have been gradually improved to a point where they include a number of accessories that their more expensive sisters have. The result is that they can be very good values.
All four of the boats we have selected ride well in their intended environment, and have substantial companies backing them up with engineering, and years of experience. The result is are four boats that we can generally recommend -- but nevertheless, they are not all the same.
Only a foot of LOA separates these four boats; all have beams within a couple inches of each other; each rides on a V-hull of 19 or 20 degrees deadrise at the transom; and they all weigh about the same. But there the similarities end.
Choosing one over the other is a matter of styling, ergonomic details, added utility, increased functionality, fit-and-finish, differences in standard equipment, and warranty. In other words, they are more different than they may look to be at first glance.
The Chaparral, for example, is outfitted for both watersports and fishing -- hence more utility and her "Ski & Fish" moniker. The Sea Ray has a single bucket seat; hence more cockpit seating. The Tahoe's sun pad is set up for athwartships lounging, while the Glastron's converts to aft-facing chaises, overlooking the swim platform. If the devil's in the details, for this quartet details make the boat.
Sea Ray builds the SPX 210 as an all-purpose bowrider, with the standard equipment and features most boaters want, including a trailer. Narrow gunwales and slightly wider beam add area to the cockpit compared to other boats in this class. Seating is adjustable for running, towing or partying at anchor. The sunpad converts to an aft-facing seat for use at rest, and another aft-facing seat in the bow is ideal for observing a skier or wakeboarder.
Options. Each buyer can customize the SPX 210 to suit his/her needs with several packages: The All-Sports package adds fishing gear, including casting chairs and a trolling motor; the Elevation package, a watersports tower and wakeboard racks; the Select package, has upgraded upholstery and a premium dash.
Standard power is a 200-hp MerCruiser 4.5L spinning an Alpha I sterndrive. We tested the SPX 210 with this power and found a top speed of 39.7 knots, best cruise of 23.4 knots. That's a good cruising speed for a boat this size, one that, with attention to trim and steering, can be maintained with comfort as the chop builds. But some people want to go faster, so Sea Ray offers an upgrade to a 250-hp version of the same 4.5L MerCruiser. (The SPX 210 is also available with outboard power, up to a 200-hp Mercury Verado; it's called the SPX 210 OB.)
Tahoe's 700 is the biggest runabout in that company's line at 21’; she's a brand-new model, listed as a 2018, and replaces the Q7i from 2016. Our captain noted the boat's deep bow cockpit, which is good for keeping the kids aboard when underway. The backrests are high and angled just right, and a filler cushion creates an aft-facing seat on the centerline.
The main cockpit has helm and companion bucket seats with flip-up bolsters for extra elevation. The helm is well laid out, with clearly labeled and illuminated accessory switches. Buyers opting for the biggest, most expensive engine option, a 300-hp MerCruiser 6.2L DTS with a Bravo sterndrive, get digital throttle and shift (DTS) and the futuristic Mercury Vessel View Screen, too. That was the power package our captain tested -- he saw a top speed of 55.7 mph, best cruise around 29 mph.
Other options are a folding wakeboard tower, with or without racks; an extended swim platform, which adds extra room for boards or a tube - it includes a four-step boarding ladder, and can be covered in soft touch vinyl (easier than nonskid on the knees); a number of canvas packages and trailer upgrades. The trailer itself is standard, and the Tahoe 700 buyer has a choice of six hull/trim color schemes without an upcharge.
Chaparral's 21 H2O Ski & Fish is, as her name suggests, a dual-purpose, dual-console boat that lets her skipper chase fish and tow skiers with equal aplomb. Based on Chaparral's 21 H2O Sport, the Ski & Fish adds piscatorial features that serious anglers require: a casting platform, livewell, rod stowage and an electric trolling motor. Two aft jump seats double as fishing chairs, with mounts in the forward cockpit and on the aft sunpad. While the Ski & Fish isn't the equal of hard-core, dedicated fishboats, she has enough gear to satisfy all but the most fanatic anglers.
And Then There's Skiing. There's an under-sole locker in the cockpit big enough for skis and wake boards. Wakeboarders will want the optional folding tower to raise the tow point; board racks are also optional, along with tower canvas.
Power options range from 200- to 250-hp MerCruiser and Volvo Penta sterndrives. Our test showed 47.6 mph WOT with a 220-hp Merc 4.3L, and a best cruise speed of around 29.3 mph. Is it worth upgrading to the biggest MerCruiser? We tested the 100 lbs. lighter Chaparral 21 H2O Sport as well, the same boat as the Fish & Ski but without the fishing gear, and hit 50.2 mph with a 260-hp MerCruiser 5.0L under the hood. Because the 5.0 L has more displacement than the 4.3 L engine, it will have more torque at the lower and mid ranges, something is a considerations for owners towing beginners or heavy watersports enthusiasts.
The Glastron GTS 225 has a helm station that reminds us of a 1967 Mustang we once owned, with a speedo and tach housed in protruding tube bezels in the middle, flanked by smaller gauges in similar bezels to either side. All gauges are fog-resistant. Accessory switches are push/pull, equally retro-styled. Both the helmsman and companion sit in supportive bucket seats with flip-up bolsters, and a glovebox at the helmsman's elbow will hold cell phone, sunglasses and so forth. Tilt steering is standard.
The GTS 225 is the only one of the four boats in this roundup to offer a dual-prop sterndrive, in this case both MerCruiser and Volvo Penta options up to 300 hp. (Single-prop drives are also available.) A dual-prop drive produces faster acceleration and faster planing, better tracking (the counter-rotating props negate torque steering) and better handling at low speed. In our opinion, they are a desirable option well worth the added cost.
Our test boat had a 300-hp MerCruiser 6.2L with Bravo III drive. Top speed was 48.6 mph, best cruise was at 26.7 mph. On take off the boat has low bow rise. Our test captain reported the Glastron was quick out of the hole, planing in just 3.6 seconds, and reaching 30 mph in 6.4 seconds. At low speed, he found the boat responsive, easy to slide into a slip or line up for the trailer. (The trailer comes standard, too.)
Don’t hesitate to drop BoatTEST.com a note if you have a question about any of these boats, we are usually pretty quick to answer.