Sea Ray SPX 210 OB
Tahoe 550 TS
Chaparral 21 H2O OB Sport
Good things often come in small packages. Consider the three sportboats in this comparison: All are among the lowest-priced boats in their size range yet each one is from a recognized “name” brand. Each one has the performance it takes to keep younger boaters interested and to remind older boaters that age is just a number. But, since they are “value-oriented” models, the trick is to find the boat which has not skimped on the very thing you want to have. Each builder has taken a slightly different approach to creating an affordable boat.
Folks just starting out on the boating lifestyle, and those with many sea miles under their keels, should find a boat to like in this roundup. All three are very similar in size and specification, in layout, and in performance, so choosing one over the others boils down to details. Each builder has a slightly different approach to producing an affordable boat.
They are outboard-powered, adding space and stowage in the cockpit but infringing, sometimes just a bit, sometimes more, on the swim platform.
Realistic Capacity. Each boat has enough room in the cockpit for four adults to spread out without banging elbows; add kids to the mix and there's space for a couple more people. Boats this size don't have expansive forward cockpits, but they're big enough to relax two adults, or corral a bunch of kids to get them out of the grownups' hair when anchored.
Power. At just 21’ (6.40 m), give or take a few inches, these three boats need little in the way of horsepower compared to boats just a couple of feet longer. The three boats carry 175- to 250-hp outboards, max. We tested all three with 150 hp and found them to top out between 40 and 42 knots; plenty fast for boats in this class. Engines this size are less expensive to buy, making these boats affordable for more people; maintenance and operating costs are minimal, too.
Sea Ray's SPX 210 OB is the outboard-powered sistership of the sterndrive SPX 210. Other than engines, the boats are almost exactly the same; the 210 OB draws about an inch less water with the motor tilted up. Offering essentially the same boat with either outboard or sterndrive power is becoming more common now that outboards are as efficient as sterndrives, as reliable, and easier to maintain.
Sea Ray builds eight models in OB and SD configurations, including the SPX 190, the smaller sister of this boat.
Are there performance advantages to outboard vs. sterndrive power? We've tested both the SPX 210 OB, with the standard 150-hp Mercury FourStroke, and the sterndrive SPX 210 with a 200-hp Mercury 4.5L, also standard for that model. The lighter-weight outboard boat is a bit faster at MPH WOT (40.4 knots vs. 39.7); cruises a tad farther on a tank of fuel (157 vs. 145 n.m.); is a whisker faster at the most efficient speed (23.8 vs. 23.4 knots.); and costs $1,108 less, $41,493 base vs. $42,601, per the Sea Ray website.
On the other hand, the sterndrive SPX 210 has a clear swim platform for wakeboarding, waterskiing, etc. Although Sea Ray did a good job preserving the full-beam platform on the SPX 210 OB, by bolting the outboard to the aft face of the platform rather than notching the platform for the motor, as many builders do. Also, remember that the 4.5 L 6-cylinder sterndrive has more low-end torque than the 3.0 L 4-cylinder outboard engine. That means that this model should do a better job of pulling up wake boarders faster.
Several options packages let each buyer customize his/her SPX 210 OB for specific activities: 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, upgraded upholstery and a premium dash. Buyers needing more power can upgrade to a Mercury 200XL Verado Pro ($9,667).
The Sea Ray SPX 210 OB is the largest boat of the three we are comparing, and is about 1,000 lbs. (454 kg) heavier than the lightest boat of the three. At 8’6” (2.59 m) she is also the beamiest and therefore has the most interior volume of the three boats.
Tahoe's 550 TS Outboard has a somewhat higher freeboard than most boats in this class, so it should be drier in choppy conditions. She also has deeper, more secure seating, an excellent safety feature for buyers with active kids in the crew. Like all Tahoes, she's sold complete, including outboard, trailer, and almost all necessary equipment for an attractive national price of $26,995 with a 115-hp Mercury FourStroke outboard. We'd upgrade to a Mercury 150 4-Stroke -- $2,800 extra.
With the 150-hp 4-Stroke, the Tahoe 550 TS Outboard performed well in our test, hitting a top speed of 42.4 knots. The test captain reported that, in maneuvers, "the boat felt nimble and sporty, whipping through S turns and circles without hooking out in a hard turn." She rides on Tahoe's Powerglide II bottom, which gives the hull a longer running surface with bottom strakes designed to improve acceleration and turning, according to the manufacturer.
OptiMax is Mercury’s 2-Stroke line and they are worth considering because they have greater torque in the low and mid-RPM ranges than do 4-stroke engines of the same horsepower. Folks with a need for more speed can have a 175 XL OptiMax Pro ($31,895 for boat, motor, and trailer).
Whatever engine's on the stern, the 550 TS Outboard comes with plenty of comfort features. The helm and companion seats swivel and adjust fore and aft, and have angled footrests and handy grab rails. Swivel the companion seat 180 degrees, and it's ideal for observing a waterskier or wakeboarder. The skipper should enjoy watching the grey-faced engine gauges set in a darker grey panel for less glare.
Early Warning. Tahoe includes a water-pressure gauge as standard. Loss of water pressure usually shows up first, prior to engine overheating, so the gauge is a valuable addition to the panel, one that should be found aboard every outboard- or sterndrive-powered boat.
Forward, there's an anchor well designed for a Danforth-style hook. Our test captain noted the lack of a means to belay the anchor rode's bitter end, though. Aft, swim platforms bookend the outboard, with a 4-step ladder to starboard, one step beyond the 3-step ladders traditionally found in boats like this one. A wet-stowage locker is set in the portside platform, ideal for a ski-tow rope. A long locker under the cockpit will hold skis, wakeboards, and related gear.
The Tahoe 550 is the lightest of the three boats, weighing 2,395 lbs. (1,086 kg), and she has the narrowest beam at 7’10” (2.39 m), and the lowest deadrise angle at the transom, 16-degrees. All of this means -- given equal horsepower and the right props -- she should be the fastest boat of the three.
Chaparral's 21 H2O OB Sport is a relatively new boat, an outboard version of the builder's popular 21 H2O Sport. Although Chaparral positions the H2O line as affordable at $31,395, the company nevertheless fits out the boats better than "affordable" suggests, with stainless-steel hardware, hydraulic tilt steering with a custom wheel, slide and swivel helm and companion seats, and wraparound bolsters in the forward cockpit.
When Chaparral replaced the sterndrive in the H2O Sport with the Yamaha outboard on the stern of the OB Sport, they left the engine hatch behind -- it now opens to reveal a deep, wide stowage locker, the largest one aboard the boat. The full-beam sunpad atop the hatch has gull wings that can be raised to create a port- or starboard-facing lounge. Like all the upholstery, it's made of premium, stain-resistant vinyl with UV protection. A built-in cooler lives under the aft bench seat.
What about waterskiing? There's an under-sole locker in the cockpit big enough for either skis or wakeboards. Wakeboarders will want the optional folding tower to raise the tow point; it includes a Bimini top. Wakeboard racks are also optional. Other options we'd consider are upgrading helm and companion seats with flip-up bolsters; a bow door to keep the wind out of the cockpit when boating on chilly days; and a mat for the swim platform.
Hull Shape. The 21 H2O OB Sport rides on Chaparral's Extended V-Plane hull: the running surface is carried aft of the transom, under the swim platform. This hull extension adds lift, shortens planing times, improves handling, and adds stability at low speed, according to Chaparral. Our test captain measured planing time at 3.0 seconds, enroute to a top speed of 42.1 knots with a 150-hp Yamaha four-stroke. Mercury outboards up to 250 hp are also available.
The Chaparral 21 H2O OB Sport falls roughly in the middle of our three boats in terms of displacement (2,800 lbs. or 1,270 kg), beam (8’4” or 2.45 m) and deadrise at the transom (20-degrees). Obviously, Chaparral has chosen to take a middle course and let her styling and other factors carry the day.
Again, don’t hesitate to drop BoatTEST.com a note if you have a question about any of these boats.