BOAT TEST: EVOLUTION 500 SANTA FE / EVOLUTION 500 SPORTFISHER
These new Evolution boats may be small in stature but they’re big on performance and handling
Stop looking right now! If you've been searching for a compact family-boating package that will make the whole crew burst with excitement, the new Evolution 500 runabouts are here.
I'm talking about the all new Evolution Santa Fe and its sister; the Sportfisher. Both packages were created from a brand new 5m hull, which is a direct transition from its big brother, the award winning 550 Evolution. This boat took out the prestigious 'Boat of the Year Under 6m Fibreglass GRP Trailerable Fishing' in 2008, in front of some very steep competition and I have no doubt that the 500s will do the same.
The aptly named Santa Fe is reflective of the complex society, which is its namesake. It has rich Spanish blood for excitement, Mexican flare for its colourful beauty, the earthen richness of the American Indian and the timelessness of Adobe design - all packaged up with some great Australian boat-building ingenuity and rugged construction. It's truly an ideal family fun package that's safe to drive and easy to manage and it punches out exhilarating performance for the whole range of family pursuits.
WATERSPORTS OR FISHING
The Santa Fe is the sports-runabout version of the 500 and its configuration is well suited to waterskiing, wakeboarding, diving, fishing, or just looking great for a comfortable social cruise.
For the keen angler that wants a more specialised package, the 500 Sportfisher is a leader in its class.
It has all the components of a serious sportsfishing machine including a
huge amount of deck room; walk-up transom; great toe holds under the combings; a good amount of storage; easy anchoring setup; large killtank; cutting boards; recessed grabrails; and terrific stability from a wide-bodied hull that performs faultlessly.
Have you figured out that I loved the boats by now? You should have. To be honest, they couldn't get me away from playing behind the wheel during the test run. While I admit that it was a reasonably calm day, I still did some horrid things to the boat to try to find fault, but couldn't. I tried full-speed power slides, turned sharply on wakes, nosed it into some following seas and I even attempted to unbalance the boat by climbing on the bow and gunwales - and I still couldn't fault it.
Three hours later, I returned sunburnt, parched and tired, but with a big smile from a most enjoyable experience and that's what buying a boat is all about!
The designer and builder, Paul Junginger, (Junga to all) has combined some great elements to create this hull. It has a 21-degree deep-vee for riding comfort combined with a rather wide beam of 2.25m. A keel-running plank also combines with two rather large 100mm strakes and an accentuated 100mm reverse chine. The hull is very quick out of the water and onto the plane, tracking dead straight and hugging the water confidently in turns. Just for fun, we ended up raising the engine at high speeds for some power slides on the running plank, but try as we did, I just couldn't get the bow to give an exaggerated rise for some camera shots.
It's also worth noting that this is a true 5m hull. Even though the keel line extends to the rear of the very functional half-pod type transom and the bowspit is moulded to the boat, Junga is from the old school of measuring the hull from the "pointy bit" to the "blunt bit" (bow to stern). Most competitors would call this a 5.3m boat.
I would comfortably say that if your boating requirement is for a well-priced "Australian Made" boating package that not only delivers family fun, but is also suited to some reasonable offshore gamefishing or diving sojourns, then this package is well worth considering.
Both boats were fitted with the exciting Evinrude E-TEC engines and the power selection was well matched to each package. The Sportfisher had the three-cylinder E-TEC 90hp, while the Santa Fe felt sensational with the E-TEC 115hp V4 outboard. Their performance was exciting.
The 115hp would obviously be the preferred choice if budget were no consideration. The Sante Fe launched out of the hole and onto the plane, quickly taking us out to a top speed of 72kmh (39kts) with the stainless steel Viper 19in propeller. Paul was still experimenting with propeller size and believes that 80kmh (43kts) is achievable with some more fine-tuning. The 115hp V4 is understandably a little smoother in its running than the 90hp inline three-cylinder, and it's certainly quieter. However, with a price difference of about $2500, the more budget-priced 90hp is certainly still most satisfying.
Should you be looking for a more sedate package for some inshore, or estuary fishing, the Evolution 500 can also be fitted with a 70hp engine. This would still perform handsomely, while reducing the price and fuel costs even further.
From the bow to the stern, the boat presents beautifully, with plenty of features and practicality. A centre-opening, three-piece Perspex windscreen opens onto a walkway to the bow that's deep and safe. The anchoring configuration combines a moulded bowsprit with a deep anchorwell as well as a recessed split-bollard with chain lock. Its recessed design makes it unobtrusive while boarding the boat over the bow. A pleasant looking stainless steel split-bowrail wraps the non-skid surfaces of the bow area to complete the presentation.
Back at the helm, the dashboard is compact, because of the walkthrough, but still functional. The set of engine gauges look great and are easy to read, and they combine with standard features including a six-gang waterproof instrument panel for lighting and the automatic bilgepump. The helm also features the flush mount E-TEC controls, separate key start and most importantly - a couple of cupholders that are big enough to take a stubby holder.
The passenger side dashboard incorporates a large, lockable glovebox that's great for keys, wallets and all of those easily misplaced items. There's plenty of room for radio and communication equipment in the vertical section above the glovebox. The demonstration boats were fitted with a GME GD9520 CD/MP3/DVD player with 6in-waterproof speakers in the Santa Fe, and a GME GX300 marine radio, Lowrance X52 sounder and Ritchie compass in the Sportfisher.
The swivelling-bucket seats are large, thickly padded and tastefully upholstered with premium-quality materials and workmanship. The seating positions are comfortable for both the driver and passenger, plus the driver seat also has adjustable-seating length.
The Santa Fe is absolutely striking with her chequered-flag decals and upholstery inserts. These inserts are duplicated on the large and functional rear lounge, which is easily removable and features a huge storage area underneath. The Santa Fe is trimmed throughout with padded combings and a rich marine carpet, while the Sportfisher has combing kneepads on the transom and a centre carpet strip.
Both packages present an almost unprecedented amount of storage. There are moulded recesses for the EPIRB and fire extinguisher, the sidepockets are large enough for waterskis, plus there are wet boxes large enough for a couple of bag limits of big snapper in the floor between the forward seats, with another large one located at the stern.
The freeboard is high throughout and the working area on the Sportfisher is excellent. Both boats feature small bait wells/wet boxes in the transom and I was very pleased to see the fuel and oil fillers conveniently mounted up high, well above the outside water level.
The Evolution 500 also features a 100lt aluminium underfloor-fuel tank, recessed grabrails in the cockpit, a large battery and oil bottle compartment in the stern, recessed LED-navigation lights and mooring cleats. The Santa Fe even has an ingenious pop-up skipole.
Junga does not like pinch welds. He rightly believes that it attracts dirt and grime, hence there's only flow-coat trimming to the fibreglass edge on the forward storage compartment. He also assures me that boarding platforms for the transom are "on the way", as is a cuddy cabin version of the same hull. The Sportfisher package price also includes a bimini, but I would like to see an additional aluminium rocket launcher to round off the package.
The hull is solid as a rock. It's a full fibreglass construction with pressure injected closed-cell foam that - combined with great design and premium construction - has all but eliminated any banging, or hull vibration.
Even the Evolution trailer is exceptionally good. It's a drive-on galvanised trailer with override brakes, a spare wheel with mounting bracket and great looking alloy wheels with matching acrylic mudguards.
My only critique was a small amount of prop-pull through the steering on the 115hp. As mentioned previously, Junga was still testing propellers for this configuration and I know that this will be easily rectified. I also have no doubt that the top speed will increase by approximately 5 to 8kmh (2.7 to 4.3kts) and that holeshot will improve even further above what we tested.
Personally, I would consider the option of hydraulic steering if the 115hp was the motor of choice. The price difference on initial purchases has been dramatically reduced over recent years to around $600, making it a definite consideration for any outboard installation for a V4 and over.
Whether you're an entry-level boater, a mad keen sportsfisher, a sporting family that likes a bit of flair, or a daycruiser, the Evolution 500 Sportfisher or Santa Fe will be most attractive. I know many old salts that have spent a large part of their lives in bigger offshore-style rigs who, because of the lower running costs, ease of transportation and single-handed control, are returning to boats in the 5m class.
This boat is surely a winner and it's a tribute to the practical Australian design and premium construction by Evolution.
No doubt, we will see the Evolution 500 feature in the Boat of the Year nominations for 2010.
WHAT WE LIKED
Flawless design and handling
Loads of storage space
NOT SO MUCH
Some pop-pull through the steering on the 115hp outboard
Price as tested: $42,990
w/ 115hp E-TEC, single-axle trailer, rego, and safety gear
Options fitted: GME GD9520
CD/MP3/DVD player and speakers
Priced from: $38,990 w/ 70hp E-TEC and single-axle trailer
Type: Monohull runabout
Length overall: 5.3m
Weight: Approx 600kg (hull);
approx 1200kg (towing)
People (day): Five
Rec. min. HP: 70hp
Rec. max. HP: 115hp
Rec. max. engine weight: 175kg
Rec. max. load: 655kg
Make/model: E-TEC 115hp
Type: Petrol outboard
Gearbox ratio: 2:1
Propeller: 17in Viper s/steel
PM Marine Manufacturing,
Factory 4, 254 Canterbury Road,
Bayswater, Vic, 3153
Phone: (03) 9738 0085
Originally published in TrailerBoat 249.
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