BOAT TEST: CROWNLINE 180BR / 19SS / 220EX
John Willis recalls why Crownline is one of the world’s top-five boat manufacturers in the 18-32ft segment.
I was very fortunate to be invited by BL Marine, the local Crownline dealer, to participate in a part-business, part-pleasure excursion with three new Crownline bowriders on a leisurely autumn cruise up Melbourne's Yarra River.
Many believe that the aboriginal name Yarra means "upside down" and that it refers to mud floating on the surface, due to the river's muddy appearance. Regardless of whether this is true, the cruise up the river set my senses "upside down" due to the sophisticated innovations from these beautifully designed cruising and sports machines.
It has now been fifteen years since my introduction to the world of Crownline. Back in another lifetime, when I was importing a similar range of hand-crafted, premium-quality bowriders from the United States, I always considered the Crownline to be the strongest competitor. Those were tough economic times indeed, and the world of bowriders wasn't fully explored, accepted or afforded at the time.
However, times change, and so have people's perspectives of their boating needs. We're not all fishermen, which is why Crownline boats are built for clientele who admire the finer things in life. They demand sporty performance, advanced technology, people friendly-layouts, comfort, class and most of all fun!
It's a busy and demanding life out there, but a simple outing in a beautiful Crownline can wallow away all those pressures to help us realise that life is about fun and family.
By the time we finished our day out on the Yarra we had taken three Crownlines - a 180BR, 19SS, and a 220EX - for a spurt into the upper reaches of Port Phillip Bay to blow out the cobwebs. I am pleased to report that they performed as good as they look - and don't they look great!
Australian marine industry standards have been led by innovations from companies such as Crownline, which has produced boats from Illinois, in the United States, since 1991. 25 years before creating Crownline, founder Fred Claxton began his manufacturing career as an executive at one of the premier boat companies of that era. After several years of successful service, he left this establishment to create his own company, Crownline Boats.
From humble beginnings, Crownline has established a reputation as a market leader in models ranging from a 17ft6in open-bow to a 35ft cabin-cruiser. Today, Crownline sells boats to a global dealer network that counts 150 marine establishments in the United States, Canada, Europe, South America, Russia and Australia. The company even recently celebrated production of over 30,000 units.
Our day began on the choppy water at the top of Port Phillip Bay as we fired up the MerCruiser-powered machines to see what they could do. There were smiles and screams of delight all around, even from the girls.
The first thing I noticed is that these bowriders really are fun, whether you're the driver, passenger or the thrill-junkie in the bow. The hulls are designed to handle safely, even with the added weight of a number of people in the bow. This is particularly true of the flagship on the day, the 220EX that was gratefully on loan from a very satisfied customer.
All three boats are exhilarating, and their power is well-matched. I was pleased to see that even the smallest of our fleet, the180BR, was fitted with a MerCruiser V6 sterndrive with an Alpha One leg that provided a confident 190hp at the propeller. Many price-competitive packages are fitted with the smaller four-cylinder engine as standard, and the result is often disappointing once the vessel is loaded. Let's face it, these are very sociable packages that are designed to carry a large number of passengers, so they should be powered accordingly.
A WAKE OF DESIRE!
As we powered over the chop and our wakes, we steered the three boats around in figure-eights. This is where the integrity and comfort of the hulls really shone. The Crownlines are built from premium-quality materials and components, and they incorporate an encapsulated stringer system with foam-filled cavities. When combined with the progressive, deep-vee hulls, the ride is smooth, quiet and comfortable.
The hulls are no slouches either. They jump out of the water with confident power, and turn with sure-footed confidence. Bowriders like this are a platform for a multitude of watersports, and I guess it's the multi-use abilities that have ensured their success. Social is the word here, and whether it's waterskiing, wakeboarding, diving, cruising or even a bit of fishing, the Crownlines offer it all with sporty elegance.
I doubt whether most Crownline owners would be very interested in having their thick and luxurious, marine-vinyl upholstery covered in smelly bait, but the boats certainly are comfortable for a social fish. The premium-quality vinyl gives a leather-like impression, but it wears well and is easy to clean.
The Crownline trimmers should be congratulated. Whether it's the luxuriously padded seats, the many padded hatches and sunlounges, or the thick-piled marine carpet, the creature comforts are a delight.
I was particularly impressed with the presentation of the helm layouts. They not only looked great, but gave the operator complete comfort and control. The layout and seating allowed for full vision to the array of gauges and controls, and the raked, middle-opening, toughened-glass windscreens were set at just the right height.
From the smallest to the largest boat, the quality and presentation of the helm doesn't change. The 220EX was stunning with its walnut trim on the stainless steel backed-instrument cluster, and it looked a treat when combined with a matching wood-grained, tilt-steering wheel. The smaller boats had combinations of fibre-composite dashboards with sports-steering wheels that matched the trim and gelcoat. The driver's seats were also a dream (even for this bloke who is a bit wide in the beam) and all had adjustable slides and pop-up bolsters.
I also just love the range of gelcoats available today. Once upon a time, the selection of finishes was minimal, but advances in technology allow for a magnificent selection of colour in either bright or subtle tones. All three test boats were white and black with colour-matched deck-vents, a popular selection. While this combination looked very classy, bolder colour schemes are available, as is a full range of options, like wake towers (see your local authorised Crownline dealer).
MELBOURNE IN AUTUMN
You have not seen Melbourne, nor any city for that matter, until you've seen it by water. The Crownlines provided ideal platforms for our journey and the weather gods turned on a magnificent, sun-filled autumn Sunday. The constantly changing city was just alive with cafes, restaurants, the Casino, riverbank barbecues, running and bike tracks, boardwalks, bridges, waterside apartments, marinas, moorings… everywhere the best was turned on for our trip.
This is where four-stroke engines come into their own. The MerCruisers not only provided the necessary performance when playing in the unrestricted waters of the Bay, but also supplied smooth, quiet, fume-free propulsion for the trip up the long river at a maximum 5kts. I do find the Alpha One leg tends to wander a little at slow speeds, but that common criticism is not a reflection on Crownline.
Having said that, MerCruisers are the engine of choice for these boats. The 19SS is obviously a foot longer than the 180BR, and this one was fitted with a 5lt V8 motor. The extra foot provided an extended transom platform, as well as an enginewell in the bow that I believe is an absolute must for all boats. The 19ft boat also has a convenient walkthrough sunbed at the rear that stops you from having to scramble across the upholstery on the way in or out of the boat with wet or dirty feet.
While the 180BR is a handy-sized boat with plenty of features, it seems that all boats in this class excel in the 19ft range when fitted with a 220hp 5lt V8. The package just seemed right for my taste.
Not that I wouldn't mind the 220EX either. Quite simply, what a boat! This is one of the "Deck Boat" series from Crownline that just has to be one of the best laid-out and most sociable boats on the world market.
The "pickle fork" style-bow allows for an enormous bowrider section, with the entry and flotation to match. It's one of the few boats on the market that you could fill to its legal capacity, and still have room to move. The 260hp V8 MerCruiser with EFI lifted the weight confidently and punched it through a series of exciting turns, which the girls in the bow showing their exuberance.
The 220EX has a large cavity under the passenger dash that has an enclosed Porta Potti, a highly desirable feature on a cruising boat where you would expect company at most times. After all, a toilet is not always around, and the style of these beautiful packages seems to encourage some light refreshments. It must, because every model had a good number of recessed drinkholders and grab-bars!
While we are on the subject of refreshments, none of the Crownlines we tested had a dedicated icebox. Instead, a soft cooler-bag is supplied with every boat, and this can fit into many of the storage compartments that are prevalent in every model.
The range of standard features in all of the Crownlines makes it really easy for both the customer and the dealer. The standard packages offered by our local Dealer, Melbourne's BL Marine, include items such as Sony sound systems, custom-graphics, Faria gauges, canopy packages, safety-glass windscreens, and importantly, a locally-produced Dunbier drive-on style trailer.
We had a terrific day out in the bay, followed by a wonderful cruise seeing the sights of Melbourne in autumn. While I admit that I'm not a city dweller, seeing the stark contrasts between modern designs and heritage buildings gave me a great feeling when viewed from these wonderful boats - particularly when it was enhanced with good food and wine, and even better company. Our test even brought out a little romance from a few of the occupants, and a closer inspection of the beautiful Crownline range will make you understand why.
I wonder if the lifetime structural warranty will guarantee a lifetime of romance? It's a good bet if you own a Crownline Bowrider!
ON THE PLANE
Soft and quiet ride
Locally made trailer
SANK LIKE A ROCK
Specifications: Crownline Bowrider (19SS model)
(all figures refer to 19SS unless stated):
Price as tested: $53,935 ($43,935 for 180BR; $85,990 for 220EX)
Options fitted: Bow and cockpit cover, stainless steel bimini, targa bag
Priced from: $51,990
Type: Deep-vee monohull bowrider
Weight: 1406kg (dry)
Max HP: 270
Make/model: MerCruiser Alpha One
Type: 5lt V8 sterndrive
Rated HP: 220
11884 Country Club Road
West Frankfort, IL, 62896
612-614 Plenty Road,
Preston, Victoria, 3072
Phone: (03) 9478 1420
Originally published in TrailerBoat 257.
Want the latest stories delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for the free TradeBoats e-newsletter.