Review: Cruise Craft Explorer 485
Warren Steptoe discovers that the “entry-level” Cruise Craft Explorer 485 has most of the attributes of larger Cruise Craft. So why is he not surprised?
In the boating industry the term "entry-level" often refers to basic boats built as cheaply as possible to attract first time boat buyers on tight budgets.
Put another way, "first time boat buyers" means those who haven't been around boating long enough to realise that boats are no different to anything else you buy in that you get precisely what you pay for. And that, as they say, is life…
CRUISE CRAFT 485 EXPLORER
From here it's appropriate for me to explain something that will put this particular "entry-level" boat - a Cruise Craft Explorer 485 - in context. Like (a few) other Aussie boatbuilders, CruiseCraft is a Brisbane-based family concern already into its third generation. The company is run by the Nichols family, boating people who have built CruiseCraft boats since 1946. They're keen offshore fishos, they ski, picnic, cruise, and like you and me, love nothing more than mucking about in boats. Currently, a fourth generation of little Nichols are coming along and guess what, they're growing up around boats and fishing. Is there any other way?
I tested my first CruiseCraft back in the early '80s and over the ensuing 25-plus years I've seen new models released every year. Based on that, I'm happy to say that I consider CruiseCraft boats to be among the very best.
Over the years I also got to know the Nichols clan well enough to tell you that Justin and Nathan Nichols and their dad Kevin (respectively the third and second generation) are fiercely proud of their family tradition. They're also straight shootin' kinda blokes with a genetically implanted intolerance to anything below their standards, reflected in a relentless, almost paranoid striving to make their boats even better.
Going back to getting what you pay for though, all of this means that a CruiseCraft is unlikely to be a boat buyer's cheapest option, thus offering a potential contradiction in the very concept of an entry-level CruiseCraft. Or is it?
As entry-level boats go, the CruiseCraft Explorer 485 is, albeit predictably, a cut above the mob. It also (again, predictably) costs more than some other options with economy packages coming in under $40,000. The point is, yes, you can get into a low-end package elsewhere for less than forty grand, but when it comes to getting value for money, you're getting a helluva lot for your dollar with this boat.
On the test day I actually tested two 485 Explorers. One was powered by Yamaha's latest 70hp four-stroke while the other had a 60 (incidentally, I was so impressed with Yamaha's new 70-fourbie that I've included some few facts and figures on the side here). The 60, as you'd expect, didn't go as hard as the (in my opinion quite brilliant) new 70, but it did make me think about powering any tight budget boat package like this with a good old two-stroke.
If you only listen with one ear to the hype dished up by four-stroke brands these days you'd think two-strokes disappeared with the dinosaurs. But actually, they haven't, and Australians still buy plenty of two-stroke outboards. There's no denying the environmental advantages of new tech four-strokes, although having agreed on this, neither is there any denying that two-strokes still offer advantages.
Although motors like the F70A may be very good, the best of them still struggle to match the power delivery of a good old two-stroke. They also weigh substantially more, and then there's that other big one that plays your conscience against your bank balance - they cost more.
At the time of writing, pricing details for Yamaha's latest 70hp four-stroke (designated F70A) haven't been released. Nonetheless, it's safe to say it will cost more than, say, an equivalent Yamaha 70hp three-cylinder carburetted two-stroke. In terms of engine weight, the F70A weighs a couple of kilos less than a 90hp three-cylinder carburetted two-stroke which, if looking at an Explorer 485 with family wake-toy towing in mind (it's rated up to 90hp), would be a brilliant alternative.
HANDLING AND RIDE
In a few words, out on the water - and particularly the kind of choppy water commonly encountered on an average day's boating - the Explorer 485 performed very well. If, like me, you're accustomed to the lofty standards established by this boat's much bigger stablemates you'll immediately notice how its choppy water ride is livelier.
But let's get back down to earth here. Two of my favourite offshore rides are CruiseCraft's 625 and 685 Explorers, and yes, the 485 shares a scaled down version of their industry-leading underwater shape. However, it weighs around half what those boats do so given a bit of wind chop it will bounce around more.
What you have to do is compare the Explorer 485 with other boats the same size. In fact, I suggest that if you're wondering why you should invest more in this boat, rather than in something cheaper, you'll soon find out by taking them both for a ride across choppy water. The battering you get from your average tinny on anything beyond glassy calm water is one thing this boat doesn't deliver. It rides just like a CruiseCraft, albeit a 4.7m CruiseCraft, and if that doesn't make sense to you…
Inside there's plenty more of the same good sense, albeit in the scaled back version. Entry-level it may be, and a bit more expensive too, but you still get a pair of comfortable pedestal-mounted bucket seats, a quality stainless steel bowrail, a transom door, and a 60lt underfloor fuel tank with a gauge. There's also a quality compass, nav lights, a float switch-operated bilgepump, and even battery leads, all of which are extra cost options elsewhere.
Even so, our test boat was fitted with some factory options. Its neat bimini shade-top and similarly neat foldaway aft lounge are highly desirable if they fit into your budget. In fact, the only thing I actually didn't like about our test boat was that it only had carpet on the centre of the deck. I'll concede the barefoot boating we consider our right in Queensland isn't the case further south where people habitually wear shoes aboard, so some may well be happy with gelcoat decks. But not me. Without skiting too much about how many fish us banana-benders catch, I'm damned if fish slime and squashed bait is hard to get off marine carpet with a good hosing and leave the argument hanging there.
Things I liked very much include the walkthrough windscreen and cabin top. This allows you to walk all the way forward between a pair of spacious stowage bins to easily reach the anchor well and (standard) bowsprit mounted fairlead.
In a 4.7m boat a "cabin" serves more as a means of raising the superstructure enough for a (nicely curved) windscreen to provide effective shelter from chilly slipstreams and flying spray. For both functions this one serves well.
There's more stowage in a locker below-decks between the seats, and more again in the usual cockpit sidepockets and even in a knick-knacks cubbyhole beside the passenger seat. There's a baitwell in the starboard side of the aft bulkhead and space for instrumentation and a good-sized sounder/GPS in the dash.
This brings me to another budget trimming consideration. More and more contemporary outboards can display engine data on compatible sounder/GPS units.
Separate instrumentation is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.
So there you have it. There are various ways of packaging up an Explorer 485 to either pare the budget or make it as comfortable as a small boat its size can be. The choices are entirely up to the owner's personal taste.
All I can add is that choosing this boat in the first place is quite a smart move.
YAMAHA 70A OUTBOARD PERFORMANCE
Steptoe shares his thoughts on this one…
It's been said that Yamaha's new 70hp four-stroke F70A outboard motor is the most significant new outboard so far this century, and after testing several boats powered by one, I'm inclined to agree.
Once upon a time Evinrude/Johnson and Yamaha's famous triples, their three-cylinder carburetted two-strokes, were the pick of 70hp outboards. They were light, compact, and literally punched way above their weight when mounted on well-designed 4.5-5m hulls.
Second generation EFI four-strokes eventually matched the punchy power delivery by those classic triples, but in terms of power-to-weight ratio (until the release of the F70A anyway) the four-bangers never got into the proverbial ballpark. The sheer weight of 70hp four-strokes has always been an issue, with some of them weighing as much as 60kg more than the classics.
Hulls were redesigned to handle extra transom weight when four-stroke popularity burgeoned, but another 50 or 60kg is a big ask when, for example, Yamaha's three-cylinder two-stroke 70 only weighed 105kg to start.
The Yamaha F70 weighs in at 120kg, an extra 15kg that today's hulls can handle. The combination of CruiseCraft's Explorer 485 and the brand new Yamaha F70A turns out to be a nice match indeed. One interesting point about the F70A is that it's a 1lt (996cc to be exact) motor while competing 70hp four-strokes are around 1500cc, and over 1700cc for the Mercury. This explains how Yamaha has managed to minimise weight, in part at any rate.
However, it does raise some questions. For instance, can a 1lt motor deliver the same grunt across the rev range as a motor that's 50 per cent larger? Good question. As the old saying goes, there's no substitute for cubes.
On the CruiseCraft 485 - at 630kg no lightweight hull (and with its deck and windscreen, no slippery low slung racer either) - the F70A achieved a top speed of 54.4kmh, just under 30kts. We don't run family boats against a stopwatch but that was as near enough as we could figure that it took around 15 seconds from in-gear idle to full throttle flat out. And this was swinging a 14in pitch Yamaha aluminium prop. Loading an extra adult aboard slowed things down some, as you'd expect, and the outboard worked harder of course. Nonetheless the F70's power delivery lacked nothing.
In my opinion the F70A is most impressive, and it raises the bar in the 70hp stakes considerably.
CRUISE CRAFT EXPLORER 485 SPECIFICATIONS
Cruise Craft 485 Explorer price: Sub $40,000
Options fitted: Aft lounge, bimini top, Lowrance HDS 5
Price as tested: TBA when F70A pricing is finalised
Type: Cuddy-cab family/fishing boat
Length: 4.7m (4.95m LOA)
Beam: 2.02 m
Hull weight: Approx. 630kg
BMT trailering weight: Approx. 1100kg
Max HP: 90
Make/model: Yamaha F70A outboard motor
Type: SOHC EFI in-line four-cylinder four-stroke
Rated HP: 70
Gearbox ratio: 2.33:1
Propeller: Yamaha K-series aluminium 13 3/4in x 14in pitch
1308 Lytton Road
Hemmant, Qld, 4174
Phone: (07) 3390 4877
Originally published in TrailerBoat #258, June / July 2010.
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