BOAT TEST: MASTERCRAFT X-2
There’s no doubt about it, says John “The Bear” Willis, nothing exceeds like excess — and excess is a fitting description of the big Americans. MasterCraft comes from the land where bigger is better and there’s no price limit for premium product.
TEST: MASTERCRAFT X-2
Big Americans have soul: Harley-Davidson, Jack Daniels, Chevy, Buick, Cadillac, Corvette, Barbie, and MasterCraft boats. In the company's own words, "MasterCraft is an invitation to live life to the fullest." In Australia, MasterCraft has been far from our image of the loudmouthed Yank. In fact, its marketing has been quite the opposite, often leaving the product to do the talking instead of a salesman.
For over 40 years, MasterCraft has been on top of the American skiboat industry by building quality products from its lakeside factory in Vonore, Tennessee. At its peak MasterCraft was producing over 4000 boats a year, but the financial downturn reduced demand to nearly half that. This is a long-standing company with many generations of faithful employees committed to building quality products in the biggest boating market in the world.
MasterCraft has a network of quiet achievers in Australia who have been plugging away to establish the brand. One such dealer is Melbourne's New World Marine - it took on the MasterCraft dealership four years ago, and hasn't looked back. Father-and-son duo Michael and Andrew Mulquiney lead the New World team with two generations of sweetwater experience. Michael was a very keen waterskier who spent his early life with brands like Flightcraft, Phantom, Camero, Haines Hunter and Haines Signature. His son Andrew is also a keen skier, wakeboarder, and more recently a wakesurfer, and he's taken on much of the responsibility for managing the MasterCraft brand.
WHO AND WHERE
There's been a large shift in the use of ski and wakeboats in recent years, particularly in Victoria. In States other than Victoria, people are more inclined to use these craft in the coastal, saltwater estuaries that form the majority of their waterways. Mexicans, on the other hand, have always been freshwater skiers due to Victoria's plentiful lakes and rivers - until the big drought struck hard, that is.
Over 10 years of minimal rainfall saw much of Victoria's fresh water disappear, so the State's boaties turned to saltwater for recreation. 10 years ago the vast majority of skiboats never saw salt water in their lives, but now the market is split 50/50. MasterCraft is among the big brands that reflect this trend in their design and construction techniques. The hulls have become larger and more seaworthy, in line with the social demands of wakeboarding, and so every MasterCraft model offers a full saltwater package.
That package includes: saltwater-specific closed cooled engines (heat exchangers); stainless shocks on hatches, etc; salt-resistant wiring looms with sealed connecters; hydraulic steering; sacrificial anodes; a raw-water strainer; aluminium driver's seat-slide mechanisms; engine flush port; self-bailing cockpits; Bostik-sealed through-hull fittings/fasteners; and fully bonded shaft, rudder, tabs and swim platform.
For our test, Andrew Mulquiney and I took an X-2 to coastal Sorrento, in Victoria's Mornington peninsula. The X-2 is a fully loaded ski and wakeboard package that's ideal for outrageous watersports. Its hi-tech look is superb. The tower and dash could come straight out of a Transformers movie and everywhere you look there's brushed stainless and billet aluminium in bountiful chunks.
IN THE WET
On the water, our X-2 took on a slightly choppy Port Phillip Bay with ease. It's not the boat to challenge excessive weather conditions - and neither is the typical X-2 owner - but the MasterCraft should bring you home safe and sound when that afternoon sea breeze or unexpected change hits your waterway.
The beautiful upholstery has to be praised. MasterCraft deliberately uses firm padding with polyethylene bases throughout the boat, and both the seating layout and comfort levels are superb. The appearance of some of the new "shiny" marine vinyl materials used matches the boat's classy demeanour. There are many options too, including heated seats and ducts. The Pro Package allows all of the on-water action to be saved via an SD card recorder and iPod interphase in the glovebox. For that boom box pizzazz, a Clarion sound system pumps out the amps through JL Audio speakers, with separate tweeters supplied as standard.
MasterCraft has recently moved away from the traditional Indmar engines in favour of the latest race-bred performance from Ilmor Engineering. The 5.7lt V8 develops 240kW (320hp) and supplies enormous holeshot and top-end performance, as well as terrific reliability. It'll ensure a better service life too, with items such as the starter motor and alternator being on the top of the crankcase instead of low in the bilge, and an oil cooler as standard equipment.
Other improvements include an auto fire-suppression system with replaceable extinguisher, an efficient and longwearing Jabsco pump for the inbuilt ballast, clip-out carpets, a funky billet aluminium divider door between the bowrider and the cockpit, and a tremendously strong safety glass windscreen.
MasterCraft claims to be the biggest seller of ski and wakeboard boats in the United States, despite its premium prices. The X-2 is within the 2.5m-wide load standards in Australia and New World Marine only supplies these boats on locally-made Easytow trailers.
INBOARD OUR OUT?
I asked Andrew Mulquiney for his opinion on claims by boatbuilders using inboard/outboard configurations that they're better for wakeboarding. He looked at me and said, "The MasterCraft is a driver's boat with engineered wakes."
Point taken. He then went on to explain that the safety aspect of a sterndrive, with its propeller at the extreme rear, can never match a V-Drive in having its prop around a metre from the platform, well out of harm's way behind a rudder. A V-Drive such as the MasterCraft X-2 also has considerably less bow rise than an inboard/outboard, and a much tighter turning radius.
"The V-Drive MasterCraft has a specifically crafted, engineered wake versus highly variable inboard/outboard performance," said Andrew.
Many inboard/outboard manufacturers market their products by highlighting the fact that their drive would likely sustain less damage, in the event of an underwater impact with a submerged object. Andrew conceded the point, but added, "You don't buy a Ferrari if you're too scared to drive it! And anyway, a V-Drive can do everything an inboard/outboard can do, but an inboard/outboard can't do everything a V-Drive can do!"
On the plane...
King of the heap
Great accessories and features
Timber-free hull construction
Loads of storage
Dragging the chain...
Driver's seat has been a little outdone by competitors
Specifications: MasterCraft X-2
Price as tested: Approx. $107,000
Options fitted: MCX 350hp saltwater series motor, engine flush kit, attitude adjustment plate, boat cover, bimini top, tower camera, tower mirror attachment, fibreglass platform, tower speakers with lights, stereo transom remote, heater, heated seats
Priced from: $89,900 (incl. saltwater safety equipment, registration and pre-delivery)
Type: Ski/wake monohull
Length (LOA): 6.10m
Weight (standard BMT package): 2100kg
Rec. max. HP: 350
Make/model: Ilmor 5.7
Type: 5.7lt 350 V8
Rated HP: 320
Gearbox: FNR V-Drive
Gearbox ratio: 1.5:1
Propeller: 14.75 x 15.5
New World Marine
Unit 1, 97 Monash Drive
Dandenong South, Vic, 3175
Tel: 1300 603 083
MasterCraft Boat Company
Originally published in TrailerBoat 265.
Want the latest stories delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for the free TradeBoats e-newsletter.