CHAPARRAL 257 SSX REVIEW
The dashing Chaparral 257 SSX and her big block V8 tickles the fancy of young ones and the young at heart. But she is more than just a one-trick pony, this luxury bowrider taking entertaining and socialising for a crowd as seriously as sporty waterborne pursuits.
We found something special during our recent trip to Aussie Boat Sales at Williamstown’s Anchorage Marina, the Melbourne home of Chaparral Boats: a sneak peek and a drive of the new 257 SSX bowrider, the smallest in the SSX range of luxury sports machines.
This boat is the first of the new models to make it to the land of Oz, but it certainly won’t be the last. It’s no secret we’re big fans of Chaparrals, these boats hailing from one of America’s largest and most successful boat manufacturers boasting a career spanning nearly five decades.
The company’s motto, "The boats are the stars", rings true with the new 257 SSX, its big 8.2lt MerCruiser MAG DTS V8 pushing 380 horses for thumping acceleration and exhilaration.
BE OUR GUEST
Chaparral’s 257 SSX is a big, social entertainer that’s born to party, and on the water she’ll rock your world. The boat has a strong and very attractive moulded targa arch/wakeboard tower that accentuates the flowing lines of the deep and soft-riding, yet extremely stable SSX hull. Deep shoulders mean the boat can carry a load of revellers safely in the bow, while a number of seating options allows room for the rest of the gang in the cockpit.
There’s a fresh, clean feel to the upholstered layout with some very innovative convertible ideas, including a surprisingly spacious toilet below the passenger console, touch-button layback rear lounges and the new woven graphite-look vinyl dash.
The 257 SSX is an on-water freedom machine with comfort, style and grace that turns into an unleashed vixen when you pump the throttle and let her fly. She will fill you with confidence on the water, whether in the slop or the sweet-water. The big MerCruiser V8 has a very pleasing rumble with a deep, throaty note that is still low enough to allow normal conversation in the cockpit.
The boat drives through the Bravo 3X duo-prop leg with instantaneous power, a very torquey mid-range and an exhilarating top-end. It also offers precise low-speed manoeuvring and easily controlled reversing.
To be really critical, there is a small amount of wander back and forward in a straight line at low speed, but that’s just me being a bit picky.
Flying over the surface is also quiet due to the strength and efficiency of the Chaparral construction and foam-filled hull. The 257 SSX is very nimble for a big hull and should carry the maximum capacity of up to 14 passengers with ease. There was no prop slip from a standing start or when my passengers started screaming with delight as I threw her into some tight turns and manoeuvres.
We boaties can sometimes forget that people need facilities when spending long hours on the water and the 257 SSX’s hidden toilet is just the thing to keep everyone happy. It’s tucked very neatly under the passenger console, a large pivoting doorway providing easy access. The roof is a little low for big blokes but my 6ft frame could still use it if necessary. A pressurised freshwater system is standard and feeds the small hand basin. Our test boat had the optional VHT vacuflush unit with macerator.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
The 257 SSX’s console lives up to Chaparral’s premium standards. The company has used a new woven graphite-look vinyl for the dash and I must say it presents beautifully with the walnut wood grain accents. The integrated digital and analogue instruments – Garmin 720s GPS plotter-sounder – and all operating controls are right where they should be. The adjustable-tilt sports steering wheel is gorgeous.
The dash has twin six-gang waterproof switch panels and controls for the optional Lenco trim tabs. I generally try to use trim tabs as little as possible in boat tests so I can properly evaluate the hull characteristics, but with the weight and load capacity of the big bowrider, as well as a crew, I found a quick touch on the tabs levelled the ride instantly.
Driver and passenger are treated to some of the best bolster seats in the industry. These babies have quick swivel and length adjustment levers actuated from the armrests – no more fiddling around looking for levers under seats. The driver’s position allows terrific vision through the windscreen, or just over it when up on the bolster. While most would love the ergonomics of the 257 SSX, I was previously spoiled by the comfort of the armrest of the smaller 216 SSi, and once spoilt it’s hard to go back.
The head unit for the up-spec Clarion six-speaker sound system is mounted behind the two-way door that separates the cockpit and the bow. There are remote repeaters on the dash and the stern.
There is a huge storage area under the driver’s dash and this thing is seriously big – a real advantage in open bowriders. There is another so-called ski locker under the floor, which the guys at Aussie Boat Sales say can fit five people (although they might complain a bit).
THE POINTY END
Up front is a reasonably large anchor locker with plenty of room for rope and chain, as well as a retainer for the sand anchor. I really liked the fold-out stainless steel boarding ladder for easy riverbank access and the small reversible navigation light that rotates to a flush mount and pops out when needed.
The bowrider seating is richly upholstered and features sloping backrests and a fold-out armrest each side. These armrests, along with suitably placed handrails, make your passengers feel more secure in the bounciest part of the boat. A small insulated wetbox under the forward cushion helps keep the bow revellers refreshed.
The centre-opening safety-glass windscreen is of the highest standard, and back in the cockpit the party really gets going with the convertible seating options. A console box with hinged upholstered lid behind the driver houses a lift-out 35lt cooler.
Directly opposite on the passenger’s side is another "transition lounge" that swivels into a number of lockable positions to provide sideways seating, or when rotated 90° actually becomes the second seat for a dinette. This is a unique combination that comes together with the rear lounge to make a face-to-face dinette for four people. The removable tabletop is stored in its own drawer under the floor and can also be used in the bow.
The rear lounge and centre walkway setup really appeals to me. It’s great to be able to walk all the way through the middle of the seats from the rear platform, eliminating wet and dirty feet all over the upholstery. And this is a sportsboat after all, so people are supposed to get wet and dirty.
There’s still more. Not only do the back-to-back rear lounges provide seating for rear- and forward-facing passengers but they convert into full-length sunlounges with adjustable headrests at the touch of a button.
The back is home to a well-proportioned deck that is a terrific staging area for watersports, as well as an easy access route for dockside boarding. It is home to a folding four-step telescopic ladder in an enclosed compartment and a long stainless steel grabhandle with tow point. The platform has a non-slip finish and is beautifully moulded into the attractive transom.
MAKE IT GO
Chaparral has included many big-boat features in its 257 SSX. Access to the huge engine bay is via a touch of a button, where hydraulic rams lift the entire rear lounge to reveal the MerCruiser. It’s a mechanic’s dream for easy servicing, and all of the electrical components are high above the bilge.
A quick scan reveals the water tank and pressure pump, inbuilt fire extinguisher system, twin batteries and a terrific display of plumbing and electrical circuitry.
The big MerCruiser, as mentioned, is an 8.2L MAG DTS with a Bravo 3X duo-prop drive pushing out 380hp. It features multipoint fuel injection with digital throttle and shift, and combo analogue/digital SmartCraft gauges. For saltwater applications it has an enclosed cooling system as standard and brass housing for the waterpump.
The engine and drive are a well-matched selection for a package that would be caught short with anything less, although the optional 5.7lt – or maybe 6.2lt – engine would still be suitable for fewer passengers in a cruising environment.
But for confirmed petrol heads, Chaparral also offers a whopping MerCruiser MAG HO punching out 430hp, or if you prefer Volvo Penta there is an equivalent range from 300 to 380hp.
To finish, Chaparral has moulded one of the most attractive targa arches on the market. The arch is optional for those who have a boat storage (height) problem, but in my opinion you should either get it or get yourself a bigger shed. The beautiful black arch provides the framework for overhead lighting and a strong Sunbrella bimini. On a sunny summer’s day we didn’t get baked.
There’s a long list of other features and options like clip-in carpet and cupholders in all the right places, plus some awesome blue feature lighting around the cockpit, in the arch, under the engine vents and on the stern quarter.
Our test boat had underwater lights and was finished in high-gloss ebony and ivory gelcoat, featuring a moulded powerline with a silver accent. Tasteful decals and badges enhanced its premium demeanour and sophisticated feel.
Unlike many competitors, Chaparral dealers offer a range of trailers from custom US aluminium options through to locally-built, powder-coated Easytow trailers. The whole package comes in at less than 3500kg wet, so a standard large 4WD will do the job comfortably.
Soft-riding and quiet but stable hull
Convertible seating and dinette
Sporty targa arch
Oversize towing restrictions
[TRADE-A-BOAT SAYS… ]
I have got to stop taking my family on these Chaparral boat tests; it’s going to cost me a fortune one day. They’ve been spoilt and now expect no less for our own boating exploits. But for that matter, why should any of us expect any less? The 257 SSX is the benchmark.
SPECIFICATIONS: CHAPARRAL 257 SSX
PRICE AS TESTED
MerCruiser 8.2L MAG DTS with Bravo 3X, Garmin 720s, sound system with amp and sub-woofer, targa arch with bimini and front clears, fire extinguisher, magic tilt aluminium tandem trailer, dual batteries, trim tabs, 12V air-pump, underwater lights, cockpit and bow cover, vacuflush head with macerator, snap-in carpet, swimplatform mat, transom tilt switch and stereo remote, powerline, safety pack, mooring pack, and oversize towing kit
Single 380hp MerCruiser 8.2L MAG DTS
2200 (planing) 12.3kts
*Sea-trial data supplied by the author.
Type Planing monohull
Material Fibreglass (Kevlar-reinforced)
Weight 2132kg (dry, boat only)
People (DAY) 14
Rec. HP 380
REC. Max HP 430
MAKE/MODEL MerCruiser 8.2L MAG DTS
TYPE Electronic fuel-injected petrol V8
RATED HP 380
GEAR RATIO 2:1
Aussie Boat Sales,
34 The Strand,
Williamstown, VIC, 3016
Phone: (03) 9397 6977
Originally published in Trade-a-Boat #440, May/June 2013.
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