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In a time when the Australian boating market is awash with imported sterndrive-powered bowriders, it can be difficult to be sure you’re getting the best deal for your money. Dave Lockwood puts newcomer Crownline under the microscope and discovers they’ve got the formula for a great family sportsboat just right…



Any boatbuilder prepared to offer a lifetime structural warranty on its hulls and decks, a lifetime warranty on the treated-timber stringers and underfloor hull stiffeners, and a lifetime warranty on the engine gauges deserves consideration. But add five-years of cover on the upholstery, canvas, stainless steel deck fittings and against gelcoat blistering and you have a boat that takes some beating. Literally.
The factory warranty coverage offered on Crownline boats is, according to the big American company, the best in its class. This is to nice to know because, while they are designed primarily for American waterways, at least some of the huge production run of largely trailerboats is destined to cut a swathe across our often choppy harbours, rivers, lakes and bays.
Crownline is a relative new face on the American boating scene, one of few remaining family-owned boatbuilders, and a progressive yard whose designers aren't afraid to think outside the square. Less than four years after its first boat was released in 1991, the boatbuilder opened a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant. And soon after it had produced and shipped more than 45,000 boats to dealers in the United States, Canada, Europe, South America and Russia. And now Australia.
While it is considered one of the top five big American boatbuilders today, Crownline has a relatively restrained model lineup spanning just 22 boats. There are 14 bowriders, three deck boats, three cuddy cabins and two weekender-style sportscruisers. In other words, the boatbuilder has stuck to what it does best - building those popular boats-to-go that we all know as bowriders.
So where do the Crownline bowriders differ from the flood of other American bowriders washing up on our shores? Besides the big warranties, the boats appear especially spacious, better finished than many pop-out production craft, and nicely styled. Yet despite the premium appearance, they remain keenly priced.
Take the company's entry-level 180BR, the subject of his review. At $35,990 with a 3.0lt MerCruiser petrol inboard motor, this boat is good buying. At $41,990 with the maximum recommended 220hp 4.3lt MPI engine as tested this boat is still good buying and just a really fun, sporty drive to boot.
The Sydney Crownline dealer went one better and instead of supplying the BMT package - that's Yankee lingo for boat/motor/trailer - they put the boat on an Australian-made trailer with brakes. This way you can hit the holiday road safe in the knowledge that the trailer will last the distance. In my years testing BMTs I've had at least one imported trailer fail.




One of the company's biggest sellers, the 180BR debuted here at last year's Sydney Boat Show. Then, as with now, I thought the standard of finish was a cut above your average production boat. All deck gear from grabrails to popup cleats is stainless steel; the struts supporting the wraparound safety-glass windscreen are also stainless steel - not plastic - while the mouldings such as the full internal liner in the bow are nice and fair.
Backed by that five-year warranty, the boat's upholstery was cleanly stitched, while underfloor through-hull fittings are chrome-plated brass numbers that you find on boats intended to be kept in the water. On its trailer and afloat, the 180BR was a good-looking rig. The demonstrator had a yellow hull and standard silver graphics pack, but there are options right up to a solid ruby-coloured hull with racing graphics.
Dimensionally, the 180BR is a big beamy boat for your bucks. The gunwales are a lot narrower than many bowriders that have modular interiors. As such, you gain a lot more internal volume on the Crownline. The wide hull is also deep, with plenty of freeboard and buoyancy to handle bumpy bays and busy rivers without taking on water when you cross cruiser or ferry wake.
Storage is another strength. The seat bases in the bow fold open on piano hinges to reveal carpet-lined holds; there's a central vented underfloor ski locker with removable liner; small sidepockets; a lockable glovebox; and nets either side of the engine in which you can dry your towels.
However, as with most American bowriders used primarily for lake boating, where owners tend to moor to pontoons, there is no dedicated anchor well in the bow. So you'll need to store the anchor, chain and rope in one of those lined underseat storage areas or perhaps in a remote tub.




Plenty of thought had gone into the seating layout on the 180BR. The boat has ergonomically-designed padded backrests in its bow pit, neat fully-adjustable helm seats with a flip-up bolster on the driver's side, and a nice long rear lounge. The padded engine box lid serves as a sunpad after scrambling up the swim ladder to the boarding platform.
While the boat had cockpit carpet, it wasn't the snap-out variety. But as to be expected on American boats, drinkholders were in abundance. I liked the way the canopy was cleverly concealed inside the engine bay, where I also found a lift-out Igloo icebox for taking lunch ashore.
The carbon-look dash inserts and no-glare grey helm console harboured a big spread of Faria engine gauges that were re-badged Crownline - backed by a lifetime warranty, remember? - plus a switch panel linked to a neat fuse panel. You also get a Sony CD player, tilt wheel and throttle at your fingertips.




The beamy hull has 18 degrees of deadrise at the transom, so it's a bit flatter than, say, a Sea Ray or Cobalt. The upside is excellent efficiency and easy planing at 11-15 knots (21-29km/h) at 2200rpm to 2400rpm. The boat sat happily at fast wakeboarding and social skiing speed of about 22 knots (42km/h) at 3000rpm.
With the engine upgrade, the boat was a snappy drive turning in 30 knots (57km/h) at 3500rpm (though you will need to watch the fuel supply if you're planning a long summer's day on the throttles). Depending on the tide and wind, top speed ranged from 42.2 knots (80km/h) to 44.1 knots (84km/h), which is more than 50mph or the measure of a sporty bowrider in my book.
But with three adults riding in the cockpit and nothing by way of gear or people in the bow, plus that moderate deadrise, the 180BR chattered a bit over the winter wind waves. However, expect the ride to improve with a more even distribution of weight and, moreover, things like an anchor and a couple of kids sitting in the bow.
Piece it all together and you can see why Crownline has been winning the American JD Powers Awards. These awards are all about customer satisfaction and brand loyalty rather than advertising contracts and industry hobnobbing.
A smart, well-appointed, high-volume boat, the 180BR is set to launch Crownline and a lot of trailerboaters on a path of adventure Down Under this summer. All that's missing is a jewel in the crown by way of some annual owner's rallies and an owner's club like what's offered by the factory in America. One day, hopefully.
Meantime, all that backing by way of warranties can only make new us feel more comfortable about jumping aboard a Crownline.




* Nice low-speed efficiencies and cruising comforts
* Excellent finish that's less production-orientated
* Saltwater build quality with all stainless steel fittings
* Excellent value and high-volume boat for the bucks
* Solid backing from a company that enjoys repeat business




* No dedicated anchor locker
* Now wind dam between bow and cockpit for protection in winter
* Modest fuel capacity
* Moderate deadrise and wide hull dances about when lightly laden




Specifications: Crowline 180BR




Price as tested: $41,990 w/MerCruiser 4.3MPI and Australian-made trailer
Options fitted: Packaged as tested includes safety gear and regos
Priced from: $35,990 w/ MerCruiser 3.0lt on trailer




Material: GRP with pressure-treated timber stringers
Length overall: 5.50m
Beam: 2.30m
Deadrise: 18°
Weight: 1179kg




Rec/max HP: 220hp
Fuel capacity: 102lt
Passenger capacity: Eight




Make/Model: MerCruiser 4.3MPI
Type: V6 petrol inboard
Rated HP: 220hp @ 4400rpm-4800rpm
Displacement: 4.3lt
Weight: About 390kg
Drive Sterndrive Alpha One
Prop: Standard alloy




TR Marineworld,
4 Curtis Road,
McGraths Hill, NSW.
Phone: (02) 4577 3522


Originally published in TrailerBoat #196

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