By: David Lockwood

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While there's no shortage of towboats boasting Porsche-like performance and finish, not too many will stand up to extended use in the marine environment. Malibu's sensational Sunscape is set to change all that, reports a salt-crusted David Lockwood.

Malibu Sunscape 21LSV

FROM THE ARCHIVES: First published in TrailerBoat #179, April 2004 

I have always admired the way in which enthusiastic skiboat owners maintain and mollycoddle their beloved boats. You can see their pride of ownership reflected in buffed foredecks, sparkling in the stainless-steel deck fittings, welling up in chrome bits on colour-coded trailers; if not in spotless engine bays and splatter-free windscreens.

These owners obviously have the time and inclination to keep their towboats in tip-top showroom condition. But they also usually have a freshwater boating destination that makes the detailing job that much easier. Mention saltwater to these blokes and it's akin to yelling "fire". They run for the hills.

But that's exactly the kind of attitude that Malibu Australia is keen to lay bare. Malibu wants to be known for making ski and watersports boats that are as at home on the briny as they are on the sweetwater.

To test the theory I had the new 2004 model Sunscape 21 LSV delivered to a popular saltwater swimming beach in Sydney. I pulled the bow up on the beach, stepped aboard with sandy feet, ferreted through the hatches - noting details like the stainless-steel upholstery staples - before setting off for a salt-splattering run.

As luck would have it, there were whitehorses galloping across the waterway. Only minutes earlier I had been driving two other American-designed sterndrive-powered bowriders in the fray. That market is one that Malibu covets with its Sunscape 21LSV. Suffice to say, comparisons were easy to make. Read on.




Malibu has a big reputation here and abroad for building serious ski and watersports boats. In fact, it has won at least nine skiboat-of-the-year awards and 12 product-excellence awards in America.

Needless to say, the Australian-made Malibu is a better buy than a fully-imported one. The saving is about $15,000 on the Sunscape 21LSV model, says Malibu's sales and marketing manager Simon Hill.

The 21LSV, which I first tested two years ago, has undergone some significant changes for 2004. To begin with, there is more power. The Indmar-made Malibu-branded Monsoon V8 petrol motor started life as a 325hp donk in 2002, went to 335hp the year after and now puts out 340hp - more poke than a Ron Jeremy movie.

The fuel-injected engine is backed by a three-year warranty in fresh and saltwater. The vee-drive configuration lends itself to towing wakeboarders as well as waterskiers, even when laden.

Compared to the early model 21LSV, the new boat has more, shall we say, automotive-style fittings, such as the switches on the dash and car-like furnishings. In fact, most places you look, the finish has been upgraded to handle activities in the saltwater.

The upgrades include a new nylon-fibre carpet that hasn't the memory of the former polypropylene; a new and exclusive premium M-grain vinyl that's thicker than before; a clever new postless three-piece windscreen; stylish chrome-rimmed Kysor-Borg Warner engine gauges; an LCD air/water temp gauge that reads in (you beauty!) Celsius; and, get this, an imported Italian Isotta steering wheel and matching chrome throttle knob and skipole head.

Not that it's all glitz at Malibu, mind you. On the construction front, this boat was made to the exacting standards of the American parent company - that is, beyond US Coastguard requirements.




You won't find a splinter of timber on the Sunscape 21LSV. The 100-per-cent GRP lay-up features Coremat for reinforcing and a special sound-suppression layer. There are two longitudinal stringers bonded to the hull for stiffness, GRP floor panels, and chambers filled with a two-part expanding foam that are sealed for life.

All of this augurs well for a boat destined for places other than freshwater, as does the lifetime hull warranty. Depending on your needs, there are four different factory-fitted tower options to choose from. You can also have a tower retrofitted at a Malibu dealer down the track.

Without a tower, pulled up on the beach, the Sunscape 21LSV looked slick and slippery. The dark-blue hull with marble and black accents enhanced the stainless-steel deck fittings such as the windscreen.

The internal white-on-white trim with blue piping helped create a sense of space. But with 20 hull colours to choose from in a number of combinations, not to mention graphics options, there are literally thousands of individual combinations to select.




The Sunscape 21LSV measures 6.40m long, plus boarding platform. The teak platform is a metre or so deep, so there's plenty of room to get ready for a board or to kick back after a swim.

The platform is mounted on a new mechanism that allows one person to lift it off to reduce boat length for storage, I'm told.

For saltwater use, all the screws, fixtures and fittings are now stainless steel. There is an occasional aluminium bracket, but these shouldn't corrode. The motor had a freshwater flushing kit fitted by the dealer, but the tow eyes and grab handles on the transom are standard issue.

Factory-rolled, the Sunscape 21LSV caters for social boating nicely. The bowrider layout boasts a 669kg seated capacity, which translates to a possible 10 bums on 10 seats. Of course, the boat works best with less than that - say, four to six people as the ideal.

The U-shaped cockpit seating is built around a fibreglass module. The seat bases lift to reveal a large, insulated icebox - the measure of all good dayboats - and lined storage areas including a very long locker that runs from the transom to the dash.

At the transom, a full-length aft sunpad can take two people in a reclined position. Concealed below is Malibu's Monsoon 5.7lt V8 motor mounted on a fibreglass engine chassis system that has been built into 20,000 boats with zero failures, Malibu claims. The lockable lounge/engine-bay lid lifts on gas struts and there are storage nets on the underside of the lid.

The motor has a so-called Silent Rider muffler, new exhaust manifolds and a tuned-length header for that extra 5hp. There's a mound of torque you couldn't jump over - 531Nm, in fact - and it's on tap through a wide rev band.



But the real strength of the Malibu is, to my eye at least, the attention to detail. The upholstery is professionally stitched, the staples concealed, and you get things like courtesy lights, sidepockets for personals and a black dash to reduce glare in the windscreen.

The windscreen is a work of art, with a stainless-steel frame but few supports to compromise your vision. There is a rear-vision mirror. The upgraded sound system hides under the driver's side armrest. Dotted about the place are eight drinkholders.

A dash storage locker ahead of the observer is big enough to take picnic gear and a portable cooler. The plush cockpit carpet continues through to the bow. Up front, I noted a surprisingly good amount of freeboard compared to many tow boats intended for use on flat water.

I also noted that the grabrails in the bow are stainless steel rather than plastic. There is no dedicated anchor locker, but there are storage areas under the seats for the anchor and hardware.

There are also clips to hold the cockpit table base and the anchor light, and a lined (wet) ski locker underfloor that drains to the bilge.

With the cockpit table assembled, at least six people can sit King Arthur-style. There are yet more drinkholders in the tabletop and room to do a light buffet lunch. A bimini top would be a useful aftermarket addition.




I pushed the bow of the Sunscape 21LSV off the beach, spun the hull around in knee-deep water and launched onto the teak boarding platform. Idling along, the boat retains a useful amount of freeboard for crossing boat wake and wind waves without shipping water.

The hull is a moderate-vee design with 23° of deadrise at the forefoot and 10° at the transom. The relatively flat aft sections and downturned chines help the hull maintain a level attitude as it shifts to planing speed.

Acceleration is a highlight thanks to that perky V8. At 2300rpm, a handy wakeboarding speed of 17.5kt (33kmh) was recorded. The wash had some nice tall walls for getting air and the boat seemed to enjoy the comfortable cruising clip.

Social skiing and fair-weather cruise speed was 26.8kt (51kmh) at 3000rpm. At 3500-3600rpm or tournament-ski speed of 31kt (59kmh), the engine makes maximum torque. The wake at such speeds is noticeably flat.

Top speed was 40kt (76kmh) on the GPS at 4900rpm. The nice thing - from a driver's perspective - was the sweet cornering, derived from the oversized Gorilla Fins that reach deep in the water, and the excellent views ahead and astern.

The acceleration when you plant the throttle is impressive and perceptible when accessing the final 1000rpm. Obviously the motor has a lot of pulling power - its smooth performance can be traced back in part to the CNC-machined propeller.

Yet the million-dollar question still loomed as I turned the corner and faced the tempest: how would this vee-driven inboard boat perform in waters that had tested the mettle of two other 22-25ft American bowriders, with petrol sterndrive motors, only moments earlier?

Surprisingly, the answer was rather well. While the Malibu wasn't quite as soft-riding as the deep-vee sterndrive boats, it offered a ride that was streets ahead of many other one-trick tournament skiboats.

I managed to maintain about 35-38kmh into conditions that would have sent lesser boats packing. There was a reassuring sense of seaworthiness, too, which should endear the Malibu to family boaters. Another thing: I didn't get wet.

A dedicated high-performance social ski and watersports boat that takes to saltwater, and which can handle rougher conditions, should easily find a home on the coast. And best of all, you don't need to treat the Sunscape 21LSV with kid gloves. A few buckets, a sponge and a flush will do.






Price as tested: $60,732 including boat, motor and Malibu Momentum trailer (from Easy Tow), upgraded stereo system, plus dealer charges and onroads
Options fitted: Upgraded stereo system

Priced from: About $59,742 for boat, motor, trailer, plus dealer charges and onroads




Material: GRP w/ foam coring, foam flotation and sound-suppression layer
Length (overall): 6.40m
Beam: 2.36m
Deadrise: 23-10° at transom
Rec/max hp: 340/380
Towing weight: 2040kg (BMT)




Fuel: 132lt
Water: n/a
Passengers: 669kg or 10 people
Accommodation: n/a




Make/model: MP EFI Malibu Monsoon V8
Type: Four-stroke injected petrol inboard
Rated hp: 340 @ 5200rpm
Displacement: 5.7lt
Weight: n/a
Drive (make/ratio): ZF Hurth 1:1 trans w/ 1.46:1 Walter vee-drive
Prop: CNC-machined four-blade bronze 13.5 x 17.5in




GRE Marine Sales, Sydney, tel (02) 9898 1010; Malibu Boats, Albury, tel (02) 6040 1174 or visit




Marine-grade fittings and interior
Excellent finish
Great ride and freeboard in choppy water
Social seating layout is family-friendly




No dedicated anchor locker
No front boarding ladder
No clip-in carpets


Story: David Lockwood Photos: John Ford
First published in TrailerBoat #179


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