By: John Ford

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John Ford is spoilt for choice these days, after trying out yet another example of fine Yankee fibreglass.

Larson LX850

We were streaking across Botany Bay at around 30kts (56kmh) when Derek Rodway, principal of Sydney's Good Times Marine and importer of US-made Larson boats, suggested I spear into a tight turn to prove his handling claims of the boat beneath us. I obliged, only to hear Derek yell in response, "No, not sharp enough - have another go!"

Cue one of those "don't try this at home" moments, as I wrenched on the wheel and grabbed a big handful of full lock. However, rather than spitting both driver and passenger into the drink, the boat simply turned without complaint, my look of concern soon supplanted by a smile of relief. Welcome to the Larson LX850 - another value-packed 'glass stunner from Uncle Sam, with a keen-edged price to complement its performance.



Rodway has been importing Larson boats to his Taren Point dealership for the last two years. He maintains the brand's products are built on an exclusive formula, and that they do everything right at a price that belies their place at the upper end of the market.

On paper the LX850 doesn't seem like anything special - until, that is, you have a closer look at the fibreglass. Despite its fairly mundane 190hp carburetted MerCruiser this little 18-footer family boat still gets up and boogies, but Rodway reckons it's what's under the skin that makes it special.

Larson uses patented "VEC Technology" on the production line in its Minnesota factory and because it's been making boats since 1913, it seems the company has picked up a bit about naval architecture along the way. The meaning of "VEC" appears to be shrouded in secrecy - Rodway had no idea and the brochures give nothing away. Let's say the boat has a Very Effective Construction…

The patented VEC process essentially entails a computer-controlled, closed-mould composite construction where hulls are formed under pressure in a press rather than being handlaid. This means every hull is as close to perfect as possible. All reinforcement including the stringer system and transom comprise composite materials - this means there's no timber ply in the boat, which Larson claims makes the boats stronger and more durable. Along the production line, robots cut holes for fittings to the barest millimetre of tolerance.




The boat's layout is that of a typical sports bowrider; there's room for three up front, two amidships and another three or four on the rear lounge, for a total capacity of seven. It's interesting that in the 'States the boat is rated for eight at an average weight of 63kg, but Australian design rules rate us at an average of 81kg. So much for the fat American - we seem to have out-eaten them! Either that or we take more stuff with us for a day on the water. Drinks, sangers, lamingtons, spare footy, cricket pads, and so on…

What becomes apparent on closer inspection is the high level of finish found throughout the upholstery and gelcoat. American boats of this genre have to be good to survive in their very competitive home market and the Larson lacks nothing when it comes to first impressions. Sleek, low-profile lines are complemented by a shiny black hull and gleaming white deck. As an entry-level sportsboat, the conspicuous black tower may overstate its wakeboarding credentials, but it's an option that will appeal to social 'boarders and it broadens the boat's all-rounder appeal. The interior colours are a pleasing mix of tan, white and grey, while the brown marine carpet is a practical and classy choice for a floor covering.

Three can fit in the bow but in reality when underway the crew will fight for the two luxurious feet-up positions on the lounges, hair blowing in the breeze. Under the port side seat is storage for the anchor - here the gelcoat would probably appreciate some rubber matting for protection. To starboard Larson has come up with a nifty idea by converting the storage bin into an Esky-style cooler with a drain. Both seats lift out and have Velcro clips to keep them in place. A small pad at the bow has a pop-up stainless steel cleat in the centre with a non-slip boarding step either side.

A five-piece tempered glass windscreen sweeps back to the side of the driver and observer seats with the central section opening for bow access. I liked the dash treatment, with up-to-date styling and easy-to-read instruments clustered below the faux carbonfibre brow. There are large dials for the speedo and tacho that share space with the voltage and fuel gauge, while smaller separate dials display trim, oil pressure and engine water temperature.

The two bolster seats were comfortable and supportive and they rotate for socialising with the rest of the team at rest or, in the case of the passenger, for observing the action out the back when towing water toys. There are storage bins with elastic nets to hold things in place in the driver and passenger footwells and there's a passenger glovebox that houses the MP3 stereo and space for personal items. Enclosing the cockpit, the wakeboard tower has mounts each side for boards while an extended bimini offers weather protection to the whole rear section of the boat.

A full-width lounge at the stern has more storage below and elasticised nets each side will keep smaller items in place. Behind the lounge is a sunpad; it lifts on gas struts to reveal the engine bay with loads of storage room each side of the motor. An extended transom has a raised swim platform with a folding stainless steel ladder.




Maybe there is something in this mysterious VEC construction because on the water the boat has a Very Entertaining Capability. It has a solid, integrated feel and even when I pointed the boat into some nasty 1m seas out in the middle of Botany Bay there was no banging or shaking. While not a serious offshore cruiser, the 850 will be an adequate bay / harbour runabout, capable of enduring some rough water when it has to. The hull design includes planing strakes and some serious chines, giving the boat plenty of lift and keeping it steady at rest. At 21° the deadrise is quite deep for this style of boat, which helps explain the soft ride and good manners.

Adjustable steering and sliding bolster seats lend plenty of variation to the driving position and the controls are well positioned and easy to operate. Vision through the screen is unimpeded and although it's possible to steer from a standing position, when docking it feels more natural to just sit back and relax.

Plant the throttle and the bow lifts momentarily before getting on the plane and flattening out at 9.1kts (17kmh), then quickly reaching a cruise of 28.6kts (53kmh) at 3500rpm. Steering is sure-footed and precise and while power is moderate there is plenty on tap to blow out the cobwebs and have a good time. At 4600rpm I saw 40.5kts (75kmh) on my GPS, demonstrating the ease with which this boat can be punted at speed.




In the Vexingly Eclectic Cache of sportsboats on offer these days, the LX850 has plenty of competition. But with a quality construction, pleasing performance and an excellent finish, its points of difference are worth exploring. The heritage of the Larson name should be of some comfort, too - manufacturers don't hang around for this long without good reason. For a red-hot starting price of $32,990, Larson's LX850 could well be a Valuable Economic Capture…



On the plane...

Nicely finished gelcoat and upholstery
Pleasing and predictable handling
Big bimini covers the cockpit
The cooler in the bow is a nice touch


Dragging the chain...

Could use some protection under the anchor







Price as tested: $38,490
Options fitted: Wake tower and racks, tilt steering, bolster seats, bimini, stainless steel package, clip-in carpet, mag wheels
Priced from: $32,990




Type: Bowrider sportsboat
Material: Fibreglass
Length: 5.61m
Beam: 2.33m
Weight: 1111kg (dry boat and engine)
Deadrise: 21°




People: 7
Rec. HP: 190
Max. HP: 220
Fuel: 72lt




Make/model: MerCruiser 190 TKS
Type: V6 petrol 190hp with Alpha 1 sterndrive
Weight: 344kg
Displacement: 4300cc
Gear ratio: 1.81:1
Propeller: 14in x 23in




Larson Boats
Little Falls, Minnesota
United States




Good Times Marine
2 Toorak Ave
Taren Point, NSW, 2299
Tel: (02) 9524 6999

Story & Photos: John Ford
First published in TrailerBoat #282

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