BOAT TEST BAYLINER 175, 185 AND 195
We put three cool entry-level Bayliner bowriders head-to-head in an effort to pick which model offers the best mix of performance, versatility, comfort and value for money. David Lockwood reports.
I've been accused on more than one occasion of being too blasé about the bottom line. In the case of mega motoryachts, the difference between $2 million and $2.2 million is peanuts to the big-league players. But when it comes to entry-level trailerboats, well, we all know every dollar counts.
Realising as much, Bayliner has set the price-conscious buyer in its sights. This troika of 2004 boats-to-go includes the entry-level 175 bowrider, a 185 that's good enough to flaunt about a big city, and a 1950 Classic for those who want the most boat for their buck.
Due to the steady rise of the Aussie dollar and low interest rates, this isn't such a bad time to buy a Yankee-made boat. The 175 - coincidentally the smallest inboard-powered boat from the world's biggest boatbuilder - costs $29,990 drive-away with safety gear, covers and boat/trailer registrations. The 185 costs $34,790 or $4800 more, and the 1950 Classic will set you back $35,790 or another grand.
The prospective boatbuyer is likely to make up his or her mind on the basis of these pricetags. But like the salesman in the yard trying to steer you into the next most expensive model, I reckon the few thou' extra is money well spent.
All three boats are styled somewhat differently. The 175 is pitched at young couples, the 185 will appeal to sophisticated professionals, and the more conservative 1950 Classic is for mature types, grandparents or perhaps retirees.
Interestingly, all three boats were fitted with the same MerCruiser 135hp petrol inboard with Alpha One sterndrive leg and 21in standard alloy prop. This in itself made the comparison an enlightening one from a performance perspective.
But only after putting all three Bayliners through their paces, ferreting through their various nooks and crannies, and testing their plush seats, did I find my pick. While the lightest boat with less drag produced the best top speed, there's more to picking a winner than that.
GOOD THINGS, SMALL PACKAGES
My afternoon began aboard the 175. This boat is sold in the US as an entry-level turnkey rig for not a lot of money. What you see is pretty much what you get.
The lack of styling flashes and graphics reflects the simple fitout. But the $29,990 still buys everything you need for a fun day towing tykes, cruising upriver, staging a picnic ashore and exploring some new waterways.
For 2004, the boat now has gold piping on the upholstery and beige-coloured burbur cockpit carpet. Otherwise, Bayliner has retained its proven formula. The local importers add bow and bimini covers, CD player, safety gear and registrations.
While all three boats come on American-made Karavan braked trailers, the 175 will be easiest to slot in the garage. It measures just 5.79m overall with trailer tongue swung to one side, which might appeal to unit dwellers who have to negotiate tight car parks.
On the water, the 175's bow has a good amount of freeboard and isn't prone to shipping water like some low-slung sportsboats. There is some flare in the topsides and the bow is roomy and dry.
I liked the non-skid tread steps in the gunwales, the moulded liner underfoot, the firm foam used for the cushions, the padded backrests and the drinkholders. There is no anchor locker, however, and only two storage areas under the seats.
Full marks for the standard centre navigation light and cleats in the amidships area. Personally, I would prefer stainless steel to plastic grabs. At least the walk-through windscreen offered a wide thoroughfare back to the cockpit.
Behind the screen, the passenger gets a drinkholder on his or her dash and a CD player in a quasi icebox. There is a drain (onto the floor) and I would worry about ice being that close to the sound system. The fire extinguisher under the dash was a good safety measure.
The windscreen, wheel, throttle and the back-to-back seat were set at the right height for driving pleasure and a safe view of the road ahead. Both back-to-back seats have incremental adjustment, but due to the physical limitations of this boat, legroom was just okay.
The matt-beige plastic dash insert goes some way to reducing glare from the white fibreglass expanse behind the windscreen. There was a standard spread of Faria gauges - volts, engine temp, oil, fuel, tacho, speedo and trim.
Simple plastic switches are used to activate the blower, navigation and anchor light, and horn. There is a drinkholder, but unfortunately no 12V accessory plug for things like the mobile phone, searchlight or video camera.
Between the helm seats is a generous underfloor wet well that drains to the bilge for your wakeboards, waterskis and wetsuits. Alongside are quasi sidepockets that could and should be a lot deeper. Instead, the emphasis has been placed
on maximising floorspace.
The aft quarter seats are of generous proportions. Plastic grabs, drinkholders and two speakers are nearby. There is storage under the starboard-side seat base, but to port is the polypropylene fuel tank. Its weight will counter that of the skipper's if travelling one-up. The fuel capacity of 68lt is a bit light on for a big day on the water.
The backrests of the quarter seats flip out to access the battery and fuel tank. Engine access is direct via the clip-out moulded hood, but I would like to see some form of insulation and a better seal to reduce noise at fast running speeds. Access to the bilge is okay.
The transom has an integrated full-width boarding platform, ski tow eye, folding swim ladder with grab, and outboard fuel filler. Consider the optional XT package with watersports tower and graphics for $2000. The boat will take on a sporty look not unlike a souped-up cafe racer.
The 175 is designed with the aid of computer programs and built using a fibreglass stringer system bonded to the hull for rigidity. Robotics and a global manufacturing strategy are part of the big company's multinational approach.
The hull is backed by a lifetime warranty and has enough foam flotation for positive buoyancy. A moderate-vee design, the 175 planed to 16kmh at 2000rpm using full in-trim, returned a level cruise of 27kmh at 2500rpm, and started to feel slippery at 3000rpm and a comfortable 38kmh.
Towing speed of 34kmh at 2900rpm produced an acceptably steep wake and smooth centre section. Fast cruise was 4000rpm and 53kmh. Flat-out, the frisky 175 won the race with a 70kmh top speed.
The 175 certainly packs a lot of punch for a turnkey entry-level boat. I can get around the lack of anchor locker, 12V accessory plug and the icebox that drains onto the floor. But some sound insulation would be nice. Otherwise, the 175 is a boat to go that, well, goes.
SOPHISTICATED AND SPORTY
Take my advice and you will go the extra distance and shell out the $4800 premium for the 185 ($33,990 drive-away). It has a noticeably bigger-boat feel, a level of sophistication that should appeal to big-city boaters, and more space and comfort.
The bow is deeper, with more legroom, better padding and the necessary volume and buoyancy to support the weight of two bow-riding adults at rest or underway. In short, the lounging factor picks up an extra star or two.
There are drinkholders recessed in the gunwales, storage recesses under the bunks, but still no dedicated anchor locker. However, the boat has two additional storage holds behind the backrest cushions that are handy for personals and a jumper or two.
The windscreen is a curved wrapround number - unlike the angular, uncool number on the 175 - fashioned from safety glass from Taylor Made. Some nice hull graphics also add to the styling.
The walkway to the cockpit is wider than the 175's and Homer Simpson could pass through it. The entire dash is covered in a moulded low-glare beige panel. There is a full spread of Faria gauges in a moulded retro racing-style dash, perhaps reminiscent of an old Thunderbird. And the switches are your aircraft-style stainless-steel toggles.
Hooray, there are 12V auxiliary plugs for skipper and co-pilot and a glovebox for the latter. The quasi icebox still sits precariously close to the marine CD player, but at least it has an overboard drain. Legroom behind the dash is much improved and there are proper full-length sidepockets as well as an enlarged underfloor wet locker for sports gear and wetsuits.
The cockpit comes with more grabs and padding, non-skid treads and deep quarter seats with storage under both sides. The bases of these seats relocate along the engine lid to create a sunlounge. The padding on the engine box, which also has a moulded step and gas strut, effectively reduces running noise. The outboard transom treatment is virtually the same as the 175.
The fuel tank has been moved underfloor and the bigger engine bay provides scope for motor upgrades to a 190hp 4.3lt MerCruiser or 220hp 4.3lt MPI MerCruiser motor. Choose the latter and the optional XT package with anodised alloy tower and groovy graphics and the drive-away price is $44,790. That's almost $15,000 more than the 175 as tested, and $10,000 more than the 185 seen here.
But even in base form, the extra waterline length of the 185 made it a better performer in the rough reaches of the river. The hull weighs an extra 130kg and it sits 10 per cent deeper - or an extra 7.5cm - in the water. It's the widest boat of the lot, with 23cm on the 175 and 5cm on the 195 classic. The big girth adds to the boat's stability at rest.
For whatever reason - and I'm sure it's just a pre-delivery detail such as low fluid - the hydraulic steering was heavy. However, the hull was more efficient at low speed. The 185 held plane at 2000rpm without a sticking up its nose.
Level low-speed cruising came in at 2500rpm/28.5kmh and an efficient 39kmh could be maintained at 3000rpm. Fast cruise speed was 53.2kmh at 4000rpm, while 5000rpm produced 68.6kmh or about a klick less than the 175.
But the slight drop in speed is to be expected considering the hull weight, drag and fuel capacity, which at 106lt is realistic for a big day out on the water. The 185 is my pick, due - as much as any thing else - to the reduced DBAs at running speed. Enjoy? I did.
The way I see it, Bayliner's 1950 Classic has been bred for those who want the most boat for their buck. Measuring 5.7m overall as opposed to 5.4m for the 185, the 1950 Classic provides value at $34,990 drive-away.
If you calculate the cost of the three boats by multiplying overall length to beam and dividing that figure into the package price, the 175 costs $2641.61 a metre, the 185 costs $2667.13 a metre, and the 195 Classic costs $2648.11 a metre.
With less mouldings and more joinery it's a cheaper boat to produce - not as refined to look at, but more spacious. It's my guess that the older, squarer styling is likely to matter little to those savvy boaters past the point of making statements on the water.
The 195 Classic was certainly a practical boat with its dealer-fitted bowsprit for anchoring, high stainless-steel bowrail in place of plastic grabs up front, but no moulded liner in the bow and carpet underfoot instead.
A return to sensibility: the passenger-side dash had a separate icebox and CD player. The skipper got a classic moulded dash with mock-walnut insert panels and simple plastic switches. Not as racy, but it works.
The back-to-back seats seemed bigger than either the 175's or 185's, and there were bigger sidepockets to boot. The aft quarter seats were basic, removable padded swabs. Not only did they relocate to make a sunlounge, but there was also room under them to stash an esky or other loose gear.
No boarding platform back aft, boo-hoo, but a small swim step will do. And no other motor options other than the MerCruiser 135hp petrol inboard motor with Alpha One sterndrive leg.
On the water, this boat was the quietest of the troika. It held 2000rpm and 14.4kmh planing speeds, cruised at 35.7kmh and 3000rpm, and ploughed along at 55.6kmh at 4000rpm. Top speed was 65kmh, down a couple on the 175.
While it hasn't the funk factor of the 175 and 185, and there is an element of the jigsaw-and-ply build in the interior as opposed to integrated liners, the 195 Classic is a lot of boat.
And you need to remember one thing - at the end of the day, it's not what you get, how big your boat is, or how many bells and whistles you have aboard. Enjoyment also comes from what you do, where you train the bow and with whom you go boating.
BAYLINER 175, 185, 1950 CLASSIC
Price as tested: $29,990/$33,990/$34,990 drive-away including covers, CD player, braked trailer, registrations and safety gear
Options fitted: Bowsprit to 1950 Classic
Priced from: As above
Length (overall): 5.33m/5.40m/5.72m
Rec/max hp: 135/135-220/135
Towing weight: 1350kg/1450kg/1440kg dry
Make/model: MerCruiser 3.0L
Type: Petrol four-cylinder four-stroke inboard
Rated hp: 135 @ 4400-4800rpm
Drive (make/ratio): Alpha One sterndrive
Props: 21in alloy
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