Alex Smith heads back to Cannes for a test drive of Sea Ray’s new 19-footer.
When I first heard about the launch of Sea Ray’s new 19-footer during the Cannes Boat Show, my initial reaction was to question whether it was really necessary. After all, Sea Ray are a big, Brunswick-owned brand with a vast fleet of around 45 boats, comprising (among other things) a perfectly serviceable set of bowriders. With an SLX range for water sports craft and a Sundeck line for deck boats, plus a couple of conventional sterndrive-equipped bowriders at 19 and 20 feet in the Sport line, you might have thought enough was enough. Certainly, a collection of 15 open-bowed boats from 19 to 35 feet would be plenty for most companies, and yet here was an entirely fresh line of boats known as SPX. Designed to offer a slicker, sportier, ‘edgier’ form of bowrider entertainment than the long-standing Sport line, I feared that it would show us nothing of note beyond some swanky new fabrics and some reinvented colourways. Happily, I was wrong.
The Art of Expansion
The really key change between this new boat and the old 190 Sport is in the beam. At 2.54 metres, the SPX is 33cm broader than its predecessor, and while that might not sound like a radical change, it makes a massive difference on a boat of this scale. For instance, the cockpit is radically uprated with 20% more space than that of the outgoing 190 Sport, and because the SPX carries that beam further forward, the newly designed bow, with its blunt nose, is also that bit more spacious.
Plainly, that’s a great start, but the SPX is about more than just the expansion of its internal footprint; it’s also about making that space work much harder. The old 190 arranged its cockpit, rather complacently, around a pair of helm seats ahead of a full-beam aft bench. We’ve seen it a million times before, and while it works well enough, it means you’re limited to five fixed cockpit seats and a swim platform that can only be accessed by vaulting the aft bench and making your way over the engine bay. The SPX circumvents this tired formula by employing an asymmetrical layout.
Instead of leading directly aft, the cockpit walkway leads back from the step-through screen to the port side of the aft bench. Here, the extra beam is used to generate a stepped, walk-through transom, creating not just better access fore and aft but also extra room on the port side of the cockpit for the inclusion of a convertible two-man seating unit. With its forward infill and removable aft backrest, this clever section can be rigged as a pair of inward-facing seats, a single forward-facing seat or a long, aft-facing lounger. It’s a much more useful feature than a conventional co-pilot seat, particularly for those who want to face aft and keep an eye on a wakeboarder. And while the removable infill was unworkably flimsy on the debut boat, our test boat for the day exhibited a reinforced panel, making this port section much more practical and user-friendly than it was at its launch.
Now I confess that in isolation, these features may seem minor, but in union they create not just a radical improvement in the usability and versatility of the cockpit, but also an increase in overall seating capacity on the SPX from nine people to 11. That puts this boat right at the top of its class and elevates it to an echelon that the old 190 Sport is patently unable to match.
Attention to detail is impressive too. The storage in the aft section is cordoned off into three neat and usable sections; the trim is all stainless steel; the coaming is equipped with slick, blue LED strip lights; the swim platform is attractively integrated into the lines of the topsides; and even the cup holders enjoy a network of mini tubes, which funnel the water safely down to the bilge, instead of disgorging it over whatever happens to lie underneath.
In fact, my only real criticism concerns the cool box, which is positioned in the port side of the aft space, directly next to the battery. In fairness, the battery is securely strapped down and the cables are neatly routed, but if it’s not going to be housed in its own dedicated case, it ought to be positioned out of the line of fire of wayward drinks and melting ice. Simply shifting the cool box bracket to the starboard space and adding a storage liner to the port one would remedy this with ease.
The Perfect Performer?
It would be easy to postulate that the use of an outboard engine (moving a significant portion of the boat’s weight up and aft), allied to a 15% expansion of the beam, might result in a boat that is fast, flighty and hard-riding. It would be equally easy to point to the broadening of the bow shape, the 50kg reduction in the boat’s weight and the 200kg increase in the boat’s carrying capacity to suggest that this blunt, beamy, buoyant little boat is likely to handle with all the frenzied artlessness of an outboard-powered soap dish. But nothing could be further from the truth.
When you put the throttles down, the pace is effortless. True, it does need a decent bit of trim to free up the hull – but on a family boat, that’s exactly how you would want it. The impressive top end of 43 knots is not something you have to painstakingly eke out. On the contrary, it’s a very rapid and easy exercise, as indeed is the process of powering hard around a fast, grippy (reassuringly heel-intensive) turn.
As for efficiency, I know the Mercury F150 outboard well, and while the SPX offers us no access to fuel flow data, I have seen this engine perform admirably several times before. In fact, on larger, heavier boats with more acutely angled hulls than this, I’ve seen it achieve cruising speeds of 24 to 34 knots on around 18 to 32 litres per hour. So when you factor in the fact that the SPX’s increased beam has enabled the designers to incorporate a much-needed 15% increase in fuel capacity (from 98 to 113 litres), the SPX should offer plenty of scope for a good stint of mixed family recreation between refills.
Up at the helm, that decidedly steep and angular screen means it terminates further forward, generating better space and giving excellent visibility, particularly to the sides. The skipper’s position is extremely comfortable, with a padded elbow rest built into the starboard panel for his throttle hand – and to port, the co-pilot also does pretty well, with plenty of space, a cushioned lining at the left shoulder and a stereo tucked safely inside the glovebox. However, the seat here is very much in need of a dedicated grab handle, because as things stand, the co-pilot has to steady himself by laying his left hand on top of the integrated screen rim, which is the wrong shape and in the wrong position to be of much genuine use.
Inboard v Outboard
While it is possible to spec a 135hp sterndrive set-up on the 19 SPX, the recommended inboard option is MerCruiser’s 4.3-litre block in either 190hp or 220hp form. While both will save a little money over the outboard craft in terms of purchase price (£3,800 and £2,000 respectively), they will also prove more thirsty to run and less refined for those on board. And on a compact platform like this, the inboard engine will also fill that vast wedge of neatly arranged aft space that could otherwise be used for the storage of all your day trip baggage. Of course, if the impact of the outboard’s weight shift were to negatively prejudice the handling, there might be cause for further debate, but here on the outboard model, the 19 SPX snaps into focus with a near perfect blend of space, storage, refinement, practicality, poke and affordability. For me, it’s the only way to go.
If Sea Ray ever sell another 190 Sport, it will be to a customer who has never witnessed the new 19 SPX. Because despite offering a much larger cockpit, a broader bow, extra seating and a more versatile layout than the old 190, this new boat appears to have incurred no dynamic penalties at all. On the contrary, the vigour, balance, pace and agility of the SPX mean that this spacious and versatile party boat is also a tremendously enjoyable driving machine. I will freely admit that on the basis of the initial specs, I had my reservations, not just regarding its dynamics but also the rationale behind its existence. And yet at less than £30,000, it turns out that the first of Sea Ray’s new SPX boats is, without question, a brilliant little bowrider.
- Superbly judged helming experience
- Versatile internal layout
- Impressive storage
- Seating for 11
- Good value
- Poor battery position
- Lack of co-pilot grabbing point
- LOA: 5.94m
- Beam: 2.54m
- Weight: 1131kg
- Deadrise: 19 degrees
- Engine: Mercury 150
- Fuel capacity: 113 litres
- People capacity: 11
- Price: £29,476