- Yamaha’s entry-level EX is subtly better than Sea-Doo’s entry-level Spark in a great many ways.
- It enjoys enhanced pickup, allied to a more generous features list, plus three-man capacity and an extra dose of power as standard.
- This is a machine you can throw around at wide-open throttle within a minute or two of taking ownership …
Yamaha EX Sport
Alex Smith investigates Yamaha’s affordable new answer to the Sea-Doo Spark.
The modern personal watercraft (PW) can be a remarkably complex thing. For instance, Yamaha’s flagship Waverunner hits 60 knots, weighs more than a third of a metric tonne and, even in its most basic form, will set you back the best part of £16,000. It comes with sophisticated electronic displays, alongside advanced user aids like Cruise Assist, No Wake mode, electronic trim, Low-RPM mode, remote security and an adjustable steering system with Electronic Reverse. It is a serious boat for serious buyers who want a PW that offers luxury as well as grunt. And yet, since the advent of the Sea-Doo Spark, there seems to have been a fresh drive to offer the buyer something more straightforward, something cheaper to buy, simpler to use, easier to enjoy – and the new entry-level Waverunner EX is Yamaha’s solution to exactly that.
What’s the EX all about?
At 262kg, 3.13 metres in length and 1.13 metres in the beam, Yamaha’s new EX model is lighter and more compact than anything else in the fleet. With a starting price of just £6,999, it’s also far and away the most affordable route into Waverunner ownership. However, it’s important to recognise that this is not a dumbed-down slice of the Waverunner experience; and despite the fact that it’s described by Yamaha as ‘new from the ground up’, neither is it a major departure from what has gone before. On the contrary, this is simply a ‘playful Waverunner’ that more of us are able to afford.
It is designed to embody much the same qualities as the more expensive VX fleet, but to make them available to a broader, and potentially less experienced, audience; and to assist with that breadth of appeal, the EX is available in three model variants. The basic EX (from £6,999) comes with the new 3-cylinder 1049cc TR-1 engine, allied to a relatively compact and lightweight three-man hull. It also comes with Yamaha’s ‘HyperFlow’ jet pump, plus multifunction LED meters, including speedo, tacho, fuel level and hours run. The glovebox is supplemented by storage in the bow and under the seat; and you also get a 50-litre fuel tank, a reboarding handle and a tow hook for water sports.
The middle-of-the-range ‘Sport’ version (from £7,299) offers exactly the same as the base model but adds a mechanical reverse system, dual mirrors and a foldable reboarding step. And the premier ‘Deluxe’ variant (from £7,999) supplements the Sport’s features list with posher trim and uprated colourways, plus Yamaha’s RIDE system, which uses a left-hand trigger for activation of neutral and ‘reverse’, so you can keep both hands on the bars for enhanced control.
Despite its modest price point, the specs list suggests that even the base-level EX is quite an uncompromising piece of equipment. Although it occupies a similar footprint to the three-seater Spark (at just 8cm longer and 1cm narrower), it is a much more substantial craft. It uses a larger, more powerful engine (1049 rather than 900 cc); it weighs nearly 40% more; its fuel tank is nearly 70% larger; and it boasts several features that appear only as options on the Spark.
As you might expect, then, the practicalities are very well considered. For instance, while the EX’s glovebox lacks the simple foam lining of the higher-end craft, it does have the capacity to contain a small water bottle, plus your phone, wallet and keys in a compact dry bag. And while the forward storage space, ahead of the bars, is only 2 or 3 inches deep, a well-proportioned compartment beneath the seat generates 37.8 litres of storage, which beats the Spark by more than 25%.
Back aft, the flip-down boarding step on the starboard side of the swim platform is perfectly simple to use, particularly alongside the well-placed handle at the aft end of the seat. There is also some decent space to manoeuvre yourself around on this boat, not just at the back end but also in the footwells when you’re playing with your trim or trying to perfect a fast turn underway.
And the rest of the rider ergonomics are also very sound. The seat lacks the firmness and the pronounced thigh-grip contours of some of the larger models (which means you might have to hang on a touch in rougher waters), but it feels pleasantly secure, with the small of your back jammed right up against the cushion’s elevated ridge. The compact dash display also offers all the data you realistically need, and while its position between the bars and the glovebox requires you to look down more than you would want, in all other regards the EX is a superbly comfortable craft.
More fun than you expect?
It’s easy to prejudge a boat on the basis of its price or its market position, but the low-end pickup on the new EX comes as a very satisfying surprise. Yamaha refuse to talk about power outputs, but we can safely say that the TR-1 engine puts out at least 10hp more than the Spark’s top-rated 90hp option – and on the water, that feels like more than enough to compensate for the weight disadvantage. From a standstill, we hit 28 knots in five seconds (which is easily good enough for towed water sports), before reaching 40 knots in around nine seconds. It takes a further 10 or 11 seconds to eke out the last 6 knots or so, but a top end of 46 knots is still 2.5 more than the Spark.
However, the good news doesn’t end there, because despite the affordability of its modest power and the accessibility of its easy-going novice-friendly hull, the handling is also a treat. Of course, you don’t get the five-stop trim facility of the more expensive models in the Yamaha range, but this ‘neutral’ set-up is well optimised to provide a very engaging blend of straight-line pace and handling agility – and if you’re happy to move your weight around underway, it’s a distinctly rewarding PW to ride. For instance, you can shift your weight forward, turn hard and dig in the nose for a frothing 180, or you can lean right over, keep the power down and enjoy a very controllable bit of slide, without ever having to work too hard to stay put.
In truth, its increased weight, not to mention its relatively upright riding position, ought to restrict the freestyling ability of the EX, but in terms of its agility and handling, it feels like a match even for the ultra-nimble Spark. In fact, such is the confidence-inspiring nature of the ride, not to mention the poke at your disposal, that it positively encourages you to experiment with freestyle tricks. There’s enough heel and slide in the turn to flatter the novice, and enough softness over the chop to encourage plenty of throttle and to dial out any uncomfortable quirks in the tracking. It’s commendably easy to avoid getting ejected through the high side of a hard turn, even when you get lazy about your weight distribution; and while some might crave the extra grunt of the VX series or the extra sharpness of the Sport line, the EX’s combination of power delivery, hull and driver interface is about as beautifully matched as you could ever want to see.
Best for value
With just £1,000 between the base EX and the Deluxe version, there’s no doubt that all three entry-level Waverunners offer very compelling value, but for me, the outstanding model here is the midpoint EX Sport. If the RIDE electronic gear selection system of the Deluxe is better than the simple right-handed mechanical pull handle of the Sport, the difference is certainly very marginal; and while the Deluxe does boast some uprated colourways, the EX Sport is just £300 more than the base model, without any significant weight penalty for its extra functionality.
Yamaha’s entry-level EX is subtly better than Sea-Doo’s entry-level Spark in a great many ways. It enjoys enhanced pickup, allied to a more generous features list, plus three-man capacity and an extra dose of power as standard. This is a machine you can throw around at wide-open throttle within a minute or two of taking ownership, and although it’s larger and heavier than the Spark, it has a combination of dynamic abilities that will keep most riders entertained for longer. Even the price compares pretty well. If you attempted to buy a Spark with the 90hp option, the three-man riding capacity and some comparable storage solutions, the price difference would be very minor.
So if we were to compare them directly (as many buyers will), who would come out on top? Well, those who want stylish, lightweight, customisable recreation will continue to prefer the Spark, and those who want a more mature and more potent PW experience will prefer the relatively traditional approach of Yamaha’s EX. For tender work on a compact mother ship, as part of a mini fleet for your family or as a customised expression of your own tastes, the Spark continues to shine as the more flexible and attractive package. And yet, while the EX is probably less charming than the nimble, other-worldly Spark, those in search of simple, affordable PW entertainment will discover that Yamaha’s most affordable Waverunner is, in most regards, a better boat.
- LOA: 3.13m
- Beam: 1.13m
- Weight: From 262kg
- Fuel capacity: 50 litres
- People capacity: 3
- Storage capacity: 37.8 litres
- Power: Yamaha won’t say
- Engine: TR-1 (1049cc, 3-cylinder)
- Top speed: 45.9 knots
- Acceleration 0–28 knots: 5 seconds
- Acceleration 0–42 knots: 10 seconds
- Acceleration 0–46 knots: 20 seconds
- Really impressive pickup
- Surprisingly agile handling
- Novice-friendly manners
- Accessible price
- Limited upgrade routes
- The Spark is more charming and original
EX: From £6,999
EX Sport: From £7,299
EX Deluxe: From £7,999