When we got our first glimpse of the Bayliner Element, we liked what we saw: an all-new model with an all-new hull design, specifically created to bring new boaters into the fold. Better yet, bring them in at a reasonable cost. Then Bayliner rolled out the Element XL, a newer, bigger version that could handle more horsepower and a larger load of passengers. Now you can order the Element in a different form: the Fishing Package.
First, about the XL: it's two feet longer than the original Element, weighs about 400 pounds more, can hold three more people, and take an additional 40 horsepower on the transom. Yet you can still get one for under $18,000. And we’re not just talking about a bare hull, either. That price tag gets you the base boat, a 90 HP Mercury four-stroke, and a single-axel trailer. Now, let’s add in that Fishing Package and turn the XL into a real predator. It boosts the price by around $2,000, which still keeps cost under $20K, and gets you a 24-V electric trolling motor, a Lowrance Elite 3X fishfinder, bow and stern deck inserts that turn the cockpits into elevated casting platforms, pedestal-mount seats that fit in bases on those platforms, and a livewell.
The Element XL I tested had the base powerplant, which was surprising because one of the criticisms we’ve heard about the original Element was a desire for more power; the stock 60 just didn’t thrill most folks. And usually, when we show up to test and review a boat the manufacturer brings us one with the biggest powerplant possible, to get the press raving about performance. But that sometimes seems a bit disingenuous, since the low advertised price doesn't match up with the bigger powerplant they use to tempt us. Here—thank you, Bayliner—this was not in this case. So, how did the Element XL perform with the diminutive 90? Cruising speed was in the mid 20’s, and at top end, I hit 27.9 MPH. That doesn’t exactly count as “thrilling,” but remember, folks, we’re talking about an 18’ boat. Most of the time speed on a boat this small is limited by how large the waves are, not by how big the outboard is. And a cruising speed in the mid 20’s is, in my opinion, plenty fast for a fishing boat of this size. If you need more zip, sure, you can always ante up and get the 115. But in truth the 90 will provide plenty of speed for most of us, most of the time.
If you do opt for the larger powerplant, you'll probably also wish you had more fuel capacity. Fortunately, an extra (six gallon) tank is an option; I'd call it a must-have. The standard 12 gallon tank is a bit on the thin side for a boat with 90 horses, much less 115.
|Fuel capacity||12 gal.|
When I ran the XL there were a half-dozen or so other boats being tested at the same time, so even though we were on the Tennessee River, there were oodles of boat wakes washing around. And as with the original Element, the XL’s M-shaped hull tends to crunch over waves, instead of cutting through them like a V-hull. The down-side here is that launching the boat results in a harder impact, but the up-sides to that M-hull are significant. Stability, for starters, is far better than a V-hull can provide. Walking from the aft deck fishing platform into the bow, the boat barely moves. Waves hitting on the beam have little effect, and sudden shifts of weight (like when you cast from an elevated position) don’t rock the boat. Another up-side is efficiency. One of the reasons these boats can run with such small powerplants is that the M-hull planes much faster and more easily. In fact, one of the big surprises the first time you run this boat is how much pep it has when you take off from a stand-still. Finally, in a small chop, the M-hull acts something like a powercat, packing some air under the hull and using it as a cushion to reduce the blows.
When the original Element first came out, we were so impressed we named it one of our “Six Super Starter Boats.” The XL provides a better option for folks who want to keep price low, but need a bigger platform. And with the addition of the fishing package, the Element becomes an opportunity for those of you who are interested in chasing fish, too.
Other Choices: Boats with this kind of versatility and this low a price tag are very rare, but interested shoppers may also want to peek at the Carolina Skiff J series, or the Sundance DX 18. Both tilt bit more towards fishing and a bit less family use.
For more information, visit Bayliner.
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