One trend among many pontoon manufacturers is to offer platforms either with bare minimum essentials for simple functionality or hopped up with power and features to really dial it up.
Premier's 235 Escapade, for example, can be had with two or three tubes and with an outboard or stern drive. The difference between a two-tube setup with a 90 hp outboard and a triple-tube setup with a 270 hp stern drive can be night and day in terms of speed and performance.
In our case, we were lucky enough to get our hands on a triple-tube version of the 235 Escapade (what Premier calls its PTX package) equipped with a 270 hp Volvo Penta stern drive. In the case of a stern drive, the PTX performance package includes a 36-inch U-shaped center tube with a flat 12-inch planing surface and lifting strakes on the insides of the outboard 25-inch-diameter round tubes. This, in essence, gives the craft a hull that shares some characteristics with the performance of a fiberglass boat.
The stern drive setup allowed Premier to equip the craft with a full fiberglass swim platform and an entry ladder, which we feel are two of the most important features for a stern drive craft, both in terms of safety and utility for watersports. Our craft also had a ski pole, which we highly recommend if wakeboarding, skiing and tubing are going to be part of your usual routine. The rear entry setup also makes going from the cockpit to the stern for your turn at the end of the rope a cinch.
Aside from all the potential for watersports fun and the punchy performance you can expect from the PTX setup, the 235 Escapade is also near the top of Premier's extensive line of pontoon offerings, which means the quality of the interior seating and amenities are about as good as you're going to get from Premier. For 2006, the company has built in a number of new features, including padded gates to minimize rattle and give the interior a nicer look, new Faria gauges, directional speakers, quick-release Bimini brackets and a new pearl rail finish that is resistant to chipping, flaking or cracking.
While it's becoming more common to offer pontoons with stern drives, the vast majority of the pontoon world is still powered by outboard motors. So we get excited any time we get a chance to get behind the wheel of a stern drive pontoon.
Our test of the 235 Escapade took place on the St. Croix River just outside of Stillwater, Minnesota. The current was enough to cause us to take numbers upstream and downstream to get an accurate average. We had two people aboard for the test and a half tank of fuel (26 gallons — about 163 pounds). For power we had a 270 hp 5.0 GXi Volvo Penta spinning a three-blade aluminum prop.
Acceleration was commendable at just under seven seconds from 0 to 30 mph — this is good considering we're used to seeing between nine and 10 seconds for smaller fiberglass runabouts and deckboats. Spooling up for top speed got us to 39.7 mph at 4,500 rpm. The 5.0 GXi Volvo is rated for a top rpm of 5,000, so there's plenty of room here to experiment with some propellers with a little less pitch to get the rpm closer to where it needs to be, which should give the craft a nice little bump in speed as well.
Our most efficient speed, which was 25.6 mph at 3,000 rpm, gave us a fuel consumption of 3.47 mpg for an estimated cruising range of 162 miles.
Driving the boat was comfortable thanks to the Flexsteel 7-star captain's chair and the Command View riser. The optional Command View platform puts the entire helm and captain's chair up 7 inches above the rest of the deck, which makes it easy for the driver to see over passengers' heads while driving and docking. And, new for 2006, Premier has put a self-draining cooler compartment in the floor of the Command View down in front of the captain's chair.
Premier makes a lot of pontoon boats. From behemoth double-decker boats with wide 10-foot, 2-inch beams to little bitty craft that aren't much more than 15 feet long. All its boats are made with a certain kind of boater in mind, and we think the boater Premier is going after with the 235 Escapade is the family guy who wants all the space and storage pontoons deliver, and also wants an I/O setup so he can enjoy some serious watersports. And serious watersports are always made better with more performance and power.
The I/O setup enables the addition of a full-beam swim platform, which is an enormous plus in the watersports arena. And the PTX setup coincidentally helps out with all the room for skis and wakeboards in the in-floor locker, which is not something you'll find in many pontoons.
While the Command View is an optional feature, with think it's one you should consider. When we first read about it we didn't think much about it one way or the other, but after testing a number of Premier pontoons, some that had the riser and some that didn't, we we're surprised at how much those 7 little inches improved the view.
The additional weight of the center tube, an I/O over an outboard and a 53-gallon fuel tank (the two-tube version has a 30-gallon tank) means you'll be packing quite a few pounds before you even load up with people and gear. For this reason we recommend not being shy on power — in this case more is better.
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Manufacturer Contact Information
Premier Marine Inc.
26612 Fallbrook Ave.
Wyoming, MN 55092