At one time, it seemed that all we cared about was, "How fast does it go?" It didn't really matter that the helm seat in your sportboat felt like hard plastic, or that you had to turn sideways in order to squeeze past the walk-through windshield.
Things are a little different today. Now, whenever the gang wants to Go Boating, you don't think of it as an excuse to race each other to the opposite side of the lake, but rather an invitation to sit back and relax with friends.
With one eye on the Weather Channel and the other on our travel itinerary, we descended upon Georgia's Lake Lanier as Tropical Storm Barry sat off the Gulf Coast, driving thunder cells into our area. We came to Georgia to see the new Benningtons at the company's dealer meeting, which marked the fifth anniversary for the Indiana-based pontoon boat builder.
The conditions were typical for an August afternoon in the South. The temperature was in the mid-90s, with the level of humidity not far behind.
We hit the lake on a Saturday, when boating traffic was at its peak. It was a perfect time to test the company's new 2575 RLX, the top-of-the-line model in Bennington's deluxe pontoon series.
Two Much Fun
Our twin-tube pontoon was powered by one of Yamaha's new four-stroke 115 hp outboards. The boat is rated for engines up to 135 hp — but with a performance package, it can handle power options up to 225 hp.
The performance package incorporates a third 25 inch tube, which offers additional buoyancy, stability and speed (for those of you wanting to experience the thrill of parting your hair in places you had never imagined). Adding a third tube also increases the fuel capacity by more than 10 gallons.
With only two tubes, our test boat handled the lake chop better than any modified-V runabout we've driven in recent months. It sliced through the swell being dished out by the fleet of boats (some as large as 45 feet) on the lake, which we constantly had to dodge while seeking out spots to open up the throttle.
The 2575 RLX was extremely easy to turn at wide-open throttle, but it bogged down under the additional drag we caused by making repeat full-power radical turns. We experienced no cavitation or blowout during these extreme maneuvers, but more horsepower would certainly eliminate the drop in rpm.
With three adults on board and 3/4 of a tank of fuel, our test boat's 115 hp Yamaha four-stroke topped out at 23.4 mph. We estimated the optimum cruising speed to be right around 18 mph, at 3,800 rpm. This works out to 5.29 mpg, which gives the 2575 RLX a range of nearly 132 miles.
Although several months had already passed since we first tested Yamaha's new four-stroke series, we were still wowed by the 115's exceptionally quiet operation (even at full throttle) and smooth acceleration throughout the entire rpm range.
A Peaceful, Easy Feeling
The 2575 RLX features a full-length deck, which gave Bennington's designers a worthy platform for one of the roomiest floor plans we've ever set foot on. The seating arrangement includes wrap-around bow settees and three corner chaise lounges. New this year is a removable bow gate seat for additional seating while under way.
We've sat in some comfortable helm seats, but Bennington's was the first "two-fisted" model we've tried — meaning there's a cup holder in both armrests, so you can put your beverage container next to your drinking hand (whichever one that happens to be). Now that's taking "attention to detail" to another level. The seat also features a flip-up bolster, which adjusts forward and back, and swivels.
The huge helm console (one of the biggest we've seen) has a sink with a lid that sported molded-in cup holders. While they were probably a bit shallow to effectively keep your drink upright in rough water, the idea was certainly unique and illustrates the extra effort put forth by Bennington to provide little luxuries that add up to a lot.
For example, the chaise lounges lift up to reveal cleverly disguised waste containers. A portable cup holder travels easily from seat to seat, so there's less chance of spills. In the event of a mess, there's also a portable vacuum for fast and easy cleanups.
Other notable features include inset rubber molding to cushion you against the dock, cleats (which, surprisingly, are not found on every pontoon we've tested), courtesy lights throughout, molded-in docking lights and a power-boosted antenna for picking up radio signals from one of those off-the-beaten-path lakes that might just as well be on the back side of the moon.
Take a Closer Look
One problem we did have when reviewing Bennington's 2002 pontoon line-up was trying to pick out the entry-level models from the luxury ones. While on board the 2575 RLX, we had to inspect it carefully in order to confirm that the tubes were indeed a couple of inches larger in diameter, and that the cushion padding was a tad thicker on the seats.
The entry-level models sported the same fine finish that we saw on all of Bennington's top-of-the-line boats. All of the accessories — such as cup holders, speakers, countertops and special trim pieces — are color-matched to the glasswork on deck.
One upgrade on the 2575 RLX that was easy to spot was the high-end dash on the console done in a faux wood finish, which we ultimately agreed was the easiest way to tell this boat apart from the "lesser" models. In our opinion, it would be difficult as a consumer to opt for the more expensive RLX, unless you go with the performance package — which ups the ante by offering considerably more speed.
As far as options go, the one that appealed most to us was the double Bimini top that covered most of the deck area, affording our entire party protection from the scorching sun. One Bimini is standard for the RLX, but for a few bucks more, you can add a second, making this luxury cruiser our winning pick for the day.
|Dry weight||2,200 pounds|
|Fuel capacity||25 gallons|
|Weight capacity||2,300 pounds (up to 17 people)|
|Tubes||2 (3 with performance package))|
|Maximum power||150 hp (225 hp with performance package)|
|Base price without engine||$19,300|
|Price as tested with 115 hp Yamaha outboard||$28,450|
|Top speed||23.4 mph|
|Cruising speed||18 mph|
|Miles per gallon at 18-mph cruising speed||5.29|
|Fuel cost for 100 miles||$20|
|Range at 18-mph cruising speed||132 miles|
(Fuel cost is based on a fuel price of $1.09 per gallon)
|Model||115-hp Yamaha four-stroke outboard|
|Bore x stroke||3.11:3.49|
|Max. engine speed||5000-6000 rpm|
Bimini top with dome light, pivoting deluxe captain's seat with cup holder and lift-up bolster, removable bow gate seat, 28 ounce Infinity designer carpet, docking lights, portable vacuum, mood lighting, pop-up privacy enclosure, portable cup holders, stern ladder, sink.
Playpen cover, performance package, ski tow bar, refreshment table.
For more information:
52791 County Road 113
Elkhart, IN 46514