The personal watercraft segment grows more diverse and sophisticated each year. If you’ve been riding PWC for awhile, the level of performance and features offered this season is almost mind-boggling. And so the value. There’s no bigger bang for the buck on the water today than a new personal watercraft. Here are five of our favorites.
Kawasaki Jet Ski SX-R
Kawasaki invented the stand-up PWC, and with that original Jet Ski really launched the sport. Its previous stand-up, the SX-R 800, went out of production in 2011 due to emissions compliance and slow sales, but this new Jet Ski SX-R is an attempt to re-boot the stand-up segment with an all-new design that’s larger and more powerful than any previous stand-up model. The SX-R is 8 feet 9 inches long—15 inches longer than the 2011 Jet Ski SX-R–and 30 inches wide, with a flared bow and more hull length forward of the handle pole. The new model weighs 551 pounds. It’s powered by a four-cylinder, 1.5-liter, four-stroke engine that’s been used for some time in the STX-15F, and which Kawasaki says produces twice the power of the previous two-stroke 800cc SX-R and 957 pounds of thrust. Top speed is about 60 MPH in good conditions. The larger hull is much more stable than any previous or current stand-up model; at rest, on smooth water and in choppy conditions the hull tracks well and never feels tippy or squirrely. The new SX-R stays stuck to the water in turns, whether the boat is heeled way over or ridden flat. Beginners and stand-up mavens alike will appreciate the way the new SX-R accommodates any riding style or experience level. Price: $9,999.
For more information, visit Kawasaki.
Sea-Doo Spark TRIXX 3-Up
Sea-Doo combines features of the Spark 3-Up and the Spark TRIXX to create a versatile new model that offers the best of both versions of the affordable Spark platform. The three-passenger capacity is really more like two adults and a child (weight capacity is 450 pounds) and is achieved by adding an extension to the hull at the transom and a longer seat. This makes the Spark TRIXX 3-Up legit for towing tubes and the longer seat provides reasonable space for two adults. The key TRIXX feature is the extended trim range of the jet nozzle, from 17 degrees to -6 degrees compared to 7 to -4.5 degrees for the standard trim range. This gives the TRIXX its trickster personality; trim the nozzle up and the TRIXX will do tail stands and hops and 180 spins. A handlebar with 6-inch height adjustment and foot chocks aid in trick execution. An optional pylon is available for tow sports. Like all Spark models the TRIXX features a scratch and impact-resistant Polytec hull material. The 90-horsepower Rotax 900 HO ACE is the only engine option. Price: $7,999.
For more information, visit Sea-Doo.
Sea-Doo GTX Limited 230
An all-new ST3 platform underpins seven full-size 2018 Sea-Doo models including the super-premium GTX Limited. The new models are more stable and offer a host of new features, including LinQ platform-mounted accessories, a Bluetooth audio system and three engine options ranging from 155 to 300 HP. The new hull is 11 feet 4 inches long—about 3 inches shorter than the previous hull—but at 49.4 inches is about an inch wider than last year’s model and much more stable at rest. The new design of the bow stowage compartment makes it much easier to reach gear that’s been stashed under the cowl. The 100-watt, dual-speaker Bluetooth audio system is a standard feature on the flagship GTX Limited and available as an option on all other models. The LinQ system utilizes a pair of pop-up composite cleats in the aft deck to secure four accessory items: a 4.2-gallon cooler ($279.99), a 5.5-gallon dry bag ($194.99), and a 4.0-gallon fuel caddy ($179.99), or a LinQ retractable ski pylon ($299.99).
Each of the seven new models feature the base package of features offered on previous full-size Sea-Doo models, including the Intelligent Brake and Reverse (iBR) system, Intelligent Throttle Control with three riding modes, electric Variable Trim System (VTS), cruise control and slow mode, and tilt steering. The GTX Limited 230 includes the following additional features: Bluetooth audio system with USB port, storage bin organizer and dry bag, a safety equipment kit, a watercraft cover, and two additional gauge functions (time/distance to empty and altitude indicator). Price: $15,899.
For more information, visit Sea-Doo.
Yamaha WaveRunner EX Sport
There may be no better value on the water than the WaverRunner EX Sport. This is a compact and affordable three-passenger PWC that offers the same fit, finish and features as much more expensive models with enough performance to keep a family entertained all season. The EX was designed specifically for the lightweight Yamaha TR-1 engine, tuned for about 100 HP, output that’s a good match for the size and weight of the EX platform. Yamaha makes the most of that power by keeping the weight of the EX Sport down to 577 pounds, thanks in part to a narrow deck and slim-line, one-piece seat that will be easy for most riders to straddle. Top speed is about 50 MPH with a single rider. In terms of size and performance, the EX takes me back to an era before PWC got really big, really fast, and really expensive. However, the EX benefits from the latest design technology. This hull delivers a soft ride in lake chop and carves like a devil on smooth water with no hint of skidding or spinning. The TR-1 engine is smooth and quiet. At wide-open throttle the EX burns about 7.9 gallons per hour. Couple that with a very generous 13.5-gallon fuel tank, and you’ll be riding and having a blast for awhile between fill-ups. The EX Sport features manual (cable-operated) reverse thrust, a reboarding step, and mirrors. The EX Deluxe ($8,699) features the Yamaha RiDE electronic reverse/brake system and a two-tone seat. Price: $7,699.
For more information, visit Yamaha.
Yamaha WaveRunner VXR
The old hot rod trick of putting a big motor in a small chassis works on the water, too. For example, the WaveRunner VXR. Just for performance junkies, Yamaha shoe-horned its 180-horsepower, 1.8-liter High Output engine into the compact VX hull. The result is an 11-foot-long, 767-pound missile capable of outrageous acceleration, ready to lean into arm-stretching turns and itching to reach max velocity of 65 mph…or even a little more. This is performance that should cost several thousand dollars more than the asking price for a VXR. Besides all that performance, the VXR offers the RiDE electronic reverse/braking system, electric trim, a grippy race-style seat, and a hull and deck formed of Yamaha’s proprietary NanoXcel SMC, which is stronger and lighter than standard SMC material. There’s drive-by-wire throttle but Yamaha does not include any speed control features – because those don’t help you go faster. This is not a boat for novice riders. Like the racer it is, the VXR reacts instantly to steering input and can rip from zero to 30 MPH less than two seconds. If you are ready to step up to some serious fun, the VXR will put you in the fast lane. Price: $11,999.
For more information, visit Yamaha.
To see last year's models, read the Top 5 PWCs of 2016.