Sometimes there's nothing more fun than pure, wretched excess. Which is why I never got tired of squeezing the throttle of the new Kawasaki Jet Ski Ultra 260X. Cruising along at 40 mph, I'd crack the throttle and feel an instant rush of supercharged thrust try to pull the big Ultra right out from under me. The digital speedometer shows 60 in the blink of an eye. Going that fast gets old in a hurry, especially on a 50-degree afternoon. So I'd back off to a more comfortable speed and try to admire the desert shoreline of Lake Mead, only to find myself pulling the trigger again, just to feel that intoxicating rush. Acceleration never gets old.
Entering its third year in the Jet Ski line, the big Ultra gets a thorough powertrain overhaul for 2009 that boosts output from 250 to 260 horsepower and makes this 1.5-liter, supercharged/intercooled four-cylinder creation the most-powerful production PWC engine on the planet. I detailed the technical updates in a previous column, but the highlights include revised pistons that raise the compression ratio from 7.8:1 to 8.4:1, and new intake and exhaust camshafts with more lift. The engine cases are stronger to withstand the added pressure, and the cooling system is updated to help the engine retain more heat in cold water. This last change is in response to a problem some Ultra 250X owners were having with unburned fuel seeping past the piston rings and collecting in the oil sump. Finally, the impeller is revised to match the new engine's power curve and to improve acceleration.
This four percent gain in peak power produces a two percent gain in top speed, from about 66.5 mph to 67.8 mph in my ride in February on Lake Mead. That's according to GPS, with 180-pound me on the saddle in my best aerodynamic tuck, and the 20.6-gallon fuel tank filled to the brim. Acceleration, as I've already noted, remains furious. Expect a zero-to-30 time under two seconds.
The Ultra platform has always combined comfort and speed on one package, and for 2009 its basic personality is unchanged. It's big and heavy and not especially agile - both the Sea-Doo RXT-X and the Honda F-15X are 100 pounds lighter and have quicker reflexes than the Ultra - but point this craft's hammerhead bow at a wide stretch of open water and it will gobble up the miles at an incredible rate. Its locomotive-like mass - Kawasaki specs it at 1,027 pounds with the generous 20.6-gallon fuel tank full - crushes typical lake chop and helps keep the boat on course through stiffer seas. That mass is also reluctant to change directions, however. Arc the Ultra into a turn and the bow pushes a lot of water, which frequently ends up as spray in the rider's face, especially when that big fuel tank is full and heavy. Try too hard and the tail gets loose, allowing the Ultra to slide, rather than carve, through a corner.
This is also not a boat for gizmo-lovers. There's no drive-by-wire throttle or fuel-flow gauge, no cruise control or GPS, and no trimmable jet nozzle - all features found on some of the competition. It does offer the most stowage in the class, more than 60 total gallons including a huge 53-gallon bin in the bow and a large glove box. The steering adjusts through five positions. And there's a ski eye and a flip-down boarding step on the transom. Both the fuel fill and a garden-hose flush fitting are located under the bow stowage hatch. Note that this Ultra requires premium fuel. An electronic "key" located under the glove box lid activates the ignition, and the system times out after a minute or two, so you've got to open the lid, pull out the key, and reinsert it to start the engine again. This gets a little annoying but beats a dead battery, which is the point. A second, "slow-mode" key limits top speed to about 35 mph.
For 2009, Kawasaki also offers the Ultra 260LX ($12,299), identical in every respect to the 260X except for a touring seat that features a deeper, bucket-shaped bolster for the rider and passenger, and a sophisticated silver-and-white color scheme. After our spin on Lake Mead, I can report that this seat is one of the best I've ever experienced, very supportive but not too squishy and well worth the extra $300 Kawasaki asks for the Ultra 260LX. It's the perfect saddle to hold a rider in place as he squeezes the throttle, again and again.
Kawasaki Jet Ski Ultra 260X
|Curb Weight (lbs.)||1,027|
|Engine||Four-cylinder DOHC EFI Supercharged/Intercooled|
|Bore and Stroke||83mm x 69.2mm|
|Fuel Capacity (gal.)||20.6|
|Combined Stowage Capacity (gal.)||60.0|