The big grin spread across my face just after I cleared the no-wake zone. That’s when I nailed the throttle on the new Yamaha VXR. Woo-hoo!  This is one fun ride.

Yamaha VXR offers no-frills fun. Handlebar height and angle are perfect for sitting or standing.

The new Yamaha VXR follows the time-tested performance formula of dropping a big motor in a small vehicle. In this case, the big motor is the 1.8-liter engine used in the FX HO models, which makes about 180 horsepower (Yamaha does not publish a horsepower rating, but it does whisper in the ear of some writers). The vehicle is the VX platform, previously an entry-level model powered by a 110-horsepower, 1.0-liter engine. The VXR has the same hull and deck shape as the VX, but the new model is formed with Yamaha’s NanoXcel material, lighter and stronger than the standard SMC used in the VX hull. NanoXcel cut about 40 pounds off the weight of the VXR hull and deck compared to the VX, according to Yamaha. The 1.8-liter engine weighs about 25 pounds more than the 1.0-liter mill, so the net result is that at 728 pounds dry, the VXR weighs 15 pounds less than the VX. But has 70 more horsepower. You get the idea.

The VXR has a sporty seat shape, with a deep bolster for the rider but little support for a passenger.

Settle on the seat of the VXR, and you may feel like you’ve gone back in time about ten years, at least you will if you were riding PWC back then. The VXR is five inches shorter and two inches narrower than the Yamaha FX HO, and weighs 77 pounds less than that “full size” model, which like most three-passenger PWC has grown larger and heavier over the years as it packed on power and amenities. My key impression of the VXR, and the reason I had that big smile, was that I have not felt this engaged on a three-passenger craft in years. The power is outstanding. Top speed easily reaches the mandated limit of 68 mph. Acceleration is on par with any stock boat on the water.

But going fast is easy. This boat also handles, and it’s in the turns that you really notice the weight difference between the VXR and big boats. The VXR is nimble. Maybe even spry. Ask it to turn and it changes direction without much hesitation, but it never feels nervous or sketchy. At high speed, it pushes just enough to keep you in the seat but the back end never gets loose. In slower turns it feels precise and glued to the water. The balance is perfect.

The 1.8-liter engine is only slighter larger than the 1.0-liter engine used in the VX. A re-design of the VX for 2010 accommodates the bigger engine.

No VX I’ve ever ridden handled like this. Yamaha explains that it’s a combination of greater thrust, slightly lower sponsons, and the suction of more power drawing water into the pump that transforms the VXR. That suction pulls the hull down into the water, so the hull bites better in turns.

I expected a smaller, lighter boat would deliver a harsher ride, but when an afternoon breeze came up I was surprised to find the VXR clipped right through a modest lake chop while I stayed comfortable on the seat. The shape of that seat, by the way, is outstanding, as is the position of the non-adjustable handlebars. I’m just over six feet tall, and could ride while standing without placing too much weight on my wrists. I did not have a chance to ride with a passenger, so can’t offer an opinion on the loaded stability of this smaller hull.

Tje VXR dash is the same used on the entry-level VX, with speedo, tach, fuel level and little else on the display.

What’s missing from the VXR? The dash display is very basic. And while this engine is equipped with an electronic throttle, the VXR does not have any of the speed control features offered on its other models. Nor does it have nozzle trim. Or a fuel economy gauge. Or a lake water temperature read-out. Like I said, this boat takes you back. The bow storage bin seems modest – there is 15.1 gallons of total storage on board – and the 15.9-gallon fuel tank is also small for this powerful engine. (The FX HO carries 18.5 gallons of fuel.) Like other Yamaha models, the VXR comes with a key fob remote that activates an anti-theft ignition lock, and a learning mode that softens acceleration and limits speed to about 40 mph.

The seat shape of the VXS makes it the better choice for riding with a passenger or two on board.

I tested the VXR, priced at $11,199 with a sport seat (still rated for three riders), a flip-down boarding step, and metallic paint in silver or blue. For $300 less, you can get the VXS with a seat better shaped for toting passengers, no boarding step, and non-metallic black paint. Yamaha would have thrown a knock-out punch if the price was below $10,000. But if you measure performance in smiles per dollar, it will be hard to beat the Yamaha VXR/VXS.

plueddeman-head-shotCharles Plueddeman is's outboard, trailer, and PWC expert. He is a former editor at Boating Magazine and contributor to many national publications since 1986.