On the wakeboarding side, the Wakesetter 23XTi was phenomenal. (Photo by Tom Newby)

On the wakeboarding side, the Wakesetter 23XTi was phenomenal. (Photo by Tom Newby)



Malibu didn't need to redesign its Wakesetter 23XTi. After all, the existing 23-footer took this magazine's 2002 Tow Boat of the Year honor and reportedly sold well. But that didn't stop the company's design team, which has proven itself to be long on ambition and short on complacency, from revamping the direct-drive model.

Changes for the 2004 offering include a new, beamier hull, which means more open interior space in a model that, because of its center sun pad and seating configuration, could use it. Those seats received an upholstery upgrade in the form of 38-ounce French-stitched G & T vinyl. The shifter knob at the helm station, which had a freshly minted two-tone dash with gauges in new chrome bezels, now matches the line-connection knob on the pop-up tow pylon, as well as the connection knob on the new aluminum IllusionX wakeboard tower, which has internally routed wires for the stereo speakers and lights mounted on it.

Towed Sports

The Wakesetter 23XTi was designed primarily for pulling wakeboarders—the tower, the Wedge wakeboard hydrofoil, the new bow ballast system and the boat's name are dead giveaways—but that doesn't mean it can't handle slalom duty. Our ski tester gave high marks to the boat for its flat, soft wakes at shorter line lengths. The wakes were equally harmless at the longest line length—60 feet—but our test skier found the rooster tail back there a bit distracting. Speed control was no problem thanks to the boat's PerfectPass system.

On the wakeboarding side, the Wakesetter 23XTi was phenomenal. With the Wedge down, easily accomplished via the trapdoor in the fiberglass swim platform, and the ballast tanks full, the boat pumped out tall wakes with kicker lips that launched our boarder into the sky. The pull out of the hole in deep-water starts was solid.

Our ski and wakeboard pilots raved about the boat's drivability. One even compared the feeling he got at the helm to the feeling he gets every day behind the wheel of his Chevy Tahoe. Our observer, too, found the Wakesetter 23XTi uncommonly comfortable and said the tow-line attachment on the pylon and the tower was a breeze. The ski-test team members also praised the extensive stowage they found under the center and aft sun pads, in an in-sole ski locker, behind the observer's seat, and under almost every cushion in the boat.

Performance

The best direct-drive tow boats are a blast to drive not for their speed—for few top 50 mph—but for their sports car-like agility. The Wakesetter 23XTi proved it belonged in this category by ripping through slalom turns to the left and right with equal precision and compass-perfect circles at cruising and full speeds. The boat's rudder was set close to neutral, meaning it did not display the typical tow boat tendency to pull to one side. Running at full speed or pulling a skier or boarder, the boat's straight-line tracking was precise.

The Wakesetter 23XTi was equipped with an Indmar 380-hp Hammerhead 350 cubic-inch motor, the most potent engine Malibu offers, and an Acme 13" x 12" nibral three-blade propeller. A monster out of the hole, the boat came on plane in 2.3 seconds and reached its top speed in 15 seconds.

Workmanship

Based on the boats we've seen from Malibu at our Performance Trials in recent years, we're not sure the company even has white gelcoat in its factory. This year's entry was dressed in black, red and gray.

We do know this: The company knows how to create crisp and vibrant in-gelcoat graphics, as well as pull hulls and decks from their molds without errors. Protected by a plastic rubrail, the exterior of the Wakesetter 23XTi was flawless.

Behind the gleaming gel were lamination materials, which included stitch-bonded multi-axial fiberglass and woven roving. The hull and deck were beefed up with ceramic coring and the sole, except for the honeycomb aluminum center section, was made of sound-dampening polyurethane and fiberglass. The company's FIBECs chassis system unitized the boat.

The trend to include cleats in tow boats is a welcome one—frankly, we never really understood their absence, although we heard lots of creative rationalizations for it. One of those was that cleats "spoil the lines" of a tow boat. Malibu solved that "problem" by installing four Accon Pull-Up cleats, which tuck away flush when not in use.

Interior

Four cushions comprised the cozy full-time playpen in the 23XTi's open bow. A deep bucket seat with exceptional lumbar support and an almost G-shape lounge that wrapped from the co-pilot's station to behind the center-placed sun pad/engine and stowage compartments comprised the cockpit seating.

As a member of our ski-test team noted, the boat's helm station had a decidedly automotive feel. It was equipped with a tilting Issotta steering wheel (the same Italian company supplied the knob for the gunwale-mounted throttle handle) mounted on its wraparound dash. The builder minimized visual clutter by installing only three gauges—a multifunction engine-monitoring unit, a tachometer and a speedometer. The PerfectPass system's digital readout was to the right.

Nice touches included gas-strut support for the co-pilot's glove box and all other dedicated lockers in the boat, and lights behind stowage recesses with cargo nets.

Overall

Raising your game is tough, but once again Malibu pulled it off. The Wakesetter 23XTi is first-rate.

Hull Information and Propulsion Information

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Deadrise at transom10 degrees
Centerline25'3"
Beam8'4"
Hull weight3,800 pounds
EngineIndmar Hammerhead 380
Cylinder typeV-8
Cubic-inch displacement/horsepower350/380
Lower-unit gear ratio1:1
PropellerAcme nibral 13" x 12"

Pricing
Base retail$43,500
Price as tested$49,570

Options on Test Boat

Upgrade to Indmar Hammerhead 380 ($2,400), PerfectPass Digital Pro ($1,200), Sony CD stereo with four speakers ($1,110), three-outlet heater ($500), halogen docking lights ($360), polished stainless exhaust tips ($250) and driver's seat heater ($250).

Test Conditions
SiteColorado River Parker Ariz.
Temperature94 degrees
Humidity26 percent
Wind speed6 mph
Water conditionsGlass
Elevation450 feet

Acceleration
3 seconds23 mph
5 seconds31 mph
10 seconds42 mph
15 seconds47 mph
Mid-range: 20-40 mph5.4 seconds

Rpm vs. Mph
10008 mph
150011 mph
200017 mph
250025 mph
300030 mph
350036 mph
400039 mph
4001 450043 mph
500045 mph

Top Speed
Nordskog Performance Products GPS46.3 mph
Radar47.1 mph at 5400

Planing
Time to plane2.3 seconds
Minimum planing speed16 mph

Fuel Economy
At 25 mph3.4 mpg
At 35 mph2.6 mpg
At 45 mph1.9 mpg
At WOT1.7 mpg
Fuel capacity43 gallons

For More Information

Malibu Boats
1 Malibu Court
Merced, CA 95340
209-383-7469
www.malibuboats.com.

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