Contrary to popular opinion, wakeboarders and water-skiers do grow up. OK, so maybe it's more accurate to say they age, but they do eventually have families of their own. They know that a runabout might serve them best—a 21' tow boat doesn't always cut it with a family and all their gear on board—but the thought of owning a stern-drive bow rider is akin to owning a minivan.
Malibu created its open-bow Sunscape 25 for this group. In form, it is a pure, though decidedly upscale, runabout. In terms of freeboard, it towers over tournament-style tow boats—and it's substantially longer and wider than most. But to keep things feeling familiar, the builder outfitted the new-for-2004 25-footer with a V-drive.
With a 10-degree deadrise at its transom, the Sunscape 25's four-strake V-hull is significantly less sharp than that of the average runabout. That said, conditions on the Colorado River in Parker, Ariz., that day were glassy with a few wakes here and there, so we can't comment on how the boat handled in rough water. We can say it turned with the kind of stuck-to-the-water precision you'd expect from a V-drive, in this case a Hurth model with a 1.5:1 gear reduction.
Equally predictable given the V-drive configuration was some steering wheel torque—the Sunscape 25 pulled to the left. The higher the speed, the more substantial the pull. The steering system might well be adjusted to reduce some of the torque, but a bit of it is inherent in an inboard setup. Again, the people at Malibu are banking on V- and direct-drive owners stepping up to the Sunscape 25 as a runabout, and they see V-drive handling tendencies as a plus rather than a minus for this group. Those familiar with stern-drive handling manners might find it less compelling.
Top speed for the Sunscape 25 was 46.4 mph, fast enough for a tow boat but slow for a runabout with 425 hp under the hatch. The boat's top end, or lack of it, also comes with the V-drive territory. Set up with the same power and a stern drive, the boat might reach 60 mph.
Handling and top-end comparisons would be irrelevant if the Sunscape 25 were not marketed as a runabout, where stern-drives are the norm. Then again, when it comes time for wakeboarding and water-skiing, there isn't a stern-drive that can touch it.
We saw no more striking boat, in any class, during our 2004 Performance Trials, than the Sunscape 25. Black and light gray gelcoat, with blue pinstripes, combined with the boat's soft lines to breathtaking effect. A plastic rubrail with a stainless-steel insert protected the extraordinary exterior.
Advancing the 25-footer's case as a legitimate runabout was its bountiful hardware. In addition to an Accon Pull-Up nav light, the boat had six Accon Pull-Up cleats, numerous elliptical stainless-steel handrails and an add-on fiberglass swim platform. Accessible through a trapdoor in the platform was a Wedge unit, Malibu's wake-jacking hydrofoil.
In an upscale move, the builder outfitted the runabout with a power engine hatch. Beneath it, the motor was through-bolted to the chassis system and all wiring was neat and secure.
The port section of the Sunscape 25's sun pad was hinged to provide a walkway for access to the cockpit. That will keep passengers from stomping on upholstery when they enter or exit the boat from the stern. Rather than just simply having the hinged section flop over on the sun pad, Malibu installed a gas strut to keep it raised when necessary. That was a smart move, as was locating a carpeted wakeboard locker with a hinged lid in the sole of the walk-through.
Seating in the rear section of the cockpit was provided by a plush U-shape lounge. Long trays in the padded gunwales and lockers under the lounge cushions provided lots of cockpit stowage. Snap-in Berber carpet covered the cockpit sole.
The co-pilot's console ahead of the port-side bucket seat with a removable cushion had all the standard fare, including a locking glove box and grab handle. Better still, the entire front section of the console was hinged opened for access to a head locker with a screen ventilation hatch. The locker was outfitted with a Porta Potti, but it also could be used as a giant stowage space for water toys, wakeboards, wetsuits and such. As if this weren't enough, there was another large locker in the driver's console as well as board racks on the tower.
You don't often find a leather-wrapped billet aluminum steering wheel at the helm of a runabout, but the Sunscape 25 had one as well as privately labeled gauges for Malibu, a digital readout for the PerfectPass speed-control system and sleek rocker switches for the accessories. Controls for the boat's CD stereo system were under a hinged lid in the armrest below the throttle-and-shifter unit on the starboard gunwale. Per Malibu standards, the helm station was set up with an incredibly supportive bucket seat.
Though the open-bow seating consisted of two contoured lounges, a filler cushion converted the area into a large sun pad.
Without question, our wakeboarder and water-skier enjoyed getting pulled behind the Sunscape 25 more than any other runabout during our 2004 Performance Trials. It yanked them up in deep-water starts with V-drive authority, and though the wakes were merely average for slalom skiing, they were first-rate for boarding, especially with the Wedge down.
Though the Sunscape 25 might take a little getting used to for the stern-drive crowd, V- and direct-drive enthusiasts will immediately love it. Quality always prevails, and this runabout is loaded with it.
Hull and Propulsion Information
|Deadrise at transom||10 degrees|
|Hull weight||4,700 pounds|
|Lower-unit gear ratio||1.5:1|
|Propeller||Acme nibral 14" x 20"|
|Price as tested||$62,250|
Options on Test Boat
Malibu Illusion X tower ($2,600), PerfectPass Digital Pro ($1,200), three-outlet heater ($500) and polished stainless exhaust ($250).
|Wind speed||3 mph|
|3 seconds||22 mph|
|5 seconds||30 mph|
|10 seconds||40 mph|
|15 seconds||44 mph|
|Midrange Acceleration: 20-40 mph||7.1 seconds|
Rpm vs. Mph
|Radar||46.4 mph at 5300 rpm|
|Nordskog Performance Products GPS||46.1 mph at 5300 rpm|
|Time to plane||4.9 seconds|
|Minimum planing speed||21 mph|
|At 25 mph||2.7 mpg|
|At 35 mph||2.5 mpg|
|At 45 mph||1.4 mpg|
|At WOT||1.5 mpg|
|Fuel capacity||51 gallons|
For More Information
1 Malibu Court,
Merced, CA 95340