While Malibu’s new Wakesetter VLX is one of the world’s most advanced and accomplished competition-level wakeboard tow boats, it’s also a delightful 6.55m family bowrider and skiboat. The VLX is one of a range of models produced by Malibu in Australia and, even when used for tournaments and competitive training, it’s rare that a Malibu is not also enjoyed in the pursuit of family fun.
The Wakesetter name has been used by Malibu for quite some years, but this 2009 6.55m VLX is a totally new design, not just an upgrade or re-vamp of previous models. In layout, it’s a big, beamy (2.54m) bowrider, with seating for 12 and a rear-mounted vee-drive V8 engine. In practice, it’s roomy, comfortable, refined and sure-footed, with the feel and performance of a turbo-charged Bentley.
With a reputation for innovation, Malibu has repeatedly won major tow boat awards in the very competitive US market. The company’s boats are chosen for many of that country’s professional water ski and wakeboard events, including the coveted ‘Malibu Open’. The California-based operation has been running for three decades, after being founded by owner and president, Bob Alkema.
The Malibu approach sits well with Xavier West, who heads up the all-Australian-owned Malibu Boats, which operates from a leading-edge facility in Albury, NSW. West and Alkema formed a strategic relationship over 15 years ago that saw Malibu boats being built in Australia and Aussie Flightcraft designs constructed in the US. Today the Australian operation is dedicated to building Malibu designs for the local market using the exact same tooling and materials as the American-built craft.
There’s a great deal of high technology in the Wakesetter VLX and it’s integrated into the boat’s operation to an extent rarely seen in craft of any size. However, both the technology and the integration have been accomplished in a beautifully practical and user-friendly way.
Indicative of Malibu’s professional approach, the day of our review saw three new VLXs presented in pristine condition. One was the demonstration boat for Sydney dealer, Graham Roberts of GRE Marine; one had been recently purchased by the Frangi family, while one was a new acquisition for Scotty and Sally Kell of the Black Diamond Wakeboarding School, at whose delightful Hawkesbury River facility we all gathered for our day of hard work.
For both the Frangi and Kell families, their new VLXs are the latest in a line of Malibus they have owned over the years. To any boat owner, reliability and dealer/manufacturer support is a key factor, and that’s even more of a priority when you use your boat in a business, as do the Kells. “We’ve had four Malibu Responses before and we did go with another brand for a while,” explained Scotty. “But we chose the Wakesetter again this time because of Malibu’s back-up support and quick response to servicing. That makes a huge difference when using the boat in a school – if you need a part, you need it now. They’re also supporting more of the industry by promoting events and sponsoring a few of the younger riders. They’re really pushing the product. I think they’re doing a fantastic job.”
Guy and Kathy Frangi previously owned a Response and three VLXs and again selected a Wakesetter because, as Guy said: “The ease of operation is good and rarely does anything go wrong. If something small does happen, it’s fixed straight away. It’s a good family boat.”
Their daughter Beck and son Josh have become keen wakeboarders, with Beck now competing and winning competitions at national level.
Beck commented that she loved the friendly yet competitive atmosphere at wakeboarding events, while mum, Kath, was equally enthusiastic: “We’ve been into wakeboarding for about seven years. I’ve tried riding a bit myself, but I’m happy to observe. It’s a good family and social sport, and the boat’s big enough that you can spend hours on the water with everyone getting a go.”
The onboard space is immediately evident as you step aboard. The main cockpit area has perimeter seating, save for the skipper’s seat, which has fore-aft and swivel adjustment. All the upholstery is in neatly stitched quality vinyl, over triple-density foam. Under the seats are carpeted storage areas and an insulated cooler, with even larger capacity stowage under the port screen console and beneath the aft sunpad.
Stainless steel drink-holders are everywhere, with concealed LCD lighting to suit the mood for relaxed evenings or pre-dawn excursions. The forward cockpit has a central lift-out cushion, under which can fit an optional extra ballast tank.
The driving and observing positions are shaded by a taut bimini that mounts off the rakish, forward-angled Illusion XS tower (which easily folds down if needed).
The list of standard inclusions is long and rich, as is the variety of options. Hull construction is all fibreglass, including Malibu’s Fibreglass Engine Chassis System (FibECS). A wide range of colours is available, too, and all Malibu boats are custom-built to the individual owner’s requirements.
The driving position is amongst the very best afloat, with an armchair-like seat that supports the driver through tight turns, whilst securely cushioning the posterior. A flip-up bolster allows a change of position and gives a slightly higher sight-line. Even without the bolster though, the view for me was perfect through the screen and above the non-glare dash. A very stylish quarter panel frame includes air vents and the tilt-adjustable wheel is a leather-wrapped Isotta sports design that looks marvellous and feels just right.
The dash is a contemporary work of art in both appearance and technology. Large analogue dials on each side house a speedo and tacho, both with inset digital read-outs – the speedo displaying depth, plus air and water temperatures, the tacho showing oil pressure, volts and an hour meter. The standard dash has a central LCD display for various digital displays as well as engine diagnostic information. However, most Wakesetters are being delivered with the optional MaliView multi-function dash computer, with a 16.5cm LCD colour display that provides a wealth of information as well as any number of graphics, including digital gauges, depth and water level in each ballast tank.
The tanks allow the boat to be tuned to create different size wakes to suit individual riders. A centre tank under the main cockpit floor can add around 220kg to the boat’s displacement, while a pair of aft sub-floor tanks can add a further 90kg each. An optional fourth tank fits under the forward cockpit’s centre cushion and adds yet another 140kg.
Also enabling fine tuning of the wake is Malibu’s ‘Wedge’, which is a stainless steel foil that pivots down from below the boarding platform. When lowered, the downforce from the flow of water over the Wedge pulls down the back of the boat, with the same effect as another 545kg of weight. The Wedge comes in several versions, the simplest being manually lowered, but the Power Wedge option is operated remotely from the helm and powers the foil to different settings to suit individual preference.
The latest version is the Auto Wedge, which cleverly re-sets to a neutral position as soon as the boat drops below a pre-set speed, such as when the boat slows to circle back and pick up a rider. It then resets as boat speed returns to its pre-set level. According to Malibu, independent tests have shown the Auto Wedge reduces bowrise, decreases the time to get on plane by around 34 per cent and improves overall fuel consumption by an impressive 30 per cent.
Integrated into the dash electronics are a ‘Precision Pro’ speed control (effectively a cruise control), a digital ballast monitoring system and custom rider pre-sets that remember the speed, ballast and Power Wedge settings for individual riders. This is a huge advantage as, once a rider has found their ideal settings, they can be ‘locked’ into the dash computer and recalled at any time. Just press a button and the computer fills or empties the ballast tanks as needed, deploys the Power Wedge to the right setting and sets the boat speed for that particular rider.
According to Scotty Kell of the Black Diamond Wakeboarding School, it’s a wonderful aid as he can pre-set a number of combinations for beginner, intermediate and advanced riders and switch at a moment’s notice from one to another. With the combined power of the ballast tanks that mainly change the height or size of the wake, and the Wedge that changes its shape, any rider can find their ideal wake behind the VLX.
“I’ve had 200 hours at the wheel of 2009 VLXs and the variety of things you can do with the MaliView is amazing,” commented Kell. “It can even have a photo of the rider for their setting. The new hull shape is a lot wider, with excellent turning at any speed.”
Even with the ballast tanks full, the Wedge deployed and a crew aboard, the Wakesetter retains good handling and buoyancy, with safe stability and freeboard; a bonus being that it’s also great fun to have all these controls at your helm.
ALL THE SPEED YOU’LL NEED
On the other hand, if such devices are not your thing, you can forget them and get on with driving a boat that does exactly what you ask of it at all times. Acceleration is brisk, whether from rest or through the rev range, with all the controlled grunt that you need to pull riders of any size out and up. The standard V8 delivers 320hp (239kW), which is more than enough for most owners, although optional engines to 400hp (298kW) are available. Control of that power is silky-smooth, with a ‘fly-by-wire’ electronic shift and throttle control, plus light, responsive steering.
The hull slips on plane with little bow rise, so forward visibility is always good from one of the most comfortable and supportive seats you’ll find in any boat. The dash panel is perfectly placed for viewing, and all the controls are efficiently located within easy reach. Inside a lockable glovebox is a connection for a VCR camera that can link directly with the MaliView screen, plus a cigarette-lighter-style 12v power outlet, an iPod connection and a USB port – Malibu even supplies a 1GB memory stick. A range of upmarket Rockford Fosgate stereo systems is available that use hard drives rather than CDs or cassettes.
The Wakesetter turns smoothly in both directions and will come around as tight as you like, with no slipping, hopping or loss of thrust at the prop. It’s one of the best handling hulls I’ve had the pleasure to drive and overall, the VLX is a barrel of fun to drive and ride aboard.
Cruising at around 3000rpm gave a pleasant speed of 42km/h, with low noise levels and a smooth ride. The VLX was running 56km/h at 4000rpm for a faster cruise and topped out at 70km/h, with the V8 touching the rev limiter at 5200rpm. It was propped for wakeboarding and there’d be another six to eight km/h available with a different prop, but really the set-up on the day was as good as you’d want.
To check the wake for skiing, the ballast tanks were emptied and the Wedge raised for champion slalom skier Jamie Craig to take a run downriver. Jamie owns the Shoalhaven Ski and Wake School in Nowra, where he uses a Wakesetter, so he has plenty of experience to confirm the Malibu’s excellent ski wake.
There’s much more to the Wakesetter story than we have space to describe, and all the other details can be found at www.malibuboats.com.au. The VLX does offer high levels of luxury and quality in every aspect of its build and fit-out, so the starting price of $82,958 (including trailer, plus dealer delivery) needs to be appreciated as well as being acknowledged for offering good value. Typical on-water pricing with popular options is around the $95,000 mark.
When considering a new boat, it’s a good approach to ask owners about their experiences and to judge from whom you’re buying as well as the boat itself. On all three counts, the 2009 Wakesetter VLX comes up trumps. There’s one other way to judge a boat, and that’s to check out the factory where it’s built. The Malibu facility in Albury is, indeed, impressive and quite fascinating. Factory tours can be arranged through any Malibu dealer.
More information: www.malibuboats.com.au; www.gremarine.com.au; www.blackdiamondwakeboarding.com.au.
SPECIFICATIONS: MALIBU WAKESETTER VLX 2009
LOA: 7.25m (including platform)
Weight: 1633kg (dry ballast tanks)
To wing weight: 2233kg (incl trailer)
Passengers: 12 persons
Fuel capacity: 174lt
Engine: V8 239kW (320hp)
Price from: $82,958 plus dealer delivery
Price as tested: Around $95,000