I must admit, curiosity got the better of me when I first laid eyes on a Spy power boat. Consequently, the first question I put to Performance Marine’s Peter Webb, when he turned up at Melbourne’s National Water Sports Centre with a Spy XS22 in tow, was, “How did the name ‘Spy’ actually come about?”
I had expectations of an answer alluding to some intrigue and mystery; perhaps something a little bit sinister, or even with a deep and dark meaning. Something exciting and ‘James Bond-ish’.
Alas, no – there was to be none of that … Peter simply wanted a name that was short – shorter than Performance Marine – and a name that wasn’t a marketing mouthful.
So, Spy it was. It’s short, interesting, and carries a bit of intrigue. The name gave his graphic designers a concept with which to work to create the innovative and ‘out there’ graphics that are just so important in today’s wakeboard boats. The ‘wow factor’ is just as important as the wakeboard tower and the boom boxes.
That said, it’s very tempting to now lead into this test with all sorts of James Bond clichés, but I won’t. They’ve been used to death already, so I’ll just let Peter’s own marketing tagline – “Spy Boats … Licensed to Thrill” – set the scene.
SPEED AND COMFORT
After spending some time on the XS22, its major standout features, to my mind, were its outstanding level of comfort, superb ride and all-round on-water performance.
It’s just so soft riding and stable. It’s also quiet and easy to drive, handling its 315hp output with ease, and there’s plenty of space and a top quality interior finish.
Sliding into the driver’s seat in boats of this ilk can sometimes be a squeeze, particularly if you’re tall or solidly built. Not so here, as the helm console is set high, leaving plenty of clearance to step in behind the wheel. The seat is of a wraparound bucket design, but it’s not overdone. The sprung seat mounts give a soft feel, and the sliding base affords a good range of adjustment.
For low-speed wake surfing (around 2000rpm, or 24km/h), the front section of the seat flips up to provide a raised bolster, elevating the driver to offer a better view over the bow or of the wash wake closer in to the rear of the boat.
This is such a smooth and pleasant boat to drive. Although the torquey 5.7lt V8 MerCruiser Tow Sport engine has been built with towing skiers firmly in mind, none of its torque is transmitted to the wheel. I’d never recommend it, but you can take your hand off the wheel at any time and it won’t wander. This is partially due to the good set-up of the Morse rack steering, but primarily the result of a clever little plate fitted to the trailing edge of the rudder. The tiny projection of the plate, situated beyond one edge of the rudder, uses the prop wash to push against the side of the rudder, counteracting the torque. Simple, but effective.
The Morse gear and throttle lever is ideally positioned right by the driver, and though it, too, is light and smooth to operate, it maintains its setting well so the driver doesn’t need to keep one hand on the throttle.
Peter’s aim was to build a ski boat that “would be user-friendly and drive itself”. With the Spy XS22, I believe he has gone as close as is humanly possible.
I greatly enjoyed driving this boat; it is so very responsive and manoeuvrable. It can be powered through the turns on demand and tracks beautifully. The fine – almost deep-vee – entry slices cleanly through the water, leaving the wide and flatter aft lines to create almost the ideal slalom wash.
The 2.5m beam ensures rock-solid stability, and the design of the hull, with its fine entry, eliminates any thumping, no matter the angle or speed at which it crosses other boat washes.
Like all good wake and ski boat manufacturers, Peter has considered the input of his buyers, boat users, and a selection of competition wakeboarders, slalom skiers and wake surfers throughout the development of this and the other Spy Boats models.
The XS22 reflects this input, in addition to Peter’s four decades in the business. It’s a challenge to get a boat wash perfect for every form of skiing and boarding, but the XS22 comes as close as anything I’ve seen.
The standard wash is good for slaloming. It’s nice and flat in the centre without too much turbulence, while the wake itself has a clearly defined edge, with just a very slight rolling on the port side due to the prop wash-out.
For wakeboarding and wakesurfing, the wash is controlled by the Lectratab electric hydraulic stainless steel cavitation plate and trim tab. Operated via a lever on the steering column, the driver has instant control in providing the desired wake for the boarders.
With a large, stable mirror mounted above the screen, the driver can readily monitor both the changes he is making to the wash and the progress and feedback of his skiers.
With 315hp provided via the centre-mount MerCruiser Tow Sport engine, there is never any need to use all the power the engine has to offer. It only takes an easy opening of the throttle to shoot the boat onto the plane, while full power acceleration from idle is far more than any skier could handle without the risk of being separated from their arms.
At an easy 3500rpm, the boat is doing 52.8km/h and at full throttle, if you ever want it, it gets up to around 72km/h.
There’s not a lot to the helm console, but it nevertheless presents well. The two main instruments – a Faria speedo and tachometer – are individually mounted atop the console, where they are clearly visible above the wheel, while the stereo and various lighting and other switches are mounted within easy reach lower to each side of the helm.
I thought the wake tower and bimini mounting were extremely well built. There was no vibration or shaking from either and their appearance is both futuristic and thoroughly in keeping with the Spy image.
One problem inherent in centre-mount inboards has been the ‘inconvenient’ location of the engine box, and its intrusion into a boat’s onboard space. However, with the benefit of a maximum trailerable beam of 2.5m and over 6m of length, the intrusion of the engine box is almost insignificant – it’s certainly unobtrusive.
There’s plenty of room to walk around the ‘hump’ and it doesn’t restrict leg room, whether you’re perched in the observer’s seat or relaxing on the U-shaped lounge at the rear.
Similarly, noise levels are not an issue. The engine has been effectively insulated and I found that both Peter and I could hold a clear conversation without any need to shout throughout the test, even at high speed, .
THE WOW FACTOR
There is another important aspect to the design and build of a wakeboard boat in addition to the on-water performance – its appearance and its sound system.
Today’s ‘youngsters’ want to stand out in the crowd and a simple monotone boat just won’t do. It’s all about edgy graphics and the ‘wow factor’ – and about having the biggest and best looking wakeboard tower, with huge boom boxes and a powerful sound system.
In all of these respects, the XS22 hits the target. It looks spectacular, the Clarion/Fusion sound system is clear and powerful, and the optional LED lighting – including underwater lights, driving strips in the bow and mood lighting inside the cockpit – are thoroughly impressive.
With LED lighting now so prevalent and becoming more affordable, we are seeing evermore creative applications in these boats. They are being used not just for general illumination, but to create mood lighting and special effects, even in boats as small as the ‘humble’ ski boat.
Spy Boats is the result of joint development work between two of Australia’s leading boating firms. Peter Webb’s Performance Marine researched and developed the concept, while Whittley Marine – renowned for its superb fibreglass moulding – then refined the design via its CAD system and manufactured the hull, with Performance Marine completing the fit-out and installation.
The Spy brand was launched in 2007, but struck immediate success when the RX22 – the rear-mount version of the boat tested here – received the 2008 AMIF Ski Boat of the Year award. This added earlier accolades clinched by Performance Marine in 2000 and 2003.
Peter says he didn’t target any specific demographic with what he believes to be “the best crossover boat on the market”. This boat is attracting buyers of all ages – from 25 to 55, and young guys grouping together to buy a wakeboard boat right through to the family man wanting a serious ski boat for himself and a dedicated wakeboard boat for the kids.
With seating for up to 10 around a spacious cockpit and in the bow (there’s a lift-out acrylic panel to shut off air blowing through the boat on colder days), along with plenty of on-board ski and board storage under the floor and the seats, this is an excellent family ski boat. But the styling, the graphics and presentation will also hold plenty of appeal for younger buyers.
The soft and stable ride, combined with the smooth and effortless driving and easy handling, ensures everyone will want to spend time on board and behind the wheel. This is a boat that underlines the nature of skiing and wakeboarding as a true family affair.
SPECIFICATIONS: SPY BOATS XS22
Weight: 1925kg (on trailer)
Engine: MerCruiser 315hp Tow Sport 5.7MPI
For more information, contact Performance Marine, tel (03) 9465 4555, or visit: www.spyboats.com.au