Sports cruisers are a popular category for good reason – they blend an enticing mix of sleek styling, open cockpits for entertaining and comfortable facilities for overnighting. For young thrillseekers through family groups to couples of all ages, sports cruisers have a lot to offer. They’re generally easy to handle, even solo, are highly versatile and have enough performance to set pulses racing.
This 8.8m Cobalt offers all that and more and, in my opinion, with its long list of standard inclusions, it represents solid value at a starting price of $129,699. This review boat, which came with loads of options, came in at $178,000.
The benefit of modern sports cruisers is that you can achieve all the thrills of true thoroughbred performance without sacrificing any of the comfort and flexibility. In this 273, Cobalt has engineered a very neat balance of genuine sports action with rich accommodations.
Cobalt has long been a specialist in dayboats, such as the A25 we reviewed this time last year, an 8m bowrider that can accommodate up to 15 people. But for when you’d rather stay put and settle in for the evening, the 273 will only too happily oblige.
You just can’t beat overnighting on a boat. Lying back on the cockpit lounge as the daylight dwindles to the soundtrack of the last of the evening’s birdcalls, you’re holding a warming cup of coffee as the outside temperature declines, and then you snuggle into your berth as wavelets gently lap against the hull. Then there’s the morning, which holds wonders all its own …
Cobalt began building boats in Neodesha, Kansas, USA, back in 1967, and the fact it’s still going strong today means it’s doing plenty right. The firm has a great catchphrase: “Life is uncertain. Buy a boat that isn’t.” It’s no idle claim, with the brand favouring a honeycomb composite construction of hand-laid fiberglass with Kevlar reinforcment. A special barrier coat between the gelcoat and the underlying ’glass weave prevents any ‘print through’ and results in perfectly smooth exterior surfaces.
Stepping onboard Cobalts in general, and this 273 in particular, you can’t ignore the feeling of strength and quality – and of thoughtful experience in the layout and the included features. The company shows confidence in its products, with a 10-year warranty on the hull and deck structure, five years on many other aspects and even three years on the gelcoat and upholstery (check with your dealer for the specifics).
The 273 is available with a number of engine packages from 265hp, but this was the first 273 in Australia (it’s an all-new model) and importer JD’s Boatshed in Sydney had optioned it up to show most of the available goodies, including a MerCruiser 8.2lt MAG SeaCore V8 rated at 380hp (283kW). SeaCore is Mercury Marine’s corrosion protection technology and it includes a closed cooling system; it’s a worthy inclusion for a boat that’s likely to be kept in the water. The 8.2lt MAG HO is an even more potent option at 430hp, but the 380 lusty ponies in our engine bay were harnessed effectively to a Bravo Three drive, with counter-rotating twin props.
Of course, power alone means little if the hull isn’t up to the job. On the 273, a sharp entry at the stem flows back along a keel that’s slightly rounded at the transom – it’s at the pointy end of a fairly deep 21-degree deadrise. Those angles deliver a soft ride, while strong strakes supported by wide and noticeably downturned chines keep the boat very stable. The Bravo Three is mounted in such a way that running surfaces extend aft of it on both sides – they help the 273 slither sleekly up on plane, with barely any bowrise and with seemingly minimal drag.
While we’re at the back of the boat, it’s worth noting that trim tabs have been fitted to this 273 – they’re always a good feature on a performance boat. Plus there was a neat variation on the boarding platform that included a section that pivoted down to below water level for easier access when boarding from the water. JD’s Boatshed also offers an optional rail that can take either a barbecue, baitboard or both.
You need a good driving position to control an efficient hull with persuasive power, and Cobalt provides that on the 273. The helm seat is supportive for the posterior and back, but it doesn’t have much lateral support. That’s partly because it’s quite wide – so wide that two slim-ish fortunates could share the driving experience, or an adult and youngster for some memorable parent/child bonding. Perhaps luckily, but more likely through good design, an angled foot panel was at just the right spot for me to brace myself as the 273 hurtled into tight turns or raced through a swell.
The tilt-adjustable wheel is correctly positioned relative to the seat and to the throttle/shift, which is neatly mounted on the side coaming, with an armrest just behind. The trim tab controls are not quite so conveniently placed, being down a bit to the right of the wheel, but I found the hull has such good inherent balance and trim that the tabs would rarely be needed. On the positive side, the tab controls had a clear display as to their angle of deployment, and they automatically retracted to level when the engine was turned off.
Near the tab controls was the stereo panel, and a bit to the right was an angled set of switches for the horn, bilge pump and lights. The switch for the power anchor winch was there, too, and across on the left of the wheel was a Garmin 640 GPS/plotter.
The main dash panel presented gauges with very clear markings; these are unique to Cobalt and are designed to interface with MerCruiser’s SmartCraft system so that a wide variety of information on the engine and boat can be displayed as required. There are just four dials on the dash, but they provide all the information any skipper could want.
The dash binnacle is neatly upholstered with contrast stitching of a very high standard. The upholstered trim extends out to the base of the screen and renders the area free of glare. Overall I found the driving position to be nigh-on perfect; I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the wheel. The front of the seat lifts up for comfortable driving while standing, too.
POWER TO PLEASE
Opening the throttle from rest, the MerCruiser V8 was stress-free as it swept the 273 on plane with barely a change in trim angle to cruise peacefully at 2250rpm and 31km/h. Drive trim was not critical at all, although it was best to be fully in for take-off and then needing only a small upward adustment for ideal running. Whether gently or aggressively accelerating, both the engine and hull were untroubled and the boat was spearing along as easy as you’d like anywhere between 2500rpm for 40km/h and 4000rpm at 72km/h. The 8.2lt MAG V8 was still new and topped out with 4500rpm on the tacho, the GPS display indicating 81km/h. That’s pretty fast for a 27ft cruiser, and there’d be more to come with a few extra hours in the log.
However, speed was only part of the driving experience. The match of the Bravo Three counter-rotating 24in-pitch props and the hull undersides gave wonderful balance and handling. At one stage I was attempting to get action photos of the 273 rushing through the wake of the camera boat, but the 273 just swept through the wash with disdain and not much movement at all. Trying the same thing when driving, the poise of the Cobalt was impressive; I’d have loved the chance to take it for a run offshore, where it would undoubtedly thrive.
Steering is not feather light as on some power-assist systems, but it still only requires a low level of effort on the leather-lined rim, which transmits clear feedback from the hull. That’s especially good in tighter turns, where the boat hauls around in a remarkably short radius, barely losing any speed in the process and with nary the slightest indication of any slip, trip or hop. The 273 doesn’t bank much either – those big chines must hold it fairly level. Of course, you don’t need that extreme turning capability in normal driving, but it sure is entertaining to try it out every now and again.
TIME TO UNWIND
Still, for every hour you’re having fun driving the 273, you’ll have many more just relaxing at anchor in one scenic spot or another. Cobalt has equipped the boat with this in mind. The cockpit has lounges around the rear port quarter, with a nifty flip-over backrest for an aft sunbed. There’s a removable table there and a further seat across to starboard, beneath which is an insulated cooler, with a chiller plate to really keep the drinks cold. There’s another even larger cooler compartment under the cockpit floor.
Between that starboard seat and the helm position is a cabinet, with a lift-up top over a small wet bar and with stowage compartments below. Under the starboard-side passageway from the boarding platform into the cockpit is a large storage compartment that is fine for wet items, too.
The front of the port lounge has a flip-over backrest, so you can recline on the lounges facing aft or sit up near the skipper facing forward. In front of that forward seat, under the screen console, is a rounded dark-tint acrylic door that slides across to reveal a very neat bathroom. This is much roomier than you’d think; it has a full-flush toilet, basin, Corian-style benchtop, porthole, mirror and some stowage.
A matching door in the centre gives access to the cabin, with lounges either side that can also be vee-berths, plus a removable table and stowage areas. In the starboard aft corner is a TV and stereo, while overhead is a large, fixed skylight as well as an opening hatch with insect screen. Portholes assist further with natural light and, with the table removed, a filler panel and extra cushions convert the vee-berths into a double.
Both the cockpit and cabin are beautifully finished with fabrics and vinyl over plushly upholstered seating. Clip-out Water Weave carpets are on the floors. Above the cockpit is an optional stylish stainless targa arch, with integral lighting and supports for the bimini shade cover. This arch is well worth a closer look – its construction and the craftsmanship that must have gone into its assembly are impressive.
Cobalt has produced a very pleasing boat in the 273, which offers genuine sports performance, while also providing high levels of comfort and facilities for both day boating and overnighting. Neither side of the equation has been compromised. I predict this boat is going to appeal to a wide range of boaters.
SPECIFICATIONS: COBALT 273
Overall length (incl swim platform): 8.79m
Length (hull): 8.38m
Deadrise at transom: 21 degrees
Weight (dry): 2631kg
Sleeping capacity: 2 people
Fuel capacity: 360lt
Water capacity: 38lt
Holding tank capacity: 42lt
Power (as reviewed): MerCruiser 8.2ltMAG V8 (284kW/380hp)
Drive: MerCruiser Bravo Three twin prop
Price from (with 320hp MerCruiser): $129,699
Price (as reviewed): $178,000
For more information, visit: www.jdsboatshed.com.au or tel (02) 9525 3166.