Master stroke

Graham Lloyd | VOLUME 27, ISSUE 4
From top to bottom this MasterCraft boasts a number of clever features. The wake tower is beautifully crafted with top-class design and machining – and it’s through-bolted into the main stringer system, not just to the deck.
A fusion of comfort, style and performance, MasterCraft’s X14v has everything it takes to get the watersport set rocking …

There are any numbers of outstanding features on this boat – features run literally from top to bottom. For example, at the top there’s a fold-down wake tower with some of the most beautiful construction and machining you’ll come across. At the bottom, under the boat, the skeg for the prop shaft is also a work of art, with its unique ‘Pure Flow’ leading torpedo smoothing the run of water onto the prop for higher efficiency. One glance at the photos and you’ll see what I mean.

The high standard of craftsmanship shouldn’t come as a surprise from a firm that began life in Tennessee, USA, back in 1968. From humble beginnings, the company has grown to employ 560 “MasterCraftsmen” producing thousands of boats each year, sold into 30 countries via over 120 dealers. The company lays claim to being the largest producer of inboard ski and wakeboard boats in the world, and you don’t reach that level of success without doing things right.

‘Doing things right’ has also produced this X14v, and it’s another cracker of a MasterCraft – in this case a 6.5m, vee-drive, tournament-approved towboat suitable for both wake boarding and waterskiing. It’s priced from $82,900 and our test boat hit the water at $89,900, with options including that superb wake tower, board racks, ballast system, cruise control, heater, stereo, pullup cleats and more.

The engine is rather special, too. It’s an Ilmor 5.7lt V8 rated at 241kW (320hp), and no other towsports brand has it. MasterCraft has worked with Ilmor Engineering to develop this engine specifically for its boats, and the latter’s skiboat experience is immediately obvious in details such as the raw water filter. It’s amazing what can be sucked into engine cooling systems from any waterway, and having a raw water filter to screen out the junk is a great accessory.

Even better is having the filter mounted where it’s easy to see and clean. Other benefits to this V8 include the drip pan around the oil filter (also easily accessible) and the high mounting points – well up from the bilges – for the starter and alternator. Also evident was plenty of sound proofing and an automatic fire suppression system. The 1:1 ratio vee-drive is from ZF, another top-class company.

MASTER AND COMMANDER

The driving position is excellent. The seat held me both securely and in comfort; it adjusts fore and aft and can swivel to face the rest of the crew when stationary. It has a lift-up bolster for a higher viewpoint, which can be handy when docking or approaching a downed skier or boarder. The wheel has a thick, leather-wrapped rim, with four highly-polished dual spokes; it’s very pleasant to grip and the steering is light, with three-and-a-half turns lock-to-lock.

The throttle/shift lever was handily located on the cockpit side panel, with a neat armrest behind it. The throttle was a bit too sensitive coming out of neutral and it took me a couple of goes to adapt to it, but I then found the Ilmor V8 gave a smooth, but potent reaction – no shortage of power, that’s for sure.

Running with empty ballast tanks and the tab raised, we were loping along at an easy 2500rpm and 33.3km/h; a little more gas and we saw 54km/h at 3500rpm and 66.3km/h at 4500rpm, before hitting full throttle at 5000rpm for a blistering 71.3km/h. At typical wakeboarding and skiing speeds, the V8 was spinning smoothly and without strain.

Any movement of the wheel brought instant reaction from the hull, which handled everything from gradual changes in the course to aggressive turns without the slightest whimper of protest. More to the point, the X14v gave an impression of relishing every moment as it was thrown through some tight slaloms, where it displayed only moderate banking and no hint of slipping or other misbehaviour. The prop was a good match and also held on tight at all times.

Drivers will love the boat’s exuberance and performance, as I’m sure riders will, too. We didn’t have any ‘towees’ on the day, but the wake looked good and clearly varied in size and shape at different speeds and ballast/tab settings to suit skiing and ’boarding. To roughen up the calm waters of our test site, we cut a few figure eights then charged through the resulting slop. The X14v soaked it up with a soft and dry ride, which implied a wind-blown chop wouldn’t pose any issues.

Going astern, the X14v pulled to starboard as most inboards do, but that could be used to advantage once you got used to it. For example, coming into a dock you could approach on the starboard bow quarter then, at the appropriate moment, engage reverse and the back of the boat would neatly swing in alongside.

The main dash panel sat properly above the wheel rim so I could clearly scrutinise all the gauges. To the left was a tacho and in the centre was a speedo, with an inset display showing a range of digital read-outs for water temperature, engine hours, voltage, oil pressure, ballast tank levels, trim tab auto level, cruise control and more. There’s an option here for a touchscreen, too. On the right was another large dial, with triple gauges for fuel level, oil pressure and engine water temperature – duplicating in analogue form some of the digital read-outs and making it easier for the driver to monitor key engine indicators.

Either side of the central three dials on the dash were sets of three knobs controlling functions such as the heater and lights. Then an angled panel, a bit lower and further to the right, had the stereo controls, while a panel below that had switches for the trim tab, the ballast tanks, horn and a push-button start, as well as the main ignition switch.

The whole dash area looked very high-tech and the angled panels gave it a very efficient, military look, with a mix of billet anodised aluminium and beautifully-stitched upholstery in a non-glare matt black. Stowage slots and drink holders were also found in abundance throughout the boat.

CLEVER DESIGN

With the boat on its very smart Easy-Tow tandem-axle trailer, an examination of the hull revealed the design characteristics behind the good performance. The stem carries a fine entry that would help deliver the soft ride we experienced, and a flare in the topsides, plus twin very small knuckles just up from the chines, would assist the dry ride, especially for those in the forward cockpit. There’s a step in each chine, too, roughly 2m in front of the transom, that would reduce drag a bit, whilst contributing to the shape of the wake. The hull carries only a mild vee across the back, with a central planing delta that starts where the shaft log comes through the keel. Further forward are triple turn fins.

Interestingly, a small hook is designed into the surfaces leading back to the transom, which MasterCraft uses to reduce the running angle at higher speeds. The hull shape is such that at slower speeds it naturally puts out a big wake, but when you get to slalom speeds the wake flattens.

The trim tab mentioned earlier is fitted across the centre of the transom; MasterCraft calls this an “attitude adjustment plate”, which is fair enough as that’s exactly what it does. Operated via a switch at the helm, the driver can lower and raise the tab in fine increments to modify the running angle or the wake shape. If you want to run at a slower speed and still have a lower wake – for example when teaching kids to ski – you drop the tab down and it flattens the wake.

Cleverly, the trim tab also serves as an automatic self-levelling system for the X14v. A gyro mechanism is fitted in the boat to sense when it takes off with a large load – it then automatically drops the tab to get the boat on plane quicker and with minimal bowrise. Then, when the boat is up and running, the tab automatically lifts again for an optimum ride angle.

The size and shape of the wake can be altered, too, by partly or fully filling some or all of the three ballast tanks; two are aft and hold 61kg each, while the other holds 186kg and runs up through the front of the boat for a total ballast capacity of 308kg (or 680lb). All the tanks are under the floor and do not restrict movement through the cockpit.

The controls for the tanks are computer co-ordinated and can be set for individual requirements. Other settings cover modes such as for a full wake or for an efficient wake or for skiing. If a cruise control setting is selected for skiing and the ballast tanks are full after some wakeboarding, the computer will automatically dump the ballast to get the right set-up for skiing.

We tried a few variations and found the cruise control both easy to use and efficient. Filling the ballast tanks took about three minutes, and the dash digital display clearly showed the progressive and final tank levels – the pumps shut off automatically at both fully filled and empty. With full tanks, there was barely any difference in handling and response.

The interior format follows that of most rear-mount towboats, with a bowrider cockpit in front of the windscreen and a larger main cockpit. Clip-out carpets facilitate an end-of-day hose-out. A nice touch is that the close-off panel under the opening centre screen section is hinged to port and easily swings into place to block the slipstream on cooler days. That’s a bit more convenient than a traditional slide-up-and-out panel.

IN THE HOT SEAT

Also welcome on those cooler days is an optional heater system, with vents in strategic spots. Additionally, the driver’s and observer’s seats are heated. The side lounges run back to either side of the engine hatch and are superb spots to relax. A lift-up panel on gas struts is in front of the observer’s seat and reveals another stowage area, with the Clarion stereo, a 12V power outlet, iPod interface and a courtesy light. Under the observer’s seat is the easily accessible battery, as well as its master switch and a manual fire extinguisher (to support the auto fire system in the engine bay).

To starboard, a section of lounge hinges up from over a lift-out cooler. Further aft, on both sides of the engine cover, hatches lift and pivot outwards from above large carpeted stowage lockers, which are perfect for bulkier items. There’s a pull-out inspection light under the portside hatch, and the hatch undersides have cargo netting for more stowage. Although our boat did not have it, an optional shower is available, too.

Above the large wooden boarding platform is an inset step on the transom with a black non-slip surface, and the latter continues across the centre of the engine cover, with another inset step on the front of that for safe and easy passage from the boat to the platform to the water, and vice versa.

All in all, the X14v is a masterful statement of MasterCraft’s ability to produce a top-class towboat. We haven’t been able to cover all the features that are provided, so if you are considering the purchase of a watersports boat, it’s well worth seeing your nearest dealer for the full picture.

SPECIFICATIONS: MASTERCRAFT X14v
Length (hull): 6.50m
Beam: 2.44m
Draft: 0.58m
Weight: 1724kg
Capacity: 11 persons
Fuel capacity: 133lt
Ballast capacity: 308kg
Power (as tested): Ilmor 5.7lt V8, 241kW (320hp)
Price from: $82,900
Price as tested: $89,900
For more information, contact New World Marine, tel (03) 9709 8444, or visit: newworldmarine.boatsales.com.au or www.mastercraft.com.


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