When it comes to cut-price ‘bargains’, it has been my experience that there is always a catch. In far too many cases the products of my attempted thrift have ended up as inert piles of smoking, molten plastic, or twisted metal. They looked great in the ads, but self-destructed, blew up or caught fire the minute I actually tried to use them. Anything with an engine or that moved has tended to end up at the top of my ‘heartache hit-list’, so experience has taught me to be wary of anything sold primarily on price.
So when Sea-Doo called to offer a test ride on its new ‘bargain’ entry-level Spark, my defences were instantly on heightened alert. How might this new creation disappoint/annoy/frustrate me, I wondered? What pitfalls lay ahead, I ventured as I inspected it closely at the boat ramp? What would be the first bit to fall off, break or catch alight?
Fortunately – for once – I am happy to report that my hard-won wariness was all for nought. It took only a couple of minutes and a quick squirt of the throttle to appreciate that it is, indeed, an impressive package.
Released last September, the Spark sent tsunamis across the PWC industry with its unprecedented low pricing. The base model was pegged at just $6999, making it by far the cheapest craft available, and it quickly became a sales hit for Sea-Doo dealers.
Pricing is the Spark’s most obvious selling point and, even for those who want a little more Spark for their buck, our three-seater test model, with elongated seat and extended rear platform for extra stability, plus optional 90hp HO engine package and trailer, comes in at just $10,500 from Melbourne Sea-Doo. That’s a significant saving over equivalent entry-level models from other manufacturers.
And then there’s the Spark’s low weight, courtesy of its Polytec hull. Sea-Doo says it spent over three years developing the proprietary blend of polypropylene and glass fibres, utilising its inherent strength to create what it calls an ‘Exoskel’ hull and deck to provide structural integrity. Outwardly the hull has a fine-textured, plastic appearance, as opposed to the more conventional smooth GRP hulls of the rest of the Sea-Doo range.
The result, based on our test craft, is a PWC that barely disturbs the scales at just 191kg dry weight. This compares to a Sea-Doo GTI130, a more conventional model at the cheaper end of the range, which weighs in at not far off twice the weight of the Spark at 359kg. The considerable weight saving, in particular, plays a large part in the appeal of this back-to-basics package. Especially when combined with the new Rotax 900 ACE (Advanced Combustion Efficiency) engine, a compact 899cc three-cylinder, four-stroke that produces a modest 60hp in stock spec.
In keeping with the simplistic theme, controls on our Spark were limited to just the throttle and a stop/start button, while the dash scrolled through a variety of functions. While not fitted to the test model, Sea-Doo’s excellent Intelligent Brake and Reverse (iBR) is an option that I’d recommend to provide more control and really complete the package.
Our test Spark was also equipped with a Convenience Package, incorporating a front storage bin and a reboarding step on the rear.
On the water the industry-leading power-to-weight ratio results in a craft that compares very well with other much more powerful models in the range.
TOURING OR SPORT
The electronic engine management on the optional 90hp HO engine package on our test Spark provides both a Touring and Sport mode. Touring mode gives a slightly more sedate and more fuel-efficient ride, while Sport offers quicker throttle response, especially out of the hole. We used both modes at various times during our test, with both solo and two-up riding. Top speed on flat water saw around 80km/h on the small dash display, which would be more than enough for most riders.
For thrill-seekers who enjoy ‘getting a little air’ occasionally, the Spark’s light weight certainly helps in the altitude stakes. With a blustery northerly whipping Port Phillip Bay into a 1-2 metre chop on our first day out, we managed to clear the wave tops with surprisingly little effort with the throttle, especially in Sport mode. And having a passenger onboard only served to reinforce that the engine delivers strong torque at low to medium rpm.
The Spark proved to be a nimble handler, negotiating tight turns willingly displaying little slippage when turning at speed.
There is a flipside to the Spark’s low mass, though. Stability at rest is a little compromised when two or more passengers contribute to a higher centre of gravity on the Spark’s relatively slim hull. There is also a bit of a tendency to ‘bump steer’ at speed and landings can be a little more punishing on ‘re-entry’.
Fuel consumption lived up to expectations, with Sea-Doo claiming figures of 7.3lt/hr for the standard 60hp engine and 9lt/hr for the HO version in our test craft. Starting with a full tank, it took around two and a half hours of pretty spirited riding before we’d depleted the 30lt capacity enough to activate the Low Fuel warning alarm.
After a weekend spent sampling the Spark in a variety of conditions, I’d rate it one very impressive all-rounder. In HO-spec it offers more than enough performance for the average entry-level or casual rider, is easy to maintain, launch and retrieve and looks pretty good, too. It’s a versatile craft, comes with a tow hook, is relatively cheap to run and is available in a range of colour schemes and with a variety of accessories. But best of all for most buyers, on the family-rated ‘funds to fun’ scale, it’s an 11 out of 10.
For more information, go to: brp.com/en-au.
SPECIFICATIONS: SEA-DOO SPARK
Dry weight: 184kg (2-up); 191kg (3-up)
Rider capacity: 2/3
Engine: 60/90hp, 899cc three-cylinder four-stroke
Fuel capacity: 30lt
Priced from: $6999 (2-up with 60hp engine)
Price as tested: $10,500 (3-up with HO engine and trailer)
Test craft supplied by: Melbourne Sea-Doo, tel (03) 9484 9258. Web: MelbourneSeaDoo.com.au.