Loose Change: 2014 Sea-Doo Spark HO

Our Spark featured the optional front bow storage. Although not watertight, it was useful for holding flip flops and extra goggles.

It’s not easy being right all the time and it’s been a burden that Sea-Doo has had to live with for a while now. The Sea-Doo Spark drew fire from the moment it was unveiled. While some openly mocked the watercraft manufacturer of the all-new “Rec Lite” segment runabout, the Spark has raced off of showroom floors faster than any first-year production model in decades. And we mean decades.

Sea-Doo dealers are literally clamoring for BRP to fire up the molds in the Juarez, Mexico manufacturing facility to crank out additional mid-production units. In fact, according to Brad Bowlin, the District Sales Manager for Can-Am’s Northeast Division, dealers were offered an opportunity to put in mid-season orders to restock their dwindling Spark supply. Although the supplemental number of units was a paltry 700, dealers requested over 3,500 units. Even those dealers who balked at initial stocking requirements imposed by BRP have all but completely sold out of the new watercraft. The sales prove it, the Spark is a certified hit.

Sea-Doo move the LCD screen from its usual dashboard spot to below the bars with a solitary button to scroll between the standard “Touring” mode and “Sport.”

Off-loading the tail is remarkably easy and allows for powerslides, 180s and spinouts and a lot of fun that’ll pitch you off if you’re not paying attention.

Of course, the Spark’s biggest draw, a starting price of $4,999 has been both the primary feature and point of contention. Priced nearly half of that of the nearest Yamaha and much less than the lowliest-equipped Kawasaki, the Spark’s bare-budget entry point is an attractive piece of bait on the end of the hook.

The unit you get for the starting price is little more than a motorized hull with steering. Opting for any of the many and varied options available for the Spark quickly ups the price. Either manual reverse, BRP’s innovative iBR, a longer 3-up seat and deck extension, vinyl decals and wraps, and even the peppier 90-horsepower engine tune push the price closer to GTI territory. But again, these are voluntary price hikes, not registration and licensing costs or hidden fees. If you want to adorn your particular Spark with Sea-Doo’s bimini top, that is entirely up to you.

The second hot button issue was the Spark’s polymer construction. Whether the plastic hull will pass the longevity test remains unseen. Already, many a grainy photo of fractured and splitting hulls have sprung up across the Internet.

While the plastic showed signs of aging and exposure to the elements, the SCS Unlimited vinyl decals held up surprisingly well, retaining their sheen and luster.

The starting price of $4,999 provides you a lot less than the unit tested here. With the HO ACE tune, swim step, bow storage and vinyl kit, we teetered closer to $7,000.

Likewise, videos of riders aggressively charging headlong into surf, viciously launching high into the air and returning in a knife-like nose-stab have garnered hundreds if not thousands of views.

Obviously, such riding flies in the face of Sea-Doo’s “spirited riding” recommendations. Racers are adopting the 900cc ski as a new platform to participate in a new realm of competition, much at the cost of fracturing its PolyTec material. The open wishbone exoskeleton design provides some added structural stability, but again, it isn’t designed to hold up like a fiberglass unit. Of course, no plastic is immune to the toils of the sea, and is prone to show some discoloring and fading over time. It is what it is, fellas.

Although The Watercraft Journal had the pleasure of reviewing the Spark when it was first revealed, we jumped at the chance at spending two days on a mid-range optioned Spark HO to see how the little-runabout-that-could held up over several months of hard labor. At first blush, we weren’t too surprised to see that our wrapped Spark showed some of the telltale problems with plastic over time: namely in the realm of fit and finish.

It’s been a long time since a runabout has been so responsive to weight shifting and body placement. The active rider can truly manipulate the Spark into loose slides, nose stabs and a bevy of other tricks.

Beneath the seat is not what you’re used to, but the gas cap and fire extinguisher. Engine access is through removing 36 Allen screws and lifting the entire center section of the deck.

While white has a tendency to hide blemishes better than most colors, the porous texture clung onto dirt and smudges stronger than most gel coats. The black center section, underseat handrail and nose piece were a faded gray instead of the original black. The glove box lock and hinges and steering felt loose – especially for Sea-Doo’s typically high standards. Some other quibbles not worthy of mentioning also arose that might bother the more finicky owner, but again, weren’t enough to truly earn a demerit here.

Impressively, the vinyl decals held up well over the half year of ownership, retaining their vibrant colors and finish. Frankly, we predicted the wraps to show scuffing and gouging, but they proved surprisingly resilient making them a stylish and worthwhile purchase. Likewise, the seat latch and 36-Allen bolts remained sturdy and retained a strong watertight seal.

Our particular unit also included the front bow storage option as well as the spring-loaded boarding step and 90-horsepower HO engine option. All of these – including the vinyl wrap – pushed our two-seater Spark closer to an estimated MSRP of $7,000, far eclipsing the unit’s original $4,999 asking price.

Although sturdy, the folding swim step isn’t terribly useful for larger passengers trying to reboard. Lighter riders will find it helpful while others will struggle not to completely roll the Spark over on its side.

Hard corners are achievable on the Spark with careful weight placing and throttle control. A pair of aftermarket sponsons will make a dramatic difference.

But again, customization is the name of the game with the Spark, so be prepared to pay if personalization is your thing.

From our initial impression and through to today, we’re absolutely in love with the Rotax ACE 900 motor. While the ACE might be low on big end grunt, it’s got a limitless amount of fun on tap. With our little 90HP HO set to Sport mode, we enjoyed countless powerslides, 180s, 360s, floaters, bunny hops, and snap-turns. Of course, Sea-Doo doesn’t recommend hot dogging the Spark like that, but Q-Tips doesn’t suggesting using their cotton swaps to clean your ears, and that’s exactly what they’re designed to do.

After two days of horsing around, we found ourselves surprisingly exhausted. Riding a Spark with any sort of enthusiasm can be a workout, just like you remember the old SP, XP or even WaveBlaster. We think very highly of the new twin-cam, multi-port ACE engine and believe it to be the blueprint from which future Rotax plants to be patterned from. Of course, the three-cylinder four-stroke is only accessible via removing the center deck, but as dealers have stated, very few of the majority of Sea-Doo owners do their own servicing.

All in all, the Spark still managed to retain its cutesy charm and provide plenty of smiles. Again, this is not the craft to take on long distance touring rides or jaunts in the open ocean, but it is the ideal choice for a fun, lightweight (400-plus pounds) ride that the whole family can enjoy. Whether stripped down, heavily accessorized or an accessory itself to your larger runabout, the Spark is worthy of a spot on any enthusiast’s trailer.

If there was one thing our Spark did better than anything was completely propel itself out of the water. If offered with Sea-Doo’s VTS, we’re certain 90-degree launches would be possible.

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Kevin Shaw

Editor-in-Chief – kevin.shaw@shawgroupmedia.com Kevin Shaw is a decade-long powersports and automotive journalist whose love for things that go too fast has led him to launching The Watercraft Journal. Almost always found with stained hands and dirt under his fingernails, Kevin has an eye for the technical while keeping a eye out for beautiful photography and a great story.


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