It struck us as being incredibly premature to make an announcement as to which new personal watercraft model would be the best for the year until say, the end of the year. That is why we waited until today to unveil The Watercraft Journal’s top pick (and runner-up) for the title of “Watercraft of The Year.” Of course, this decision didn’t come to us six months ago and we’ve been simply waiting things out, but comes after hours of deliberation, days of testing, and weighing all of the factors that make a vehicle stand out among the rest.
Mind you, there are several characteristics attributed to specific models that cannot be scored against another. To be fair, you can’t score a budget-friendly Yamaha VX Sport against a fully-loaded GTX iS 260 Limited, and expect the outcome to be fair. Rather, we had to evaluate each of the craft The Watercraft Journal personally laid hands on throughout its publishing year on its own merits, its impact on the industry and its overall reception by the market. Ultimately, it’s not a matter of simply being our favorite, but your favorite as well. So with that being said, here are our runner-up and 2014 Watercraft of The Year.
2014 Watercraft of The Year Runner-Up: 2014 Yamaha FZR Super Vortex High Output WaveRunner
It’s actually difficult to write this knowing how close the 2014 Yamaha FZR SVHO was to taking the coveted position as the first-ever 2014 Watercraft of The Year award. Ultimately, it was the FZR’s steeled position as a closed course turn-and-burner that fatefully bumped it from the top of the podium. But as history would show, very, very little was able to best the ’14 FZR from grabbing the top spot of any podium this year. In fact, it was this race-ready craft that dominated more motos in more races across the Pro Watercross Tour, the IJSBA World Finals and the 2014 Jet Ski World Cup than any other personal watercraft before it.
Replacing the existing Super High Output 1,812cc 4-stroke plant, the Super Vortex High Output package supplies the Yamaha with larger fuel injectors, redesigned lightweight pistons, increased oil and coolant volume, and 22-percent-more efficient intercooler, but a redesigned, larger (86mm) supercharger housing and 6-vein compressor wheel producing 60-percent more boost. The improvements coax an honest 260 (plus) horsepower from the SVHO. But the changes are not only to the engine: A performance-bred 8-vein pump and 160mm impeller pushes significantly more thrust through a new 3-degree nozzle (with cast-in diffuser veins) with a large 85mm exit diameter.
Combined with a new top-loader intake grate, a redesigned ride plate and longer, more aggressive sponsors made it very clear the SVHO’s intentions. The changes made to the FZR unveiled the brilliance in the WaveRunner’s 6-year-old hull’s soft-edged design. For those taking count, the appeal of the new SVHO spurred the defection of 11 top level racers from Sea-Doo to Yamaha. And at the conclusion of race season, the new Yamaha had three Pro Runabout National Titles in Pro Open, Limited and Stock, as well as IJSBA World Championships in Pro Stock, Limited, Expert Runabout Veteran and Women’s Runabout.
The 2014 Yamaha FZR SVHO is arguably the most aggressive, thoroughbred musclecraft that Yamaha has built since the two-stroke GP1300R. Although the GPR hull has gained new life as the darling design for HydroDrag racers, the FZR will likely affix itself as Yamaha’s most unapologetic closed-course-racer-from-the-factory that the PWC manufacturer has ever built to date. And that is why it has been one of our favorites for 2014 and the single-strongest contender for the title of 2014 Watercraft of The Year.
2014 Watercraft of The Year Winner: 2014 Sea-Doo Spark 2-up HO
You cannot argue with how popular Sea-Doo’s little-runabout-that-could is, and frankly, neither could we. Even with manufacturers spending thousands of dollars to throw some pretty nasty shade at the entry level machine, Sea-Doo dealers across the nation sold out of these things. Sure, with it’s bargain basement starting price of sub-$5,000, dealers barely made enough off of the sale of each unit to pay for the breakroom’s morning box of donuts, but that didn’t stop dealers from clawing over themselves to place orders when BRP reopened production mid-year.
According to Sea-Doo’s Tim McKercher, the Spark was “the number one reason the industry saw double digit growth last year.” Although we’ve received conflicting numbers over the past months – reporting that domestic Spark sales ranged anywhere between 8,000 to 11,000 – the sheer demand of orders placed by Sea-Doo dealers is enough to quantify the Spark’s popularity. Earning the position as the 2014 Watercraft of The Year isn’t weighed solely on total sales, although in this case it definitely helped a lot.
Rather, the Spark is also a winner because of its spirit. It’s a callback to years that many of us feared the manufacturers had forgotten, when an HX, a couple of buddies and a well-stocked cooler could provide a full-day’s worth of laughs. The two-seater (or “2-up”) Spark with the available High Output 90-horsepower tune is frankly, the only way to go, as lesser 60HP and 3-up units failed to stir the same smiles as the other. When equipped smartly, the Spark is fun, loose and playful, returning us to the days of powerslides, nosedives and other forms of aquatic mayhem.
Sure, the Spark is not without its faults, and detractors will site the polymer construction, nearly non-existent storage or its “tipsy” hull feel. But again, that’s not what the Spark is all about. It’s meant to be rowdy fun, not a long distance, pile-on-the-whole-family cruiser – there’s plenty of others that will do a better job. Even with its 48-different variations, the Spark is little more than a banana seat, a jet pump and a throttle. And that’s OK. In fact, it’s why we like it. It’s the ultimate waterborne go-cart. And it’s that spirit why Sea-Doo’s 2014 Spark 2-up HO is our winner for The Watercraft Journal’s 2014 Watercraft of The Year. Congratulations!