In coming to a conclusion to last year’s far-from-unanimous decision to award the 2014 Sea-Doo Spark the “Watercraft of The Year,” we wondered if we had made the right decision. The craft among many diehard personal watercraft enthusiasts is controversial, and has been the recipient of a year’s long smear campaign by those who stump for competing brands, those who don’t understand it, and those who by no other fault have chosen to dislike it. The backlash caused us to defend the decision almost all year long, and as we did so, felt more and more secure in our verdict. Why? Because the Spark represented all of the traits we were weighing each candidate for: innovation, technology, attractiveness and ultimately, impact on the industry.
This model year welcomed many machines that were both radical improvements on previous vehicles, as well as completely new designs. That, and carry-overs from previous model years had us weighing lasting impact, appeal and longevity against the new and untested units. Thankfully, the industry hasn’t been stronger in nearly a decade, with domestic and international sales up into the double digits. This has not only benefited the OEMs, but dealers and the performance aftermarket as well. In fact, we deferred much to the impact of two of the units listed – our Watercraft of The Year and our two runners-up – in making this year’s decision, as both craft played heavily on both new vehicle sales as well as in the aftermarket.
2015 Watercraft of The Year Runner-Up: 2015 Kawasaki Ultra 310X SE JetSki
You’ll notice that for 2015, we actually share the “Runner-Up” position with another unit. When we tallied up the points for our Watercraft of The Year position, we found that although the 2015 Kawasaki Ultra 310X SE (Special Edition) JetSki came in two points behind our second place finisher, the machine itself is so impressive that we saw no fault in adding an additional spot in the article. Admittedly, the standard 310X was originally listed as the possible candidate, but in later review, we found enough reason to replace the 310X with its slightly more flashy SE sibling.
The Special Edition is only slightly different from the other supercharged Ultras, specifically by employing the 310R’s narrowed tear-shaped saddle but retaining its 5-point padded steering head. That, and its Burnt Orange hue are its only distinguishing traits. So in awarding the 310X SE, we, in a way, are awarding the 310X in the same breath. Admittedly, the 2015 Ultra 310X SE is unchanged from its 2014 predecessor (save for the metallic orange livery, which we absolutely applaud), but comes after years of fine-tuning an already impressive package.
In the realm of offshore racing, there is no undisputed king other than the Ultra 310X (and the SE). Its hull design is born from some of the roughest, most unmanageable riding conditions in North America. For which, the Eaton TVS-blown 1,496cc Kawasakis have claimed more offshore and endurance championships than any other four-stroke in the last decade. With the addition of better internal engine temperature management, electronic trim, cruise control, no wake modes and Eco settings, the Ultras have also stepped a little closer towards the high tech offerings from Sea-Doo and Yamaha.
Lastly, it’s worth defending the Kawasakis as they tend to get a bad rap as being “too heavy.” Such is simply not the case; Kawasaki lists their weights with full oil capacity and with their tanks 90-percent full of fuel. Seeing that the Ultras are rated at a maximum 20.6 gallons, that 90-percentile figures to 18.54 gallons of fuel. Calculated by 8.33 lbs. per gallon, that comes to 154.4 lbs. of fuel, and when subtracted from the listed “curb weight” of 1,040.8 lbs., it totals a dry weight of 892.9 lbs. Thereby making the Kawi less than 60 lbs. heavier than the 2015 FX SVHO, and 23 lbs. lighter than the 2016 RXT-X 300.
2015 Watercraft of The Year Runner-Up: 2015 Sea-Doo GTI 155 SE
When news first broke of the 2105 Sea-Doo color palette, many enthusiasts bristled at the new iridescent hues. Frankly, we were taken aback a little until feedback came in saying how much women preferred the new colors, particularly the Maldives Blue featured prominently on the 2015 GTI 155 SE. Although the GTI 155 SE didn’t debut any new technology for 2015 (apart from an improved DESS key for easier starts), it earned a strong second place in our points running for the 2015 Watercraft of The Year due to its balance of comfort, storage, performance and budget-friendliness.
To those regular readers of The Watercraft Journal, they’ll know the GTI 155 SE has been a perennial favorite, as it touts some of the best ergonomics of a medium-sized, family runabout. That, and with features like Sea-Doo’s iTC (Intelligent Throttle Control) that allows drivers to toggle through pre-programmed Touring, Sport and Eco modes without ever having to divert your attention from the vista in front of you, makes it a class leader. Bow and glove box storage is substantial, the saddle is narrow and bolstered, a thickly-padded swimstep comes standard, and the reliability of a 1503 Rotax 3-cylinder beneath the seat makes it a winner.
Although the SE doesn’t offer the rip-snortin’ horsepower of the larger RXT-X 260, it does share the same deck as the track-worthy RXP-X and hull of the 215-horsepower GTR. In Sport mode, the GTI is no slouch and will definitely leave you and your passengers with broad smiles. Draining the tank and jettisoning our camera equipment got our SE to nearly 60mph. And scrolling through the in dash settings permitted adjustment of the VTS (Variable Trim System), as well as other settings to the center LCD screen. And its naturally-aspirated Rotax permits using cheapo 87 octane, helping shave a few pennies from your day on the water too.
All-in-all, the GTI 155 SE is easily one of the best, most well-balanced family watercraft we’ve had the pleasure of reviewing, and even as we hunkered down one test unit with a few extra hundred pounds and tried to set a world record with it (that’s right! We used a 2015 Sea-Doo GTI 155 SE on our “Long Haul” cross-state attempt earlier this year), we still couldn’t help but think how much we’d like this machine to take the kids around the lake with.
2015 Watercraft of The Year Winner: 2015 Yamaha FX Super Vortex High Output WaveRunner
Although it worked out to have all-three manufacturers represented on the podium this year, that was not our original intent. But, awarding the 2015 Yamaha FX SVHO WaveRunner the honor of The Watercraft Journal’s Watercraft of The Year award was almost a foregone conclusion the minute that Yamaha introduced the model with its new-for-2015 RiDE dual throttle system. The addition of the new brake and reverse system to its (near) entire lineup not only elevated the manufacturer to a whole new class of safety and rider input, but also gratefully replaced the right-hand reverse lever that we had beleaguered Yamaha over for years.
The current FX is a few years old, but the inclusion of both the new NanXcel2 lightweight bonding material and the Super Vortech High Output (SVHO) 1,812cc centrifugally supercharged 4-stroke to the three-seater in 2014 dramatically unveiled what many already knew: the FX hull is truly a fast and responsive design. But it wasn’t until Yamaha introduced us (and its 2015 lineup) to its new RiDE technology that it could ever be considered as Watercraft of The Year. Although additional features are found on the Cruiser edition, most of us found the high-backed stadium-style seating too restrictive for taller riders, and preferred the low-slung, stepped bench instead.
One of the biggest factors for the 2015 FX SVHO taking home this year’s Watercraft of The Year has been its recent surging presence in the racing scene, particularly in the realm of offshore and endurance competition. Although not near the rough water machine as the Ultra 310X, between the large diameter 160mm pump and sure-fire SVHO powerplant producing an unofficial 265 horsepower, the FX has proven itself as a true, full-tilt open class contender that can also be one of the most reliable long distance cruisers when equipped properly (ie. FX HO). There’s not a lot of hull designs that can boast such versatility.
And it’s that versatility that made the FX SVHO the choice over the closed-course darling FZR and FZS. It takes a level of athleticism to full engage the FZ models, and cruising such an aggressive hull is counter to its design. We recently documented the incredible numbers of the all but unchanged 2016 Yamaha FX SVHO WaveRunner when given the ideal conditions, and although very unlikely that most riders could replicate such speeds with a bone stock unit, the potential within this craft is seemingly limitless. Already, the aftermarket is awash in performance parts to maximize this 3-seater’s abilities, and we’re sure to only see more in the coming months. So with that, we want to congratulate Yamaha for earning this year’s The Watercraft Journal’s 2015 Watercraft of The Year!