Objectivity is paramount when weighing the vast number of features, handling characteristics and industry-altering innovations poured into the literally 40 different models of personal watercraft available for 2018. It’s daunting to say the very least. While almost impossible to remove all forms of personal subjectivity from our calculations, we at The Watercraft Journal looked at all of the offered units, particularly the models we personally reviewed throughout the year, and found certain parameters that we felt were key to crowning this year’s Watercraft of The Year.
Unlike last year’s results for Watercraft of The Year, 2018’s Top 3 are a showdown of two of the industry’s three original equipment (OE) manufacturers. In 2017 (and 2015, for that matter), we were able to welcome all three major manufacturers – namely, Kawasaki, Sea-Doo and Yamaha – to the podium. For 2018, such was not the case, particularly as innovation and popularity were such significant factors in awarding a winner. The diverse selection of vehicles from Sea-Doo and Yamaha were either completely new or so well received that each were directly responsible for elevating the marketplace.
As we’ve noted previously, the personal watercraft industry experienced a surge in growth unlike anything seen prior to 2008. That’s nearly a decade of lackluster sales, that is, until now. We’re seeing growth of over 11-percent in new sales growth; Yamaha is reporting a staggering 49% of all new unit sales going to first-time buyers, and manufacturers are enjoying gains well into the double digits. PWC sales are outpacing motorcycle and UTV sales in many places. Yes, there’s a lot to be excited about, and the watercraft we’ve selected for Watercraft of The Year is a central player in that growth and expansion.
2018 Watercraft of The Year 2nd Runner-Up: 2018 Yamaha VX Cruiser HO WaveRunner
Like a bare-knuckled boxer dressed sharply in a suit and tie, the 2018 Yamaha VX Cruiser HO caught many of us completely off guard. What could be construed as the buttoned-up brother of the rowdier VXR, the VX Cruiser HO is nearly indistinguishable; the two share the same NanoXcel hull and deck, equal 1,812cc High Output four-cylinder 4-strokes, and even identical 18.5-gallon fuel cells. Don’t forget the same 155mm jet pump and nozzle too. They even have identical weights: 767-pounds. Heck, the storage displacements are the same (24.6-gallons).
This paralleling gives both the VXR and VX Cruiser HO matching top speeds (65mph in optimal conditions). Yet, unlike the VXR, the 2018 Yamaha VX Cruiser HO is more equipped yet priced $600 less, at a budget friendly $11,299. That’s right! As the VXR features a sporty, single-coved seat and Yamaha’s quick-response electric trim control, the VX Cruiser HO enjoys the heavily bolstered two-tiered Cruiser seat, Cruise Assist and No Wake Mode – arguably features of far greater value. The VX Cruiser HO does share the more staid hood with the rest of the VX line versus the VXR and its GP1800 sibling.
Yet, what elevated the 2018 VX Cruiser HO to hero status was its ranking as the single-most sold PWC of 2018. Believe it! This one little WaveRunner outsold the rest of Yamaha’s entire line up, including all the Rec-Lite EX’s… as well as everything from Sea-Doo – yes, and that includes the Spark too. On paper it made sense: it was fun, nimble, torquey and fuel efficient. Frankly, a great all-around runabout. Initial dealer reports coming in during late July proved it; the Yamaha VX Cruiser HO was the number one most popular watercraft sold. And that should definitely count for something.
2018 Watercraft of The Year 1st Runner-Up: 2018 Sea-Doo RXT-X 300
Holy cow, was this year’s contest between first and second place clooose. And for good reason. BRP came into the New Year swinging, setting the world around it on fire with the introduction of its all-new 2018 Sea-Doo RXT-X 300. Sure, the ACE 300 3-cylinder powerplant producing a true 300-horsepower, the adjoining drivetrain and pump, and even gauge cluster were holdovers. (That, and the 15.8-gallon fuel cell.) Rather, it was the all-new ST³ platform that wowed onlookers. With its centralized storage, modular seat and LinQ accessory system, this machine had more bells than Santa’s sleigh.
Bathed in a thick coat of acrylic Neon Yellow and Lava Grey (or the optional Ice Metal and Lava Red), the new RXT-X rides on a hull that borrows heavily from the T³ hull of the RXP-X, all while coming in 1.2-inches wider (from 48.2-inches to 49.4-inches), 3.3-inches shorter (from 139.2-inches to 135.9-inches), and an incredible 86-pounds lighter (828-pounds compared to 914) than its 2017 predecessor. Additionally, the driver sits 1.4-inches lower as do passengers (3-inches lower), all of that decreasing the RXT-X 300’s center of gravity, and increasing its power-to-weight ratio (0.362:1 from 0.353:1).
Extensive acceleration testing put the RXT-X ahead of Yamaha’s 2018 GP1800 by fractions of a second. And yet, in light of all of this innovation and performance, the RXT-X had some setbacks in our view: The large center bin shrank the unit’s overall storage from 42.8 to 27-gallons; it also reduced the industry’s largest glove box to its smallest (albeit with a padded, waterproof phone case). Others found the new hull unpredictable (particularly in big chop), requiring extra diligence from less experienced riders; a new decal on the glove box even highlights the performance model’s “unique” handling.
2018 Watercraft of The Year Winner: 2018 Yamaha GP1800 WaveRunner
Yessir! You’re looking at the first back-to-back winner of The Watercraft Journal’s Watercraft of The Year award! Prior to listing our candidates, we paused at including Yamaha’s 2018 GP1800 WaveRunner because of last year’s result. Yet, we decided that winning yet another major accolade shouldn’t disqualify it from this year’s standings. In 2017, Yamaha’s GP1800 WaveRunner absolutely decimated, earning multiple world titles at the IJSBA World Finals, lorded supreme over the P1 AquaX USA tour, and even claimed the championship at the Long Beach to Catalina Offshore and Mark Hahn Memorial 300 enduros.
For 2018, little changed. The GP1800 fetched top positions at the P1 AquaX tour, battled for glory throughout the Pro Watercross Tour, and constituted half of the Top 10 finishers at the Long Beach to Catalina Offshore Championship (8 of the 10 were Yamahas) including the top spot. Be it closed course or long distance offshore endurance racing, the lightweight (769 pounds), supercharged SVHO 1.8L Yamaha continues as the King of the Mountain. And it’s success carried on beyond the race track to the showroom floor, making it the 6th place in the Top 10 highest selling personal watercraft for 2017 and, until selling out of units in July, was the third highest selling PWC of 2018!
Reports of low speed cavitation during launches were quickly resolved by the aftermarket. Soon speeds of 79, 80, 81, even 84 miles per hour were achievable by the novice tuner. With slightly more work, the GP1800 could run 86mph all day long. Even in light of selling out in 2017 (by mid-June) and again in late July of 2018, Yamaha retained the lightweight, supercharged GP1800 priced at $13,999. It’s simply too hard to argue with the unparalleled success of the GP1800 – on the showroom floor, the race course and even as a suitable all-day cruiser. We’re truly impressed with the 2018 Yamaha GP1800 WaveRunner and find it a worthy recipient of its second Watercraft of The Year award. Congratulations!