There is a term in marketing that strikes fear into the hearts of all competitors, and builds the legacy of the company that can successfully pull it off. The term is called “Disruptive Product”. For us normal folks, we would call it a paradigm shift, or a benchmark product. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it can literally rewrite the play book for an entire industry. The last big disruptive products we collectively saw were the Apple iPhone, iPad, and the iOS platform. The world had never seen anything quite like them, and we don’t need to go into details on the effect they had. But every company seeks to capture that magic product that hits the right market at the right time.
We were on hand in Orlando, Florida this week with Sea Doo to attend a colorful media event for their new product that hits the right market at the right time. The new SeaDoo “Spark” is that product. At the debut of the Spark, the term “disruptive product” was being thrown around more than once. The Spark is a truly new entry-level PWC with some decidedly out-of-the-box thinking.
After riding it, we think it’s a home run. Did we mention it will cost less than $5,000? But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. I need to do some historical housekeeping.
The PWC market plays in a decidedly niche market. There are some family-friendly, starter watercraft in the $8,000 range, and they go all the way up to $18,000 luxury performance watercraft that have technology rivaling some sports cars. With the ever rising prices in the recreational marine market, the PWC market (like most boat market niches) has stagnated and become mature. Sea Doo has identified a large gap in the market for a PWC that is fun, not intimidating, family-friendly, plus inexpensive to own and run. Their market analysis shows a sweet spot for the 25 to 35 year olds demographic looking for a PWC in the $5,000 – $7,000 price point where younger families can justify buying their first PWC. Up till now, however, the PWC market starts just north of there. So, here is where the Spark comes in.
The Spark begins with a mission: a lightweight, durable watercraft that is fun, low maintenance, and retains its Sea Doo DNA. From there, everything else is a blank page in the name of thinking outside the box.
The Spark makes a decidedly strong play at reducing costs without feeling cheap. You have your choice of two-up or the slightly longer three-up hull. The hull is all new, based in the X4L hull, and is made from a mixture of roto-formed polymer and fiberglass. This reduces cost and weight, and ups the durability quotient. The deck is entirely made from a durable polymer, and bolted to the hull. The color components are also bolt-on, and are cast into the material – there is no gloss finish on exterior. There is also no glue anywhere in the construction process. The entire deck can be removed with an impact gun in 10 minutes, exposing all the mechanical bits underneath. There are five colors available, each rendered in the aforementioned textured plastic rather than gel coat. If you’re handy with a wrench, we have it on good authority that you can change the color on a whim. The theme here is light and durable, intended to be towed behind almost any car available in the U.S. today. And we do mean light….final weight wasn’t specified, but we were told around 400 lbs, or nearly less than half what current products weigh. Two people can pick the ski up without back injuries. The upshot here is a highly durable hull that can take a lot of abuse.
Speaking of mechanical bits, you will be looking at one of two power plants when you do get in there, both of them variants of the Rotax 900 ACE 4 stroke DOHC 4-valve 3 cylinder engine. The base engine is a 60 hp variant with closed cooling (yeah, standard!), or for a small up charge you can upgrade to the HO version with 90 hp. Going for the larger engine buys you Sea Doo’s electronic throttle control with Sport Mode, which sharpens the throttle and unlocks the extra 30 horses. Additionally, going with the engine upgrade opens the door to iBR option, Sea Doo’s exclusive braking feature. The engine upgrade is optional on the 2 up and standard on the 3 up, with iBR optional on both HO equipped models. Additionally the engine is designed for hard running, with an oiling system that can lubricate the rotating assembly up to 90 degrees from the horizon. Fuel capacity is 7.9 gallons.
But let’s be honest. You don’t care about any of this. You only care how it rides, right? In a word, it’s spectacular…and reminiscent of PWCs from a decade ago.
Climb aboard and the craft is stable, the seat narrow, giving the rider room to work. The controls are simple…start/stop button on the left, throttle on the right, and a multifunction gauge in the center below the handlebars that shows speed, RPM, and fuel. The combination of light weight and peppy engine adds up to spirited performance. We took the 60 hp base model out and felt it was very enjoyable – perfect, really, for a new rider. Acceleration is adequate, and flat out she will top out in the low 40s. (We were not able to hook test gear up to these units as they were pre-production.) Handling, however, was a real eye-opener. The boat (yes they are boats) changes direction on a dime, carves hard corners, and has enough power to jump its own bow wake on a hole shot. Lean into it and lay on the gas in a corner and it will slide and spin like a hooligan. The ride was also quite palatable, occasionally slapping over really rough chop, but at no point was it bone-jarringly uncomfortable.
Move up to the HO (high output) model and you gain Sport Mode, which remaps the throttle to be an order of magnitude more responsive. This turns the boat into a much more dynamic PWC, with instant power anywhere, and ups the top speed to 50 mph. Sea Doo’s iBR system (intelligent Brake and Reverse) is foolproof, and very effective. Tap the left lever and the PWC goes into neutral, with thrust diverted to either side. It allows the boat to rotate on its axis. Hold the lever to go to reverse. Tap the throttle briefly to put it back into forward. It definitely makes the boat much more maneuverable at docking speeds, and reassuring to pilot at higher speeds. This was the configuration that everyone was clamoring to try, and even the most jaded PWC enthusiast came back with a smile on their faces, wanting another go. More than one came back from riding Sea Doo’s other models and headed right back for the Spark – including me, for that matter.
It’s the duality of the Spark’s personality is what makes it so endearing. If you are new and inexperienced, there is nothing about your first ride on the Spark that is intimidating. It’s zippy, fun, and stable.
Take a few laps around the lake, and you start to learn you can throw it around more. The Spark responds by focusing, carving harder lines, and getting more and more playful. Suddenly gentle turns and relaxed cruising becomes super-sharp transitions from left to right, kneeling down on the floorboards and dipping your shoulder into the corner, and slides around corners. It makes you feel like a hero.
And at $5,000, your wallet will make you feel like a hero too. The Spark opens at $4,995 for the base 2 up. Going to the HO model with iBR brings you up to $6,399. Buy a 3 up (which includes both the HO and the iBR system) and you’re around $7,000. It is nearly impulse-buy money, and you get a warranty on top of it. Production is up and running and they should be in dealers by Thanksgiving.
Two thumbs way, way up on this. Go try one.
Matt Train is a life-long boater living in the greater Chicago area with his wife/first mate, Susan. Matt has provided numerous articles on powerboats from major manufacturers. Look for more of Matt’s reviews in the future.