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Introductory models have proven incredibly popular — just look at yearly sales figures. The combination of big fun and low price is obviously a potent combination, especially for those new to the market. The risk with a base model, however, is that some consumers may eventually outgrow its capabilities. I think that’s less likely to happen with the Kawasaki STX-15F.
Why? Primarily because this is not really an introductory model. Instead, it’s a one-time flagship, reduced drastically in price to compete with other manufacturer’s entry-level boats, but still retaining the heart and soul of a much more performance-oriented machine.
It’s the proverbial wolf…in soggy, sheep’s clothing.
Howl At The Moon
The 15F’s engine alone demands the description. Not that long ago, this four-cylinder, dual-overhead-cam mill boasted the largest displacement in the industry. It churns out 160 horses (30 more than the closest competition) from its 1,498ccs, and features a pedigree influenced both by Kawasaki’s potent Ninja motorcycle as well as serious time spent on the racecourse. Yet, from the start, this has been an engine rated for Ultra Low (Three Star) emissions output. Sorry for the clich?ut yes, it’s clean…and mean.
Kawasaki knows that performance plays an important role, even in this most novice-oriented of classes. The 15F’s acceleration times from 0-30 mph hover in the neighborhood of two seconds flat. Top speeds routinely peak as high as 62 mph. (Just don’t trust the speedo, which may indicate you’re going as fast as 70). That’s a full step above the tamer introductory norm. In comparison, Sea-Doo’s GTI models top out around 55-57mph; Yamaha’s VX series even less. Both competitors also finish far closer to the three-second mark in acceleration. That’s an impressive edge for an introductory model to hold over the competition.
And, as I’ve contended over the years, an edge that will allow the owner to grow with the boat, rather than grow out of it. Let’s face it, there will always be that set of riders who increase in skill and want something more. For that more aggressive set, the 15F won’t be left behind. That makes the boat a solid long-term investment.
Given its new audience, however, the best part may be that all that power rarely overwhelms the novice rider. Certainly it’s there for when the skill set improves, but in the meantime it’s controllable. And that is where the credit moves to the hull.
Kawasaki originally honed this boat on the racecourse. As such, it’s aggressive in the corners and offers top-notch stability on the straightaways. Its deep-V, however, also offers a stable and predictable ride. That solid presence often overshadows the competition in this class.
Of course, that’s not to say it’s perfect.
Take the craft’s ergonomics. Depending on your size and riding style, the STX will either feel low and appropriately aggressive, or old school and somewhat cramped. Taller riders will feel it most. You sit lower than average, which often puts a rider’s thighs and knees higher than normal. Some will appreciate that close-to-the-water feel, and the feeling of leverage your body retains over the craft. Others will long for just a few more inches in height from the seat. Kawasaki actually raised that saddle top several years back, but it’s still a distinct style Kawasaki is noted for. As always, it’s best to take a test ride and see if the boat fits you. Personally I find I immediately notice it when first getting on the craft, but grow accustomed to it after a short time riding. Still, that position lessens the ability of your legs to absorb some of the shock in rough water, leading to another note on the Kawasaki’s handling. It’s a little bit harsher in rough conditions.
Yet another longstanding critique is the boat’s style, or lack thereof. Love it or hate it, this is a design that has changed little in, well, a long time. As a result, it can appear dated compared to the trendy competition. The boat’s fit and finish, however, is exceptional (like most Kawasaki product). That gutsy engine is also surprisingly fuel-efficient, burning only about 5.5 gallons per hour at a comfortable 35 mph cruise.
Kawasaki also stands above the crowd in terms of its amenities. Though at first glance the boat may appear rather plain, it’s got the goods where it counts.
Both fuel capacity (16.4 gallons) and storage capacity (23.5 gallons) are the best in the entry-level ranks. Storage is divided between a generous front tub, a small glove box, and a nook under the seat. A spring-loaded boarding ladder is also standard. In my book, that should be a no-brainer in a class that will likely see the most deepwater boarding. Kawasaki’s instrumentation is also one of the easiest to read in the bright, sunny conditions that typify PWC riding.
Kawasaki has addressed the off-throttle steering issue with an electronic bump in thrust at the pump should the driver release the throttle in conjunction with a panicked, full-over turn at the helm. There’s also a low-RPM mode for turning the craft over to a true novice, or reining in the kids’ speeds while learning.
Security is handled through a magnetic key system. Reverse is functional, but located to starboard. In real-world operation, it’s frustrating to use, as a rider can’t steer, apply throttle, and hold the craft in reverse all at the same time.
Stacking The Deck
So no, it’s not perfect. The STX-15F does, however, deserve, no, make that demand consideration. It’s got the best power by far, aggressive handling that goes beyond the entry-level norms, and chart-topping capacities.
Oh, and I almost forgot the price. Yes, there has been a $300 price increase for ’09, but you still get all this for only $8,399.
A wolf in sheep’s clothing? Certainly, but another well-worn term also comes to mind. Kawasaki may have just brought in a ringer.
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