During the introduction of the colorful new iPhone, Apple design guru Jonathan Ive described the device as being “unapologetically” plastic. Days away from their own groundbreaking introduction, Sea-Doo employees probably couldn’t help but stifle a knowing grin. Like that iPhone, the new Sea-Doo Spark is made from a polymer. And likewise, it’s not a concession, but an opportunity.
By choosing plastic, Sea-Doo was not only able to substantially lower weight, but also produce a rainbow of colors.
As well as make the Spark “unapologetically” low in price. By following similar outside-the-box thinking with the engine within, Sea-Doo has brought the Spark in at an almost astonishing $4,999, a price that is literally thousands less than anything else on the market.
No, that’s not a typo. And yes, there’s more to the story.
Thinking Outside The Box
Though introduced for the 2014 season, the germ of the idea that would become the Spark dates back to 2006, when Sea-Doo set the goal to make the dream of “family fun” accessible to a whole new audience. In the process, it hoped to bring back some of the simplicity and fun often missing from today’s further-reaching models. Though inspiration came from a brand legend – the SP – designers, engineers, and management all realized that achieving that goal would mean a serious departure from conventional thinking.
COMPARISON: Read our review of the Sea-Doo GTI 130
The most obvious example of that thinking is the plastic hull. Essentially polypropylene reinforced with long-strand glass fibers, the material (dubbed PolyTec) appears surprisingly strong and is far lighter in weight than fiberglass. Sea-Doo turned the fact that it has a matte finish to its advantage, developing five colors – Bubble Gum, Pineapple, Orange Crush, Vanilla, and Licorice – that, when combined with a common black, give the craft a fresh and trendy look.
Even the assembly process ended up being a radical departure from the norm. Rather than glue, hull and deck components are bolted together using a rubber seal to prevent water intrusion. The system has a welcome side-benefit for service applications. In about five minutes, the entire mid-deck can be removed from the hull, offering unprecedented access to the engine, driveline, and fuel system. Owners, who have little use for such access on a day-to-day basis, are given simple access ports to reach items like the battery, oil dipstick, and safety kit. The fuel fill and fire extinguisher are located under the removable seat.
To achieve the craft’s necessary rigidity, designers gave the boat a wishbone-like exoskeleton up top. Two angular arms extend forward from the steering column. The space within, typically real estate for a storage compartment, is left empty to further reduce weight and add to the craft’s stylish looks. Those that demand storage can choose an accessory bin that bolts into this cavity and provides seven gallons of capacity.
My initial impression of the Spark was that of a modern, cutting-edge Yamaha WaveBlaster. Both machines share a narrower, motocross-style seat and slightly higher seating position. But it is the Sea-Doo DNA that is clearly present in the craft’s modern looks and faceted lines. Elements from both the GTX and GTI are obvious. And though it appears small (and feels likewise on the water), the Spark actually dwarfs the ‘Blaster of old, measuring in at 110” long and 46” wide.
Who Needs Triple Digits?
To complement the more compact, lightweight hull, BRP developed a new low-horsepower, four-stroke engine to be shared between its PWC and snowmobile lines. That engine, the Rotax 900 ACE, debuted in the snowmobile market last season. This year, this compact three-cylinder, dual-overhead-cam mill – featuring electronic throttle control and linked to a 144mm pump – powers the Spark in both 60 and 90 horsepower variations.
Again, that’s not a typo. Understanding how such low horsepower could result in a fun ride requires only considering the Spark’s advantageous power-to-weight ratio. At only 405 pounds in its two-up variant, the boat is literally over 300 pounds lighter than Yamaha’s 736-pound, 110hp VX Sport and Sea-Doo’s own 780-pound, 130hp GTI. The result is a top speed of around 42 mph for the 60hp version, and about 50 mph for the 90. The 90hp version proved adequate for towing duties, with enough low-end torque to pop a wakeskater up and out of the water. Sea-Doo also claims it to be, by far, the most fuel-efficient engine in the industry. During what the company considers an “average” duty cycle – a mix of idling, cruising, and top speed runs that engineers claim mimics typical consumer usage – the 60hp engine burned an average 1.94 gallons per hour, the 90hp only 2.4 gallons per hour.
COMPARISON: Read our review of the Yamaha VX Sport
How the engine is attached within a plastic hull merits a few lines. To reinforce the hull below, Sea-Doo chose to mount the engine thru the hull to two longitudinal exterior beams made from anodized aluminum that are recessed into the hull to maintain a flush surface. Picture the hull as the filling in a sandwich, motor mounts on the interior and the aluminum beams outside. In a clever twist, one of the beams even acts as the heat exchanger for the closed-loop cooling system.
Personalize Your Ride
With the goal of attracting a younger audience, Sea-Doo designed the Spark to be customizable on a variety of fronts. As the company sees it, the first question should be how many passengers you wish to carry, one or two. For the latter, a longer seat and buoyancy-enhancing hull extension increases overall weight by only 16 pounds, but increases passenger capacity from 350 to 450 pounds. The next step in the process is to pick your engine, either the 60hp 900 ACE or the 90hp 900 HO ACE. The HO option includes both a Sport and Touring mode, similar to other Sea-Doo models, allowing owners to choose just how aggressively the craft accelerates and powers thru the midrange. Those who choose the latter also have the choice to add Sea-Doo’s Intelligent Brake and Reverse (iBR) system. Next is a choice in accessories, including the front storage bin and a simple, flip-down step for deepwater boarding.
The final choices do the most to customize the craft’s appearance. As mentioned, a total of five color choices are available. Those five colors can then be further personalized if desired by adding one of 20 stick-on graphics kits specifically developed for the Spark’s plastic surface.
COMPARISON: Read our review of the Kawasaki Jet Ski STX-15F
What’s In A (Code) Name?
Sea-Doo reveals the code name for Spark was CAFE, an acronym for Clean, Affordable, Fun, and Easy. The first and second are easily understandable. The ACE engine is clean, the plastic hull is recyclable, and the price is, well, obvious. The fun factor, as we’ll see in the upcoming model review, is also on target. And yes, it’s easy, on many fronts. Easy to use, easy to maintain, easy to finance, even easy to tow. And with its small size, stow.
Is all that enough to “reignite” an industry? It’s hard to say yet, but where there’s a spark, a flame often follows. Sea-Doo’s hoping this one blows up into a barnburner.