Entry level is luxury itself

Thanks to a stable design, Bayliner's new Element is sure to be a crowd-pleaser, writes David Lockwood.

Thanks to a stable design, Bayliner's new Element is sure to be a crowd-pleaser, writes David Lockwood.

The new Element from Bayliner is the product of a protracted design process to turn the pleasure-boating industry around. The project involved would-be-buyer input, naval architects, marketing departments and top-end management.

Dusty McCoy, chief executive of boat-building behemoth Brunswick Corporation, which owns Bayliner, first mentioned the Element last year. It was in the same breath as he said sales of inboard-powered cruisers were flagging. So he killed off Bayliner's Cruiser range and baited the market with news of an impending new entry-level concept boat.

McCoy's edict was to get the great unwashed back to boating and, thus, feed customers into Brunswick's portfolio of 20-plus boat brands. The Element was born as an affordable, low-maintenance, safe, comfortable and fun solution to pleasure boating. Barely, at least in the boating dollars and sense, a discretionary luxury item.

The Element's design was influenced by the voluminous deck-style and pontoon-type trailer boat, hence the wide beam, open, flat floor and abundant seating in the moulded internal liner. A stable M-shaped hull has been employed for efficiency, as opposed to the usual V-shaped design.

Michael Yobe, product portfolio manager at Brunswick, said there were initial expectations of making 600 Elements a year. But such has been the response that it's been ramped up to 900 boats at the Mexican factory.

What about the bottom line? By the time the Element has landed and been prepared by long-standing local Bayliner dealer Avante Marine, the drive-away rig is selling for $24,999. This marks a $5000 discount to the usual entry-level Bayliner bowrider. In respect of power, the Element boat has been designed around a wonderfully frugal Mercury 60hp four-stroke outboard engine with heavy-duty BigFoot gearcase for greater acceleration and low-down grunt (think towing teenagers). Options range from a sound system to a sports package with tow tower, coloured hull and groovy graphics if you want to look the part.

But in its basic form, the Element proved right at home on Sydney Harbour for our three-day evaluation. The experience begins with a testing drive to Silverwater to hitch up the 1100-kilogram rig on a Karavan trailer that comes with brakes, submersible LED lights and long skids rather than multirollers. The drawbar is hinged to reduce garaging length.

We grab the daughter, 6, from school and her brother, 2, before heading for Roseville boat ramp. Jumping on the car brakes helps slide the boat off the trailer's skids and into the water, whereupon the 60hp Mercury four-stroke outboard fires up without so much as a whiff of smoke.

The excited kiddies assume their positions on the seats, while mum heads off into the wilds of Middle Harbour. I return some time later with our big boat and floating abode. Then the fun begins.

The Element is bundled with a portable cooler for picnics ashore or aboard. There's a rear infill over the recessed cooler that creates a full-beam sunpad big enough to lie across at the transom. The bow, meanwhile, has two lounges and a centre infill section that lifts to reveal anchor access. Dry storage exists under all the seat bases. That's great in respect of stashing things away and keeping the decks clear, but a little pesky in regards to quick access. A dashing moulding is needed for holding personals, such as phones, and a 12-volt charger makes sense, too.

But to Bayliner's credit, the Element fulfils its intended brief. The deep internal freeboard and super-stable hull make for a very safe family boat, while the low profile dash windshield ensures clear sight lines for navigating on busy waterways like Sydney Harbour.

The 45-litre fuel capacity might seem modest, but it provides seven hours' cruising. For most folk, a few engine hours are all they will accrue on their weekend sortie anyway. Top speed was high 20 knots, with cruise in the low 20s.

En route to Manly, in a solid sea, our two-year-old grips mum tight and declares he is scared and the daughter screeches with excitement as spray flies over the bow. There is an odd bang in keeping with a flat-bottom boat, but we all feel extremely safe. Three days go by without drama and the boat is towed back to Silverwater. More from avantemarine.com.au.

David.lockwood@bigpond.com

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