Author: Alan Jones
Cobalt’s newest incarnation of the popular 220 just might be a reflection of the changing way people use their boats. While it’s a great-running boat, many of the design changes make it more capable not just when it’s running but also when at rest. I’m sure $5-plus marina gas had nothing to do with it. And if you skip over this boat thinking Cobalt is out of your league pricewise, you might be mistaken.
The 2012 Cobalt 220 has a new seating configuration that makes it a more socially friendly boat than the previous version, which has the SS cockpit layout consisting of twin bucket seats and a stern bench. The new design features wrap-around stadium cockpit seating that includes a rearward-facing recliner for watching the ski show. A narrower-than-normal deck cap translates into more usable interior room on this 8-foot, 6-inch-wide boat that has a whopping 89 inches of breathing space between the gunwales.
Of course there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and the price you pay for the expanded cockpit — which rivals the cockpit on many 25-footers — is a bow section that isn’t quite as passenger-friendly as the older model. The main difference is that the bowrider seats have more upright backrests, which aren’t as comfortable. The saving grace is that Cobalt maintains the width of the boat fairly far forward, so it feels roomy enough but feels shorter up front than before.
Another difference is the way you access most of the under-seat storage compartments. Instead of the famous Cobalt “double knuckle” seat hinges you see on most of its models, you have to remove most of the seat bottoms to gain access to the storage underneath, much like you see on many ski boats. Also gone is the bow anchor locker, which means you’ll be using under-seat storage for the hook and rode.
The newest Cobalt innovation (and there have been many) is the brilliantly conceived optional flip-down Swim Step. One major beef I’ve had with many swim platforms on sterndrive boats is that they are too high, mainly to accommodate the lower unit when it is trimmed up. On some boats, when you’re sitting in back chillin’, only your ankles get wet. Cobalt already has a head start with a two-tiered swim platform that has the lower section within inches of the water, made possible by the extended running surface that limits bowrise so the platform doesn’t drag during takeoff. But on this bottom tier resides the wide Swim Step, which flips down into the water to allow easy reboarding or to serve as a footrest for folks sitting on the platform. Getting back into the cockpit without stepping on the upholstery is a simple matter of strolling in via the port-side walk-through.
The 220 comes with a wide range of engine choices from MerCruiser and Volvo Penta that range between 220 and 320 hp. Our test boat has the Volvo Penta 5.0 GXiC, which produces 270 hp, only 30 hp less than either the more powerful MerCruiser 350 MAG or the Volvo Penta 5.7 GIDCP options. Out-of-the-hole performance was excellent thanks in part to Volvo’s Duoprop design. Bowrise was very slight, and we never lost the horizon as we reached plane in only 2.9 seconds, thanks to the aforementioned extended running surface. We arrived at 30 mph in 6.9 seconds, and since I had a fuel-burn gauge among the array of Medallion instruments, I raised and lowered the speed to find the most economical cruise velocity. At 3000 rpm, we loafed along at 26.6 mph and were only burning 6.5 gph, which nets 4 mpg.
That extended running surface means you keep more hull in the water and ride more level than with most other boats. Heading out to open water on massive Lake Lanier, north of Atlanta, we found some chop, which the 220 handled really well. The Kevlar-reinforced hull seemed to bridge the gap between the tightly grouped waves, so we cruised over the top without a lot of up-and-down motion. The deadrise is 20 degrees, and with a bow-down ride, the sharper forward part of the hull is where the entry is located, which contributes to its slicing action. You would think this might cause bow steering, where a boat gets the notion to veer off in an unintended direction, but it didn’t. But when you want to turn, the 220 really hooks up well and it feels like you can generate some G-whiz force.
Our test 220 is rigged with an optional white powder-coated wakeboard tower with an integrated Bimini top that helps make it a very capable ski boat. Despite the 20 degrees of deadrise, the wake is fairly flat and soft at 30 mph, creating decent slaloming conditions, and at 20 mph with a little up-trim, it plows up a medium launch platform. You have several locations to store skis, such as in the in-deck centerline locker under the standard 40-ounce snap-in carpeting that’s backed in neoprene. The other locker is accessed by flipping up the seatback on the rearward-facing chaise lounge to reveal a cavernous, very long compartment.
If you like to find a private cove, toss out the hook and crank up the stereo, the standard MP3/USB/CD Sony stereo with six — count ’em, six — Kicker speakers will rock the boat. The wide sunpad can be optioned with an adjustable backrest and provides a good rearward seat at anchorage, as does the very low swim platform with the Swim Step, which makes reboarding easy. The wrap-around arena seating in the cockpit creates a very social environment for entertaining.
To enhance the entertainment factor, choose the available cockpit table and bump the stereo to the premium package, which includes a transom remote and a pair of rearward-facing speakers for skiing or swimming to your favorite soundtrack. For directionally challenged boaters (like me) who frequently get lost on large lakes, Cobalt features an optional dash-mounted Garmin touch-screen GPS. Adding the GPS-based Perfect Pass cruise-control system for skiers will make the driver a hero. The helm is simple but gorgeous with a hand-stitched Nautilex vinyl dash and a leather custom wheel to go with its ergonomic driving position. The “flip lip” seat bolster is more comfortable than most in the up position.
The 220 is the newest member of the 10-Series, which comes to the consumer with a lower price point and offers fewer options such as trim tabs, through-hull exhaust and a transom shower. As of our publishing deadline, Cobalt was offering a huge, nationally advertised discount on this model, bringing the starting price down to $45,000 when paired with the 4.5L Volvo Penta with a single-prop outdrive. This is $16,437 less than the MSRP of the 220 with the 5.0L Volvo Penta Duoprop. A Cobalt spokesman said this price will be in effect by the time you read this. But who knows for how long? I wouldn’t wait too long to check it out; if you hurry, you might discover you can afford the quality of Cobalt.