The CS3 is the first in a new series of boats unlike any Cobalt you’ve ever seen.
One glance at Cobalt’s new CS3 told me something was up. Then it hit me: The silhouette is totally different from any other Cobalt. Toward the stern, the shearline swoops down dramatically to the ultra-low swim platform, like it’s imploring passengers to get into the water.
Another first on a sub-24-foot Cobalt are the dual stern walkthroughs into the cockpit. They create an island sunpad between them, a feature more commonly found on yachts such as the A40 Coupe. And this is really at the heart of what Cobalt does: build yacht-like boats no matter the LOA. The swim platform itself sits right at water level, just like on a tournament ski boat, but it goes one better with its Flip-Down Swim Step, which is a wide step that flips down into the water, making reboarding from the water easier and creating a great submerged doublewide seat. For the first time, this patented feature is standard across the board for Cobalt. The dual-walkthrough setup is especially good for kids, because it seems like they are always in and out of the water, and two walkthroughs prevent human logjams. To increase tanning square footage on the sunpad, optional cushions can be installed on either side.
What’s underneath the sunpad is pretty impressive. Sterndrive engine compartments tend to be pretty claustrophobic, especially for mechanics. Cobalt, however, gave the engine compartment — which doubles as twin storage compartments for bulky items such as a Coast Guard kit or a deflated inflatable tube — plenty of room. Partitions flank the engine to keep stored items from touching the powerplant, but they can be removed for engine access.
Our test boat featured the new Volvo Penta 5.3L, which is the GM Gen V engine block that’s found on new Chevy Suburbans. The V8-300C engine has an all-aluminum block that substantially reduces its weight to 744 pounds (not counting the outdrive), which is more than 100 pounds lighter than the previous generation’s iron-block engine. It has a closed cooling system that uses radiator fluid to cool the engine, not salt water or raw lake water, which should help internal longevity. It features Variable Valve Timing (VVT) that retards and advances the timing, based on load, to give it great performance throughout the power curve.
Not only did the engine deliver a great holeshot that put the CS3 on plane in 2.2 seconds with very little bowrise, but its midrange acceleration allowed it to scorch from 0-30 mph in only 4.5 seconds. I most noticed its power when I jammed the throttle as we were cruising along at 30 mph; the acceleration pushed me back in the seat like a giant hand. Top speed for the 300 hp-equipped CS3 was 50.5 mph. The V8-300C comes at a $7,364 upcharge over the standard Volvo Penta V6-240C — totally worth it. For $10,456 more than the standard V-6, the 5.3L V8-350C hp version will deliver even higher speeds. MerCruiser power is also available, from the 250 hp V-6 to a V-8 that packs 350 hp.
The CS3 falls into Cobalt’s Gateway Series, which is designed to get new blood into the Cobalt family of boats at a more affordable — it starts at less than $70K — price. It’s also geared for the younger first-time owner who is into watersports. But new boaters find trimming the outdrive a challenge and more experienced hands see it as one more chore to constantly be micromanaged. To solve this, Volvo Penta uses Power Trim Assist (PTA) to automatically trim the outdrive, to constantly maintain the proper attitude. I didn’t have to trim down first to make sure it didn’t blow out; I just cranked the wheel and it responded with a really crisp arc.
The hull features an extended running surface, which makes it ride like a larger boat through the chop, while reverse chines add lift and knock down spray. It has a sharp entry, with 20 degrees of deadrise at the stern, for good slicing action. And despite being one of Cobalt’s more affordable boats, it has a Kevlar-reinforced hull that features eight layers of hand-laid sheets of fiberglass that overlap at the keel.
The CS3 is designed for active owners who want to go skiing, tubing and wakeboarding, in addition to more leisurely activities. Our test boat had the forward-leaning white powder-coated aluminum tower that’s a reasonable $6,926. And unlike most towers’ skimpy Bimini tops, this color-coordinated one, which matched our boat’s bottom gelcoat, cast a vast shadow. An in-floor ski locker and optional tower racks can accommodate an arsenal of boards. The seating is great for ski spectating, with a portside lounger that has a convertible backrest that forms a rear-facing recliner when it’s not supporting the forward-facing copilot’s back. The cockpit feels larger than most near-24-footers, and it’s not an illusion, because the helm-forward design doth taketh away some bowrider chaise lounge stretching-out room. But it does have a really wide aft-facing seat for wakeboard watching. Another reason for the open feeling is Cobalt’s Free Space Reclamation (FSR), which took space that wasn’t usable for people, such as the area underneath the wide gunwales’ overhang, narrowed them and, voila, created more people room.
The CS3, despite being one of Cobalt’s more affordable boats, comes with at least 20 standard features that are usually options, including the leather-wrapped six-spoke wheel, stainless steel bow plate and windshield header, compass, hour- meter and 40-ounce snap-in carpeting. The upholstery is a new pattern but still uses the high-end 32-ounce vinyl found on its yacht’s cockpits and Varadense foam that is softer in spots for comfort and firmer where more support is called for.
The option list is extensive, but the standard boat is well-loaded, so really only a handful are necessary. If watersports are in the picture, Zero Off GPS cruise control ($1,713) helps keep a steady pull going. For a little extra pizzazz, two- and three-color gelcoat options ($919 and $1,837) are available in eight colors that you can mix and match. A cockpit table is a must, and there’s a large one with dedicated storage for $1,020. At the helm, which is pure Cobalt with a hand-stitched eyebrow and a leather-wrapped wheel, our test boat had the optional Garmin 741 touchscreen GPS ($2,163). Finally, a great sound system is necessary, and the Kicker upgrade with a subwoofer is $1,855.