The R5 WSS Surf uses Volvo Penta’s Forward Drive to create an endless wave.
Once upon a time, if people wanted to go wakesurfing, they had to buy an inboard or V-drive boat that safely tucked the prop under the hull and out of harm’s way. But most such boats weren’t capable of cracking the 40 mph barrier, so other activities were out of the question. Surfing behind a sterndrive-powered boat was a fairy tale that was not just dangerous, it was illegal in most places. One innovation changed all that.
With a simple twist — turning the props on this dual-screw sterndrive propulsion system 180 degrees to position them safely away from the surfer — Volvo Penta’s Forward Drive blew up all the rules about wakesurfing. Taking advantage of the new technology, the Cobalt R5 WSS Surf allows sterndrive fans to experience the most popular watersport going, and the fact it’s a Cobalt makes it extra special for a number of reasons.
One of its standout features that isn’t on any other brand is a huge swim platform with the Flip-Down Swim Step. For 2017, this innovation is no longer an option but a standard feature on every sterndrive-powered boat in Cobalt’s lineup. Like the name implies, just flip down the wide step that’s recessed into the platform, and reentry from the water becomes incredibly easy, for humans and dogs. It makes a great place to sit, while it’s immersed, on toasty summer days.
Another great while-the-key-is-off feature is the Sundeck Convertible Lounger. Its flip-up backrest is set into the sunpad and creates a rumble seat for two people to sit facing aft with their feet on the SeaDek-padded swim platform. The backrest for the cockpit’s stern bench can be flipped forward to create a backrest for sunpad loungers when they want to go horizontal. And because there’s a starboard-side walkthough, guests can enter the cockpit without climbing on the beautiful white, pleated upholstery that’s supported by Varadense foam padding. The R5 is rated for 14 passengers, and there’s plenty of seating in the L-seating arrangement in the cockpit, thanks to Cobalt’s Free Space Reclamation, which maximizes interior space by reducing the width of the gunwales. Up front, the bowrider section features high gunwales for safety and chaise lounges with the perfect amount of recline.
The standard engine for the R5 WSS is a Volvo Penta 5.3L V-8 300, which seems a little small for surfing. Our test boat had the V-8 380 hp version of the 6.0L engine, which came at an $11,124 upcharge but seemed to score a bull’s-eye on the performance sweet spot. The largest available engine, the 430 hp version of the 6.0L block, adds another $10,398, which seems a little steep since it’s essentially an up-tuned version of the 380.
The twin Forward Drive props bit well during our performance test, and its out-of-the-hole performance was further enhanced by turning on Performance Mode, part of the standard, automated, computer-controlled Easy-Surf system. Jam the throttle in Performance Mode, and the surf tabs automatically deploy, whether ballast is full or empty, to help the boat get on plane quickly. During our test, this only took three seconds with little bowrise. After the boat got up to running speed, the tabs automatically retracted, and the R5 reached 30 mph in just five seconds. Top speed was a very un-surf-boat-like 50 mph.
Another benefit of the Forward Drive system is that the boat’s pivot point is moved slightly forward, which helps it turn faster and harder — to the point where drivers should take it easy the first few times they go for a max-performance turn, until they get the hang of it. It’s particularly responsive during docking maneuvers, which came in handy when I docked the boat in a tight slip against a stiff crosswind. A lot of ski boats will beat passengers up in a chop thanks to their relatively flat-bottomed hulls, but that’s not an issue with the R5. Its extended running surface features a sharp entry and 21 degrees of deadrise at the stern. A useful Volvo Penta feature is the Power Trim Assist (PTA), which keeps the boat trimmed properly at all speeds.
When Surf is in the name of a boat, its primary mission becomes pretty obvious, but that’s not this boat’s only trick. With 2,100 pounds of ballast spread over three hard tanks, added to the boat’s dry weight of 4,880 pounds, the R5 has the heft to plow up a decent surfing wake on either side. And you can switch sides quickly without heeling far over, thanks to the surf tabs. As one would expect, the wake isn’t as huge and doesn’t have quite as much push as the wake put out by V-drive surf boats that can have more than double the ballast, but it’s certainly large enough to easily get the job done. Thanks to the Forward Drive system’s twin, counter-rotating props, the R5’s wakeboard wake is very symmetrical and well-formed, something that can be an issue with single-prop propulsion systems, due to prop torque.
The list of standard features is impressive. It begins with a Zero Off cruise control system that’s GPS-based for accuracy. The driver can set the speed, advance the throttle all the way and then concentrate on steering. I drove while a surfer was doing his thing, and I found it really easy to hold the intended line with no hint of wallowing, which can happen on some boats when going 10 to 12 mph. We found the wake to be crisper when we carved a slight arc to the side of the boat the surfer was on. The R5 WSS Surf comes standard with a wakesports tower with Samson board racks for surfboards and wakeboards and a decent-sized integrated Bimini shade. For tubing and slaloming, a screw-in ski pylon delivers a lower tow point.
Cobalt is a premium brand, and the price of the R5 WSS Surf reflects such status. It costs $147,887 with the Volvo Penta V-8 380, but that’s for a boat loaded with standard features such as an automotive helm that features a glass cockpit complete with a touchscreen Garmin 7607 GPS/chartplotter and a JL Audio Bluetooth stereo system that has six speakers and a helm remote. Our test boat had the premium stereo upgrade, which includes a subwoofer and a transom remote ($2,250).
Aside from an engine upgrade, only a few other options need to be added to make it perfect. There’s a yacht-like head compartment to port that comes standard with a portable toilet, but a better option is the porcelain VacuFlush pumpout head upgrade with a sink and a vanity ($1,766). If manual labor isn’t your thing, there’s a windlass option ($4,211). Standard flooring is neoprene-backed 40-ounce snap-in carpeting, but Sea Grass is a $1,599 upgrade. For your après ski snacking pleasure, order the stern dinette table and filler cushion option ($513).