Author: Alan Jones
One of the toughest tasks for pontoon designers is carving out a recognizable look that will separate their boats from the competition. To add to the degree of difficulty, many pontoon builders have been upping their game by offering more creature comforts and functionality. It’s a tough time to be a pontoon designer but a great time to be a pontoon buyer.
For 2013, Lowe’s pontoon division has busted way outside the box with some unique styling schemes. This season, we tested a Lowe X-Series pontoon that had a bad-to-the-bone black-and-white skull motif that looked like it would be more at home on a custom Harley than a pontoon. When have you ever seen a pontoon boat with that sort of attitude? But our test boat, the Platinum 23 Luxury Cruise, takes its styling cues from an entirely different direction, with an eye-catching rich-looking black-and-gold two-tone fence scheme. The exterior has few horizontal rails, creating an uncluttered appearance that has become one of Lowe’s signature pontoon looks this year.
Another area that’s been totally revamped is the helm. Last year, the dash on the Platinum Series models seemed rather “pontoony” and looked like many others I’ve seen: very functional but pretty basic. This year, captains gaze at a flat-black automotive-style dash with chrome-bezeled gauges and flush-mounted push-button accessory switches that radiate modernity. The only misfire was the overly chromed Gussi Italian sport wheel, which felt great in my hands but seemed to reflect the high-noon sun, so there was always a glint aimed at my eyes. It’s nothing a simple leather wrap can’t fix. Lowe upgraded the stereo to the Fusion system, which is one of my favorites for its robust build, water resistance and excellent sound quality. (Fusion is the sole marine-only stereo company in the industry.) It has a docking station for an iPod and an MP3 port for other players.
It seems every pontoon builder uses the same supplier for the ubiquitous molded-plastic flying saucer cockpit table. The designers at Lowe said it’s time for something new, and the builder illustrated its commitment to upgraded components with a new plexiglass cockpit table from Metal Moulding. It is shaped like a surfboard and has four chromed wire cupholders in the center. The table design made the short list at the NMMA Innovation Awards at the most recent IBEX Convention, which is where boat builders shop for boat components. I was one of the judges in that contest, and we loved the table’s unique design and function. And its wholesale price isn’t cheap, which lets me know Lowe is committed to choosing only the best features for its pontoons.
Our test pontoon features the optional XL Performance Package, which gives you a third 25-inch-diameter tube that sits 1½ inches lower than the outer logs. Lowering the center tube creates a pivot point for better cornering and keeps the outer tubes riding higher in the water, for less drag. The XL setup includes the Rough Water Package, which comes with an aluminum underskin, spray deflectors and lifting strakes, to improve holeshots and achieve better performance when water conditions get lumpy.
Our test pontoon sports a Mercury OptiMax Pro XS 250 on the transom bracket, giving it a Spinal Tap-like turn-it-up-to-11 attitude. The direct-injected two-stroke outboard delivered a kick-in-the-seat-of-the-pants holeshot that pushed the Platinum 23 on plane in just 2.7 seconds and to 30 mph in 6.2 seconds. Top speed was a brisk 52 mph as we hit 5900 rpm. Although the Pro XS delivers the goods, it’s pretty loud, measuring 96 decibels at wide-open throttle. A better fit for this luxury pontoon might be an ultra-quiet Mercury Verado four-stroke engine, which gives you the option to include a drive-by-wire shift and throttle.
The XL Performance Package makes the Platinum 23 feel more like a sportboat than a stately pontoon used solely for leisurely cruising. To demonstrate its cornering ability, I trimmed the bow up to reduce the wetted surface before performing a series of hard turns. Going to the left, the Lowe banked a fair amount as it carved a sharp, controlled turn. Owing to prop torque, when I turned to the right, it still turned sharply and accurately but stayed more level. It experienced a slight amount of porpoising as it neared the ¼-trim mark, but we were able to accelerate through it and achieve a stable running attitude. The Platinum 23 rides high in the water and would make a good pontoon for large bodies of water.
The huge, optional forward-swept ski tow bar is available only when you order the XL Package. The bar indicates the Platinum 23 is ready for watersports action, and it gives the pontoon’s appearance some additional attitude. The roomy rear deck on our test boat makes it easy to board and stage watersports. For owners who have giant inflatable toys, the area between the ski tow and the rear fence makes a great place to tuck the toys for transport. The rear deck is covered in faux teak, which not only looks nautically nice but offers better-than-wood traction for wet feet. There’s a huge centerline ski locker that can hold the entire arsenal and a pop-up changing room, complete with a vanity mirror, under the abbreviated sunpad in the stern. Reboarding is easy with the help of an extra-wide four-step ladder with swimming pool-style grabrails.
Plush overstuffed furniture is clad in soft-touch upholstery and features multidensity foam for the perfect blend of comfort and support. The twin chaise lounges in front have more recline than most others and will likely lead to an extended power nap. As its name implies, the Platinum 23 Cruise makes a great cruiser, especially when equipped with the XL Package, which gives you a 50-gallon fuel tank for more range.
To fully unleash the Platinum 23 Cruise’s potential, pair the XL Package with an engine of at least 200 hp. Of course, your engine will be black, because Lowe is under the umbrella of Brunswick, which also makes Mercury outboards. A good mid-level engine choice would be a Verado 200, a four-cylinder that weighs 125 pounds less than the six-cylinder 225 hp Verado.
If you won’t often pack the max passenger load the Platinum 23 is rated for — a baker’s dozen — you have the option of adding a pair of captain’s chairs on the port side. The optional stereo with performance speakers and a subwoofer ups the festivity factor. You’ll definitely shed your footwear when coming aboard, so you can sink your toes into the plush 32-ounce carpeting. To maximize snacking display space, adding a second cockpit table in the bow is the way to go.