This year, Manitou doubles the fun quotient with its first twin-outboard X-Plode XT.
Every year, we test Manitou pontoons, and while we never know what the reps will show up with, it’s usually something memorable that evinces some serious attitude. Even knowing this, we were unprepared for the sight of the 25 X-Plode XT SHP, positively aglow in neon green with twin color-matching Evinrude E-TEC G2 300 hp engines.
The overarching color scheme is part of Evinrude’s practice of working with a builder to create a brand-specific color all its own, aka the “Hero Package.” Some builders choose a more conservative hue, but Manitou selected the far end of the flash spectrum, to give owners the ultimate check-it-out color. Officially known as Metallic Lime Green, it’s actually a high-end automotive paint. Even more unique is the all-fiberglass “fencing,” which is sculpted and rounded off in the corners. The sides have a center panel for contrasting grayscale graphics that really makes its appearance pop. The bow gate, helm accents and grabrails are billet aluminum and add a special touch.
The optional Sport Tower ($9,250) is decked out in the Hero Package livery and lowers electronically. It does move slower than the grocery story line on double-coupon day, taking 73 seconds to drop, and it could drop even farther with longer rams, but it sure beats manual labor. The interior on our test boat matched the green-with-envy theme, and included white and gray panels. The dark gray sections stayed cool despite the sun’s beat-down thanks to a fabric-like vinyl texture that diffuses light. Three other interior color options are available, for owners not enamored of the green scheme.
Anyone who thinks pontoons are for the adventure-adverse has never experienced the thrill of having 600 hp controlled by twin drive-by-wire throttles in the palm of his hand. Are twin 300s overkill on a 26-foot, 8-inch pontoon? Sure. But part of the fun of owning a model like this is making a bold statement. Granted, this is a pretty heavy pontoon — it weighs 4,310 pounds and has a 13-passenger capacity — but honestly, the single-engine version of this model is impressive. A couple of years ago, we tested a similar Manitou powered by a single Suzuki DF250 SS, and it accelerated to 30 mph in 7.6 seconds and reached a top speed of 48.7 mph.
The 600 hp version is a tad quicker. Direct-injected two strokes such as the Evinrude E-TEC G2 and Mercury OptiMax may have a bit of a hesitation at takeoff, but it’s fleeting. Once the whip was cracked and the engines were fully awake, the Manitou leaped on plane in 2.4 seconds and reached 30 mph in just four seconds, which was one of the fastest times we recorded all year. Its velocity peaked at 61.4 mph, which is fast enough to smoke most of the boats on a given lake. But even at this speed, the 25 X-Plode XT was very stable and easy to handle, thanks to its SHP (Sport Handling Tubes) three-tube setup. Surprisingly, the price difference between a pair of G2 300 Evinrudes and 250s is only $2,375, so going max is a no-brainer.
The SHP tube package for the dual-engine 25 XT includes an oversized 27-inch center tube that’s mounted such that it is 5¼ inches lower than the 25-inch outer tubes, whereas the single-engine model has 23-inch outers and a 27-inch center log that also bottoms out 5¼ inches lower than its neighbors. This patented arrangement mimics a V-hull and delivers extraordinary turning capabilities. Manitou pontoons, unlike many other brands, actually turn sharper with a little up-trim that breaks the ultra-sharp Barracuda nosecones free of the water during aggressive maneuvers. The nosecones have three horizontal stiffeners on both sides that make them stronger, to better withstand higher speeds and choppy conditions.
Unconventionally, both sides of all three tubes feature positive-angle lifting strakes, which normally would cause the outer tubes’ outer strakes to push back in turns and keep the boat flat, but with the larger center tube mounted so much lower, this doesn’t happen. And all that lift helped our test boat ride higher in the water for better seakeeping and contributed to its tremendous time to 30 mph.
An overlooked aspect of pontooning is low-speed handling and docking, which can be a problem due to a pontoon’s higher windage. No matter how challenging the situation, however, a Manitou pontoon equipped with the optional I-Dock Joystick steering system can handle it. The unit, a rebranded SeaStar Solutions Optimus 360 system that isn’t cheap at $16,000, delivers unparalleled maneuverability and allows the driver to perform maneuvers such as walking the pontoon directly sideways. It is the only such system that is retrofit-ready and includes features such as a Boost button that delivers more oomph if the wind is howling.
The Manitou 25 X-Plode XT isn’t just for blazing along at top speed, though it does have a great chaise lounge in all quadrants and a companion captain’s chair that lock passengers in nicely when the boat is underway. But what makes the lounges in the rear unique are the middle sections that can flip rearward to create forward-facing, feet-on-the-deck stern club seats that sit opposite the rear-facing club seats that were created at the same time — and they include power seatback adjustment. For dining or playing cards, each chaise has a cockpit table that mounts between the seats, on the gunwale for more unencumbered legroom.
With or without the Sport Tower, the 25 X-Plode XT is a ski boat, and Manitou engineers used the space between the outboards wisely. They fashioned a stainless steel tow bar that extends rearward to put the tow rope behind the outboards and still had enough room to install a four-step boarding ladder that allows people in the water to climb aboard between the twin supports of the tow bar. The tower delivers a tall tow point and a structure on which to hang coffee can speakers ($1,875). Even if skiing isn’t number one on the hit parade, the optional centerline locker ($1,500) makes a great place to store many items besides skis.
As you can imagine, a top-of-the-line boat with twin 300s from a premium builder isn’t a “price” boat. The smallest engines offered for the dual-engine setup are 150s from Evinrude, Yamaha, Suzuki and Honda. The starting price with twin Evinrude E-TEC G2 150 hp outboards is $127,389, but buyers can get it equipped with a single G2 300 hp for $108,099, so I’d recommend the big single instead of minimum twin power, unless the joystick is a must. As mentioned, the price difference between Evinrude 250s and 300s is negligible, so go big.
The main choices begin with flooring. Carpet is standard. Simulated teak is available in several colors ($2,113) as is woven vinyl called Luna ($1,575), whose snap-in version is slightly less expensive ($1,300). Other than the arch, a filler sectional for the bow gate, a ski mirror ($438), a portable Ottoman ($750) and a ski mirror ($438) are mandatory. Our test helm was loaded with goodies such as a 7-inch Evinrude I-CON smart screen ($1,875). One thing that doesn’t need tweaking is the 800-watt, six-speaker JL Audio Bluetooth stereo with a subwoofer.