The new Z20 is Nitro’s state-of-the-art tournament boat at an affordable price.
A lot of times when a boat builder replaces a really popular model, it doesn’t stray too far from what made the model successful, but Nitro didn’t stick to that script when it decided to replace its Z8. The designers basically shook the Etch-a-Sketch and created a bassin’ wagon called the Z20, which is new from the keel up.
While the outward dimensions of the Z20 are similar to the Z8 — it’s one inch longer and still 8 feet wide — the most startling difference is best viewed head-on. The hull looks unlike anything we’ve seen before. Nitro calls it the NVT Hull (Nitro Vortex Technology), and instead of traditional strakes, it has a series of parabolic curves, which look and act differently, but more on that later.
The overall theme of the Z20 is more: as in storage, comfort and refinement. Its overall dry weight is 100 pounds more, at an even one ton. Curiously, however, a couple of things shrank, including the maximum allowable four-passenger weight, which went from 850 pounds to 600 pounds, but bass anglers usually travel in twos or threes, so that’s really not a big deal. The other feature that got smaller is the gas tank, which went from 68 gallons to 55.
I could tell something was different when I shifted the Mercury 250 OptiMax Pro XS in gear for the first time. Gone was the really loud clunk I was used to hearing, replaced by a much quieter snick, which was the new Flo-Torq SSR (Soft Shift Rubber) HD hub at work on the Torque Master lower unit. The hub itself is solid stainless steel but has a bonded rubber drive sleeve that cushions the gear’s engagement. The new hull still features Nitro’s Rapid Planing System (RPS), which has a notch at the transom and a stepped transom, giving the prop less disturbed water, for a better prop bite — and it really works. Normally, bass boats pop a stern-squatting bow wheelie and take a while to get on plane, but the new NVT and the RPS designs work really well together. After I stomped on the optional Hot Foot accelerator, there was very little bowrise and the boat reached plane in just 3 seconds. Time to 30 mph was a quick 7.4 seconds, and when we trimmed the Mercury 250 up and aired out the hull to reduce wetted surface, the Z20 was nearly flying at 74 mph.
Bass boats aren’t normally known for their turning ability, and I’ve been scared by a few that caught chines and turned hyper-violently, which is why I always wear a kill switch and a life jacket when driving one. But hard turns with the Z20’s NVT hull are different. Taking progressively harder turns, with the trim down, I discovered I could really crank it hard over, because the event was predictable and very smooth. At high speeds, it was very stable, even with very little hull in the water. One of the coolest attributes of the NVT hull is that when it comes off plane suddenly, water doesn’t go rushing into the splashwell or onto the rear deck, thanks to its anti-backwash stern design. It’s also designed to deliver a drier ride by knocking down spray.
On test day at Table Rock Lake, not far from where Nitros are built in Springfield, Mo., the water was unusually placid, so we couldn’t tell how the new hull would fare in rough water. Like its predecessor, the Z20 has 16 degrees of deadrise, which is more than most other bass boats and should provide a smooth ride.
While the alpha dogs on tour might be using the Z21, a lot of club anglers and avid bass fishermen will use the Z20. It’s designed for efficiency and long days of fishing with features such as the anti-fatigue pad on its casting decks. The gunwale is lower this year to help anglers more easily swing a fish aboard or pitch a lure. Twin rod boxes set into the front deck can hold up to 10 8-foot rods, and the centerline tackle locker in between is big enough to hold a steamer trunk. All three compartments include a fan, to help dry wet gear. Twin storage compartments on the rear deck have lift-out bins for ease of transporting and loading gear. The passenger seats are a vast improvement over the old overstuffed buckets; they are actually designed with a NASCAR flair, in collaboration with legendary driver Tony Stewart, who drives the Bass Pro Shops number 14 Chevy. Twin 19-gallon livewells are among the best in the business and have rounded rotomolded edges and baffles to keep bass from sloshing around. A handy pull-out ruler is nearby for convenience. A much larger cooler is under the step-up to a front deck that has a sandwich bin and a trash can.
The option plan for the Z20 is pretty easy. Serious bass anglers need only select one box on the options list: the Pro High Performance Package. While it does raise the price by $8,000, it saves $3,800 off the normal upgrade cost, and Tracker’s No-Haggle, No-Hassle national pricing for this boat starts at just $38,995 with a trailer and a 200 hp OptiMax. Our test boat did not have the Pro upgrade, and several deficiencies were immediately apparent, such as the outdated Lowrance Mark 5-X Pro fishfinder, a 5-inch grayscale display set into a space at the helm designed for a 12-inch screen (looking as out of place as an 8-track tape player on a new Cadillac CTS-V). The Pro upgrade includes two state-of-the-art Lowrance HDS 9 Gen 3 touchscreen GPS/fishfinders, a Power-Pole shallow-water anchoring system, a four-bank battery charger with an extra battery, a Hot Foot accelerator, a Pro-Trim lever, a factory-applied Keel Guard, a remote oil fill, an automatic bilge pump and a HydroWave, which is something we’ve never seen before. It’s an electronic fish attractor, which draws fish to the boat like the Pied Piper by simulating a variety of sounds, such as a school of baitfish being savaged by predators. The only other upgrades needed are bumping the electronics displays up to 12-inchers and going with the Mercury OptiMax Pro XS 250 ($4,300). Lock and load.