Author: Alan Jones
Qwest made its reputation by delivering pontoons that are small in size but large in features, comfort and versatility. But most Qwest models have been powered by smaller outboards or electric motors, so they tend to cruise in the right lane of pontooning. For 2012, Qwest flicks the turn signal and eases into the passing lane with the LS 818 XRE Cruise, a three-tube pontoon with enough zip to go skiing or high-speed tubing without having to power it with an engine that could push a river barge.
Our test Qwest shows off its style with new, fully radiused front corners that give it a sleek, clean look along with a platinum silver finish and tasteful graphics. With a wide-for-its-length 8-foot beam, interior space is maximized and, unlike other pontoons in the compact niche, the Qwest LS (Luxury Series) provides a more upscale look with 33-ounce Soft Touch X-Panded Back vinyl, which features softer foam underneath that carries a warranty for the lifetime of the boat. To prevent the under-seat storage compartments from becoming biology experiments after wet life jackets are tossed in and allowed to simmer, Qwest leaves the bottom vented to promote airflow and puts a pad at the bottom that lets water through but suspends items above the deck, to keep them dry.
When you see a Honda 90 outboard on the transom bracket, your performance expectations might be low. But, much like when you decided that jumping onto the Facebook IPO at $38 a share was a good idea, you would be wrong. Armed with the Fusion Triple Tube high-performance package — which gives you three 23-inch tubes that have lifting strakes on both sides of all three tubes, as well as an aluminum underskin to reduce drag — the LS 818 XRE Cruise has tremendous lift out of the hole. That lift allows the relatively small Honda BF 90 — an outboard with some pedigree, being the building block for the sporty Fit automobile — to be the little engine that could. Using BLAST technology, which advances the spark when you jam the throttle quickly for additional punch out of the hole, the boat leaps on plane in just 2.6 seconds and reaches 20 mph in 5.3 seconds. Top speed is a brisk 34.6 mph. Need more? The LS 818 XRE is rated for up to 115 hp, which should net an additional 3 or 4 mph, and would be a good choice if you plan to tow adult skiers.
A smart standard feature with the Fusion Triple Tube package is the SeaStar hydraulic steering system, rather than the usual cable setup you see on pontoons with less than 150 hp. So when you spin a 180 to pick up a downed skier, you can crank the boat around in a hard turn easily. Because it has lifting strakes on the outside of the tubes, the Qwest corners flat but stays hooked up very well. That extra bit of lift you get from the six lifting strakes helps the 818 ride high in the water for better seaworthiness, something not usually associated with compact pontoons. To further reduce the chance of submarining in large cruiser wakes and windborne waves, large splash caps on the front of the outside tubes offer additional lift. Because the 18-foot, 4-inch center tube is positioned farther back, in order to create the engine bracket, it pushes the LOA to 20 feet and helps it perform like a bigger boat.
There isn’t much the 818 isn’t capable of doing. The stern is well designed for fishing with a pair of angler chairs in each rear corner. The giant all-purpose table makes a great place to rig your equipment, measure fish on the built-in ruler or clean the catch. There’s even a pair of Plano-style tackle boxes built into the sunpad bulkhead just in front of the fishing station. The livewell is around the corner underneath the cockpit’s L-lounge, which may not seem ideal, but it will give you time to reconnect with those on board who only want to see their fish on a plate at a restaurant. Twin recliner couches forward of the fishing station allow passengers to lie back and catch the sights or catch up on their trashy summer novels.
If the fish aren’t biting and the kids are champing at the bit for some action, the LS 818 shifts seamlessly into skiing mode. Our test boat is optioned with a tall, well-anchored ski tow bar that keeps the tow line above the Honda. The boat is light, with a dry weight of 1,750 pounds, but the weight is spread over three tubes, creating a flattish wake that is ideal for slaloming. You can beef up the wake a bit for junior wakeboarding by shifting passenger weight aft and trimming up at 20 mph, but the kids will have to learn to explode off the mini wake, which is not necessarily a bad thing while learning. If riding on a tube is your kids’ cup of Sunny D, the LS 818 is a perfect candidate for towing. If you remove the twin fishing seats, you create enough space in the stern area to stow your Macy’s parade-like inflatable vertically, keeping it out of the cockpit.
The Qwest LS 818 XRE Cruise comes fully loaded with upscale features such as the JBL MP3 stereo with an iPod docking station and upgraded Infinity speakers, which gets the party vibe rolling. This rig is so easy to tow and launch you’ll definitely want the Float-On trailer option for taking your Qwest on the road. The LS 818 has a small 12-gallon external fuel tank, which is convenient for reloading at local gas stations but limits your range if cruising is your thing. There’s room for an optional 18-gallon external tank, which would be a good upgrade, but a larger internal tank in the center tube would be ideal. Adding the ski tow bar is a must for engaging in watersports and helps make the 818 the ultimate in compact pontoon versatility.