Author: BW Staff
A couple of years ago, Sea-Doo came out with the 210 Challenger SE, which gave boaters an entirely new take on jet-boat ride and comfort, and with twin 215 hp Rotax engines, its performance was off the hook. But for some, it cost a little more than they could afford, so Sea-Doo went back to the drawing board and performed a “motor-ectomy,” reducing twin engines to one. But the real challenge in the resulting 210 Challenger S was to keep it sporty enough to be worthy of the Sea-Doo name.
One of the features that has made the Challenger family such a hit with boaters is the room created by the compact, yet powerful, 1.5L Rotax engines, which can be tweaked with supercharging to create lots of power for their size. The result is a near-21-foot boat with a seating capacity of 10, which is a few more than usual, and unlike the early days of this sportboat genre, the seats are more than glued-down stadium cushions.
Because this is a helm-forward design that creates a huge cockpit, there’s not a lot of legroom for forward-facing bowriders. But what Sea-Doo didn’t do, contrary to most other builders with reduced bow space, is skimp on the backrest angle to create more legroom. So, while a 6-footer might have to bend his knees to recline, the backrest angle is chaise-lounge perfect instead of secretary-straight.
So when Sea-Doo removed 50 percent of its engines from the 210 SE, it halved the fun, right? No way. For one thing, instead of having twin 215 hp, normally aspirated engines, it has a single supercharged powerplant with a huge intercooler that pumps up the horsepower to 260. The only downside is that mid-grade premium (91 octane) is the preferred fuel, although it will run OK on regular gas. The thrill factor is still present when you jam the throttle. The 210 S reaches plane in 3.3 seconds with virtually no bowrise (much like the twin-powered SE) and attains a cruising speed of 30 mph in 6.6 seconds. Top speed is 43.3 mph (at 7800 rpm), which is slightly more than 11 mph slower than the 430 hp SE model we tested. But on the plus side, you’ll save $7,200 by going solo, and maintenance costs will be lower.
Thrill seekers will be pleased to know that when you crank the wheel hard over, you can still provoke squeals of delight — even from grown men, which is frankly a little embarrassing. Because the 161 mm axial-flow jet pump is placed lower when compared to twins, it’s more efficient. And when you turn the boat, the jet’s lower placement helps keep it in the water, so while your speed does bleed off in high-speed turns, it’s a gradual and controlled bleed.
People who remember getting beat to a pulp in older jet-propelled boats when cruising in seas more than 6 inches will be pleasantly surprised by the Challenger 210’s ride. A 21-degree deadrise allowed us to easily slice through the nasty chop on the St. Lawrence Seaway near Montreal. Although you can’t trim a jet-propelled boat, our level ride angle seemed ideal for wave busting. In fact, not having trim might be a plus, since many people instinctively trim the bow up too far and expose the hull bottom to more pounding.
When “regular” boaters dock a jet-propelled boat for the first time, it is often worthy of a viral YouTube moment. Many boaters assume they’re having trouble because of the perception that jet boats are inherently harder to dock. Actually, they are more maneuverable but different. The key is to remember that the bow will go in the direction you turn the wheel, no matter if you are in forward or reverse. The reverse maneuver result is the opposite of what happens with a sterndrive or outboard, which confuses people. The other problem is that the Rotax power tends to come on hard and fast, which is not what you want for docking, so Sea-Doo created Docking Mode, which cuts the max rpm approximately in half but spreads it over the entire throw of the lever’s travel for finer control.
The 210 S is well suited for cruising and entertaining, with features such as an MP3 stereo, a removable cooler and a standard table that can be deployed in the cockpit, the bow or even at the transom, which is made more comfortable by backrest pads. For cooler days, a clear bifold dam between the cockpit and bow section and the full-size windshield effectively seal off the wind.
Although the S is less pricey than the SE model, Sea-Doo still provides you with some bells, such as the drive-by-wire Intelligent Throttle Control (ITC), which includes Eco Mode, stretching your fuel to the max. It also has cruise control to let you set your pace.
The cruise-control feature helps make it a competent ski boat, although the driver will need to practice holeshots to get the perfect amount of acceleration. The SE version has Ski Mode, which allows you to automatically control the rate of acceleration.
An in-floor ski locker opens lengthwise and is assisted by a hydraulic ram. At the stern is a huge wet locker for storing towropes and dripping ski jackets, or it can become a cooler for swim parties.
The single-engine 210 S comes with a removable ski pylon and ski-tow eye, but if skiing is your passion, Sea-Doo has other 210 models that might be a better fit, although they aren’t available with a single engine. The 210 Sport features a fold-down wakeboard tower, and the 210 Wake has a tower with speakers and board racks, along with 600-pound-capacity ballast tanks for launching. With additional standard features such as the convertible Transat stern seats, the price of these more upscale models is pushed into the low- to mid-$40s.
Despite the low price, the 210 Challenger S is by no means a stripped-down model. Its $32,499 price tag includes a dual-axle trailer, snap-in carpeting, a Bimini top and a compass. Only a few options are needed to load it for bear. Although the bow is low enough for you to hop off at the beach, a bow boarding ladder helps you get back aboard easily. Add the full canvas cover package and upgrade to the galvanized trailer if you will be dipping it in salt water, and you’re ready for action.