If you thought you couldn’t afford a Sea Ray, think again.
A few years ago, Sea Ray came out with entry-level sub-20-foot models that were considerably less expensive than anything the builder had produced of late, but they were pretty spartan, lacking many of the things that make the brand special. The new SPX line is a reboot of Sea Ray’s entry-level line but with enough panache to make owners feel firmly ensconced into “the family.” How affordable are they? The 21 SPX has a published Smart Start price of just $37,495, including a trailer, which is usually an option with Sea Ray. To further blur the line between Sea Ray’s lines, the SPX can be upgraded to the Select Series, as our test boat was, which includes upscale upholstery, wood grain finish accents at the dash, stainless steel components and LED lighting, for an additional $4,600.
The Smart Start price includes the 220 hp MerCruiser 4.3L engine, which is a Gen IV Vortec V-6 block that GM is discontinuing for its pickup truck fleet in 2016, replacing it with the Gen V EcoTec3. Our test boat, however, featured MerCruiser’s all-new 250 hp 4.5L block, an all-MerCruiser design with zero GM parts. Because the new engine started on a blank computer screen, MerCruiser was able to eliminate some annoying features that were the result of marinizing a car engine, including the placement of the throttle body, which produces a sucking sound when air and fuel rush toward the combustion chamber. Autos have the engine in front of the passengers, while boat engines are behind them, so MerCruiser repositioned the throttle body to face rearward. To further quiet it, there’s an anti-whistle plate. Service points on a car, such as the oil filter, are usually geared for mechanics who will put a car on a lift and work beneath it, so the new 4.5L has most service items on top and in front for easy DIY maintenance.
But the real difference is in the 4.5L’s performance, which surpasses the larger, heavier, more powerful 5.0L V-8 in out-of-the-hole performance. Even with a one-prop Alpha One outdrive, the 21 SPX hooked up well and got on plane in 3.2 seconds. Midrange snap from the 250 horsies was excellent, and our test Sea Ray hit 30 mph in 8 seconds. Top speed for the 3,400-pound boat with a full 8-foot, 6-inch beam was a surprisingly fast 51.6 mph, which was about 5 mph faster than I would have guessed. Another cool feature of the new-gen MerCruiser engine is Adaptive Speed Control (ASC), which maintains engine rpm, even during hard turns, without any extra input from the driver.
Some observers might assume the 21 SPX is a rebranded 210 SLX, but the boats do not share the same hull. The 21 SPX is six inches longer and three inches wider and features a slightly flatter hull — 19 degrees of deadrise instead of 21 degrees for the 210 SLX. The bow section on the 21 SPX is wider and has a rear-facing center seat for more passenger room. Both models were sold in 2015, but for the 2016 model year, the more expensive 21 SLX has been discontinued. To summarize, the newer, less expensive, lighter model (by 242 pounds) is a bigger boat with a flatter hull, so its side-to-side stability is enhanced. But being wider, flatter and lighter also means its ride when conditions get rougher isn’t as Cadillac-like as with the 210 SLX. Cornering on the new model was excellent, and I was able to turn the wheel all the way to its stops without it blowing out. Straight-line handling at its minimum plane speed of 15 mph all the way to top speed was very good. While the 210 SLX was a more luxurious boat, when all things are taken into account, I think the 21 SPX is a better all-around boat.
The 21 SPX has a whopping 12-passenger capacity, which is more than most in this class (two more than the 210 SLX), and because of its seating arrangement, there’s a place for everyone to sit. The L-lounge in the stern wraps behind the captain’s bucket, which has a cooler beneath it. And instead of a companion captain’s bucket, which is the norm for sub-22-foot bowriders, to port there is a convertible bench seat for three. On the downside, to maximize seating, Sea Ray didn’t include a true rear-facing chaise recliner, although the coaming pad wraps around to the port console to create an abbreviated backrest. You can recline facing forward on this bench, but instead of a full backrest there’s a removable back pad that could use a bit more recline. On the plus side, it can be repositioned in the center of the bench and the forward seat bottom can be removed to create a forward-facing club seat. Flip the backrest around, and you have a rear-facing ski spotter seat.
There’s an outboard version, called the 21 SPX OB, which will appeal to coastal users, but buyers who are into skiing will probably opt for the sterndrive version. Both models have a large sunpad for lounging, which converts into a three-wide aft-facing jump seat by flipping up the forward half. The swim platform on the sterndrive model is larger than the one on the OB, but even the OB one is bigger than the platforms on most comparable outboard-powered boats.
There are three engine options available: a 4.3L 220 hp model, the 200 hp version of the 4.5L MPI ECT and the one you should actually get, the 4.5L MPI ECT with 250 hp. It comes at a $2,667 upcharge over the standard 200 hp engine and a $1,600 bump over the 4.3L version. There’s no factory trim tab option available, which would be useful to help keep it level, since there is more seating to port, but that oversight can be corrected at the dealer level.
A number of upgrade bundles help enhance the 21 SPX’s Sea Rayness. The Select Package in particular, with softer and more stylish upholstery, elevates it immensely. If fishing is on the agenda, the 21 SPX can be outfitted with the All Sports Package, which includes twin fishing chairs, a livewell, a trolling motor and a charger. The Elevation Package has nothing to do with your home lake’s altitude but rather references the height wakeboarders can attain with the addition of a forward-facing aluminum wakesports tower, complete with an integrated Bimini, wakeboard racks and a rearview mirror, all for $4,400. If you are getting the Elevation Package, you’ll want to add the PerfectPass speed control system for $1,367 (not available on the OB version). Elevating the perfectly adequate sound system to the premium level with subwoofer, upgraded speakers and transom remote adds $1,327 to the bottom line.