The Elite 324 RS redefines luxury while keeping the price affordable.
When a boat company uses the word Elite in the name of one of its models, its credibility is on the line. Fortunately for G3, the SunCatcher Elite 324 RS demonstrates proper use of the moniker.
The Elite Series is the top of the line for this Yamaha-owned company, and the luxurious seating is the first clue to the series’ elevated status. The furniture has been newly designed for 2016. Loungers such as the twin recliner sofa up front are delightfully overstuffed and feature high seatbacks for comfort and support. At the bow, they partially curve inward and passengers can recline facing aft in comfort thanks to the small bit of recline that’s engineered into them. The true test of the quality of seating is if people would want it in their living room, and the new extra-wide club chair adjacent to the high-backed captain’s seat would really look good in front of my big-screen TV.
Most pontoon manufacturers know people like to have rear-facing seats in the stern for watching the sunset or observing the ski show. Usually, they provide a pair of recliners or one giant recliner couch, which the Elite 324 RS featured last year, but for 2016, G3 took an entirely different approach. At the stern are two club chairs scootched together — close enough for easy interaction with seatmates while still giving each person his own space. While the usual seating position for such chairs would be with one’s feet planted on the gray faux-teak deck, longer-legged passengers can still kick their feet up thanks to the stern storage bins that sit abaft.
The Elite 324 is all set for nighttime excursions with one of the most comprehensive standard lighting packages going. In addition to all the cupholders and speakers that emit a purplish-blue hue, there’s LED and rope lighting down low and available underwater lighting. It not only looks cool but makes the boat more visible to other boaters in low-light situations.
Powering our Elite 324 RS test boat was a Yamaha (no surprise there) V MAX SHO 225, which is a hot-rodded-up sibling of the F225. First, it features a whopping 4.2L of displacement, up from 3.3L over the older gen F225, then Yamaha gave it a Variable Camshaft Timing system that changes as needed to provide fantastic performance during holeshots and at mid-range and the top end. Combine the Yamaha’s snap out of the hole with the fact the 324 RS has lifting strakes on both sides of all three U-shaped 23-by-25-inch logs, and you end up with a veritable dragster out of the hole. It got on plane in only 2.1 seconds and scorched the 0-30 mph time trial in 5.3 seconds. Its speed peaked at 45.4 mph, which is pretty good for a boat with a dry weight of 3,100 pounds. The 225 represents the max power for this model, but an F200 wouldn’t be a bad choice, since it weighs the same as an F150. Dropping down to the minimum F150 does cost $5,400 less than the V MAX SHO 225, but only do it if top speeds in the mid-30s are sufficient for your needs.
Since all three tubes are identical in size and the center tube isn’t mounted lower, the ride tended to stay level, even during turns. (Pontoons with larger center tubes develop a pivot point that helps them lean in during turns.) Lifting strakes on the outside of outer tubes tend to “push back” during turns, which keeps pontoons flat during hard turns, and our test boat actually leaned outward ever so slightly. While all this might sound like a negative, the 324 RS was able to turn very well and didn’t blow out even when I turned it all the way to its stops. The six large strakes provided lots of lift to help it ride extremely high in the water. It also tended to ride bow-high, even before trimming the motor out, which can reduce drag and will come in handy when six people are riding up front during a cruiser wake crossing. The natural bow-high attitude also prevented it from bow steering, which can make a boat suddenly veer in an unintended direction. Having the bow up also helps to initiate a turn, since there’s less drag to overcome.
The 324 RS is capable of many pleasure missions. Being the most luxurious in the G3 fleet, Elite models come standard with features such as an upscale Kicker stereo system, so your social game gets off to a great start. Add in features such as the optional starboard Entertainment Center, which has plenty of counter space for snack and beverage construction and a cooler beneath, and your refreshment quotient gets bumped upward. A richly dark burlwood cockpit table is a standard feature that stylishly displays snacks and beverages.
The 324 RS is ready for watersports with a standard tall ski pylon that can be removed when not needed. The rear swim platform is huge for an outboard-powered pontoon, and there’s a newly designed four-step polished stainless steel boarding ladder. When deployed, it angles outward to assist boarders as they battle gravity to hoist themselves upward. And for peeling off wet swimsuits, a standard pop-up changing station is located in the forward port-side couch.
Merely choosing an Elite model — the 324 RS or its slightly bigger sibling, the 326 — guarantees standard features such as a flush-mounted Garmin 53 DV GPS/fishfinder at the helm that has LakeVu cartography built in. Even though the Elites don’t have the available fishing options that other G3 models have, it’s still nice to be able to see what’s below the boat in great detail. The helm is raised for better visibility, and the gauge cluster includes an hourmeter in addition to the usual suspects.
The 324 RS is so well-equipped there are few options to choose from. Get a dual-axle trailer for road trips. If your family’s ancestors hail from Scandinavia, get the forward Bimini top, to add to the shade of the standard 8-foot, 6-inch amidships top. A reflection of a hot trend is that buyers can order optional snap-in carpeting for the vinyl deck. For extra seating, in case the full allowable baker’s dozen are present, get the bow filler cushion that turns the bow into a U-lounge.