What do you get when you combine lightweight hulls with the biggest engines in the industry? A scream that can be heard all the way across the lake.
Author: Alan Jones
When you see the colors yellow and black plus the name Yamaha on one machine, you can be sure of one thing: It’s bad to the bone. Channeling the motorcycle road-racing heritage of “King” Kenny Roberts, who won three consecutive World GP championships riding a bumblebee yellow-and-black 500cc Yamaha, the builder delivers a pair of WaveRunners that have already won national championships of their own. But all racing aside, the best trick in the bag of the FZS and VXR is that they are great family personal watercraft that can both be parked in your driveway for less than the cost of one “price” boat.
The Common Bond
In addition to the striking Velocity Yellow color that’s new for 2013 (you can also get them in Deep Blue), the FZS and VXR are powered by a massive 1.8L in-line four-cylinder block that was designed from the ground up to be a marine powerplant. This bulletproof engine block is the cornerstone for the powerplants on 18 different Yamaha models — WaveRunners and award-winning sportboats. The commonality makes obtaining parts and servicing them as simple as it gets, and on the FZS and VXR, the engines are housed in generous engine bays for easy access. The 1.8L block uses dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder plus a coil-on-spark-plug ignition system that generates more spark for more thorough combustion. All Yamaha 1.8L engines are optimized to run on regular gas, even the supercharged models, which is not the industry norm. Both have a mechanical neutral in their push/pull shifter handle that has a detent for neutral to ensure you don’t start in gear. They feature a cable-free drive-by-wire throttle and have Yamaha’s Engine Management System (YEMS), which makes troubleshooting a no-brainer.
What’s the Difference?
Although both PWCs look very similar, there are a couple of fundamental differences. The VXR is the more basic of the two models and is designed to provide the maximum thrill for the least amount of money. Priced at $11,499, it uses the naturally aspirated fuel-injected High Output (HO) version of the 1.8L block, whose performance rivals supercharged motors from other manufacturers that have less displacement. To keep the price low, there are fewer features, but everything you need is here. The textured and bolstered Fastback saddle has a two-tiered design, but a third rider can easily slide aboard. The instrumentation is basic but gives you a digital readout with large numbers that display speed, while the rpm and fuel gauges are analog displays. The handlebars don’t have any sort of on-the-fly adjustability, and there’s no cruise control or trim.
The FZS features the Super High Output (SHO) version of the 1.8L engine block, which has an intercooled supercharger for the ultimate in acceleration and performance. It also has extra features not found on the VXR, such as an expanded dual-gauge cluster. To allow for riders of different sizes and a more comfortable stand-up position, the FZS has a telescoping handlebar — an industry first. The saddle is slightly different than the VXR and has three defined seat positions. Its brother in the FZ family, the FZR, is a two-seater that doesn’t have the ski tow both our test bikes are equipped with. Another major departure for the FZS is the on-the-fly trim system, which you change by twisting the left grip. A sophisticated cruise-control system also has a no-wake mode to keep the marine patrol off your case when idling. Although loaded with additional features in addition to the supercharger, the FZS is priced at an affordable $13,999.
Both have a NanoXcel hull, which is up to 25 percent lighter than comparably sized hulls. The essence of nanotechnology is to break down a substance to its smallest form and then reassemble it to create something new from the resultant material. For WaveRunners, Yamaha starts with a clay filler, which has layers so thin they are barely visible, even under magnification. The clay itself has millions of these layers, which are then separated, a process called exfoliation. The layers are then reassembled in a random overlapping manner, which increases the bonding surface of the filler thousands of times and creates a much stronger material, so less of it can be used.
So what do you get when you pair the highest displacement motors with the lightest hulls? Bulging eyes and an ear-to-ear grin that stays stuck on your face for a while. I drove the non-supercharged VXR first and wasn’t quite ready for the fury of the launch. As I impudently mashed the finger-trigger throttle all the way, I was really glad the seat had a bolster behind me, because I wasn’t ready for the arm-stretching acceleration. Zero to 30 mph in 1.8 seconds will do that to you. And only because Yamaha honors the Coast Guard agreement that limits PWCs to around 65 mph did our speedometer stop climbing at 68 mph.
An hour later, I hopped on the supercharged FZS, and this time I had some inkling of what I was in for. I did a few holeshots using less than 100 percent throttle, just to get the feel for it, and discovered it had a similar power curve — very linear. It didn’t explode uncontrollably but was very smooth … and furious. Time to 30 mph was a don’t-blink 1.5 seconds, with the top speed limited to 68 mph.
The VXR and FZS have similar-handling hulls despite the VXR being 4 inches shorter, 2.1 inches narrower and 85 pounds lighter. The thing they both do beautifully is turn. Their edge-to-edge hull design means that once you start laying it over in a turn, it continues to carve smoothly all the way, no matter how hard you flog it. The only difference I noted is that it took slightly less muscle to whip the lighter VXR around, but neither felt like a three-seat cruiser. I’m not the most experienced rider, but after a one-minute learning curve I was slashing up a storm without once overcooking a turn. Should you manage to fall off, you can take advantage of a great reboarding setup: a deep ladder that features a flat area where your foot makes contact, an intermediate handhold and a bar behind the saddle for a rearward-facing ski observer. The rear decks on both are huge and well padded.
Both WaveRunners serve as excellent platforms for racing, if that’s your thing. The VXR dominated the newly formed Normally-Aspirated Runabout class, winning every race in 2012. The beauty of this machine is that it gives would-be racers an inexpensive platform to get started and is sort of a throwback to the earlier days when PWCs were lighter and simpler. Likewise, Yamaha’s supercharged FZ series PWC won national titles last year in the IJSBA Pro Runabout Open and Pro Runabout Limited classes.
But where Yamaha really succeeds is in taking such powerful rides and making them family friendly and affordable. Both are ready for skiing, and there’s a small wet locker at the stern for the rope with a notch, so you don’t have to remove it for storage. Both make great family cruisers and have similar range. The normally aspirated VXR (and nearly identical VXS) has a 15.9-gallon fuel tank. At 5000 rpm (38 mph) it gets around 7.5 mpg, netting a 94-mile range. The supercharged FZS (and two-seat FZR) has a larger 18.5-gallon fuel tank and at 5000 rpm (35 mph) gets around 5 mpg for a range of 84 miles.
Yamaha makes more luxurious models, such as the FX Cruiser SHO, which is longer, heavier and has more storage along with more creature comforts, but it comes with a heftier price tag ($14,899). The FZ and FX models are all about extracting the maximum performance and fun for the money.