2013, April; Port Hacking: From Neodesha in Texas, Cobalt has a 40+ year tradition of building boats with a reputation for quality, innovation and performance. Every Cobalt I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing has lived up to this expectation, and this 200 Bowrider continues the theme even though it’s the ‘entry level’ model for the fleet.
The 200 (for 20 feet, although the actual overall length is 20 feet 10 inches or 6.35 metres) has more room on board than most of this size but, if that’s not enough for you, Cobalt has other bowriders ranging up to 30 feet (9.15 metres) as well as an impressive range of cruisers.
A clever example of unique engineering, and a neat display of true class, is demonstrated by Rolls Royce on some of its cars with the RR logo in the centre of the wheel hubs remaining upright all the time, even when the wheels are spinning happily along the road. It’s genuinely indicative of a similar class and quality from Cobalt boats that its company logo in the centre of the steering wheel also remains upright as the wheel is turned.
Maybe the 200 is the entry level model for the company, but it’s still a stand-out in its class. Priced at $59,990 ready to go on a trailer (all pricing at time of writing) with registrations and powered by a MerCruiser 4.3 litre 164-kW V6 engine, the 200 is good value, spacious, comfortable and easy to drive. It is ideal as a first family boat, or for experienced owners who are looking for a touch more quality than is the norm in construction and finish. The design is great for cruising with family and friends, for entertaining and for social water sports.
The layout has no surprises for a bowrider with the usual forward seating, amidships main cockpit, aft sunlounge over the engine bay and then a boarding platform across the transom. It is in the execution of the layout that Cobalt does so well. Additionally the hull design delivers the goods with a soft ride through rougher waters, plenty of buoyancy forward to keep dry the thrill-seekers sitting up front, and strong performance from the V6 MerCruiser that allows both relaxed cruising and rewarding driving for the skipper.
The helm position has a simple and effective dash layout with four analogue gauges comprising a pair of larger dials for the tacho and speedo, with smaller fuel level and drive trim instruments. The speedo has an inset digital display that scrolls through engine management data as well as a depth display. All the gauges are easy to read and are in clear sight above the tilt-adjustable wheel which has a large, sure-grip rim and smart polished alloy spokes – plus that clever always-upright Cobalt logo in its hub.
The throttle/shift control is very neatly integrated into the side of the cockpit rather than being just bolted on, and is well-placed for easy operation that matches up with a light steering effort; both controls give a good sense of what the engine and hull are doing. The drive trim buttons in the top of the throttle lever quickly become intuitive for positioning the prop thrust angle to provide optimum performance.
The hull does prefer full in-trim of the Alpha 1 drive when accelerating from rest, and even then there is a small amount of bow rise for a moment before the underwater surfaces bring the hull back to an efficient running angle. However, the bowrise is not enough to limit forward vision to any significant degree – and it may not occur at all with a passenger or two in the forward seating; we ran with a crew of three and a youngster all in the main cockpit.
Once on plane, trimming out the drive had the Cobalt 200 running very smoothly with good balance and a feeling of security. Small movements of the wheel or throttle produced instant response, and the hull banked moderately into tight turns whilst maintaining a solid grip on the water so there was no untoward slipping or lurching. The 200 just came around tight and sweet before straightening onto its new course with minimal loss of speed.
It was best to trim the drive back in for tighter turns, and only if obviously too much out-trim was used in such turns did the prop ventilate slightly. That was with a standard alloy prop, and an upgrade to a stainless prop could well obviate even that little ventilation. But really, the drive trim was quick to learn and a “still gaining experience” skipper would have no trouble mastering the technique and winning a sense of accomplishment in the process.
Anyone with a few hours behind the wheel of a boat will immediately appreciate the way the 200 handles and performs. There’s enough grunt in the V6 to give enjoyable mid-range acceleration, and higher cruise speeds are enough to give a thrill at the wheel while your passengers remain relaxed.
The 200 was on plane at 3,000 rpm and already doing 43 kph before heading up to 3,500 rpm and 54 kph. That rev range was probably the optimum for normal cruising, but the V6 was entirely happy when taken up to 4,000 rpm which gave 63 kph for when you needed, or wanted, a faster run to the next destination. Full throttle brought up a still-smooth 4,600 rpm which we held only briefly on the new engine to see our hand-held GPS scrolling up to 73 kph for a rewarding top speed.
The skipper’s seat was a supportive bucket with firm upholstery that would keep you comfy on long cruises; it had a flip-up bolster at the front and it adjusted fore-aft as well as swivelled for easier chatting with the crew when at anchor. An angled footrest was at just the right distance for me to give an extra degree of bracing through those tight turns in which the hull excelled. Controls for the ignition and ancillaries as well as the stereo remote were clustered conveniently on the dash near the wheel, and the skipper also benefited from a small open glovebox to keep their wallet and phone plus another open storage spot lower down near a drink holder for sunnies and similar small odds and sods.
Storage throughout the 200 was generous in the extreme with lockers under most seats as well as a large compartment for bulky items like skis and life jackets under the port passenger lounge. In addition to the usual facilities including a lockable glovebox, there were more unique stowage lockers such as in front of the screen on each side. Under the starboard side of the sunlounge across the back of the boat, a large hatch lifted on a gas-assist strut to reveal another huge locker with a removable Igloo cooler.
The backrest of the centre aft cockpit seat as well as the associated area of the sunpad also lifted on a gas strut for access to the engine bay. This was meticulously laid out with easy access for routine checks and maintenance; all the visible engineering was to a high standard. The deck hardware was of the same quality with cleats and grab handles at sensible spots, and inside the 200 were six stereo speakers and plenty of drink holders.
Beneath the glossy exterior, Cobalt builds 100 per-cent hand-laid hulls with Kevlar reinforcing over a full fibreglass stringer system. There are aluminium backing plates for all the through-bolted hardware and all the seat bases are in StarBoard/Kelron rather than wood for strength and freedom from eventual rot; the upholstery is hand-sewn double-needle 32-ounce vinyl with a protective barrier coat over multiple-density antimicrobial foam for long-distance – and long life - comfort.
So, after appreciating all the immediately apparent features and style of the 200, it’s well worth looking into the hidden areas to confirm the attention to detail that Cobalt uses in its manufacturing and finishing processes. The real test though is at the wheel out on the water, and it would be a rare skipper indeed who didn’t then find themselves with a smile on their face and a true appreciation of the joy of life.
Length (overall): 6.35 metres
Beam: 2.54 metres
Deadrise: 20 degrees
Draft: 0.94 metres
Weight (dry): 1,588 kgs
Fuel: 151 litres
Power (as tested): MerCruiser 4.3MPI (164 kw; 220 hp)
Drive: MerCruiser Alpha 1
Top Speed: 73 kph