With power from a fuel-injected 385hp MerCruiser, this 8.2-metre bowrider is not just a family day runabout, it’s a high-performance sports boat. With a top speed that nudges 62 mph (53 knots), the Baja will give any speed freak their thrills, though its easy handling makes this boat just as much at home in the hands of the less experienced boat user.
Although Baja is another name to be added to the growing list of imports, the company has been building performance boats for almost three decades. Founded in the early ’70s by a handful of performance boat enthusiasts intent on ‘building the finest performance boats in the world’, Baja were very soon building a range of 14 to 20 footers and by 1979, with the Carrera SS Bowrider, had won the first of 17 Powerboat Magazine ‘Product Excellence’ awards. In the early 1980s Baja developed an immense interest in offshore performance boating and as a result offshore sports boats were added to the range.
Baja today manufacture a variety of family bowriders, runabouts, cuddies and offshore sports boats that all reflect the company’s initial aims and its heritage in performance and sports boating. The intense study and development of high-performance sports boats, and particularly the extreme stresses and pressures that are experienced by offshore boats, led to the testing and use of various materials and construction methods and subsequently all Baja boats are laid up using the latest high-tech materials and laminates that include end-grain Baltek balsa-cored hulls and an interlocking stringer grid that is fully laminated into the hull. Consequently, Baja hulls are renowned through the sports boat regions of the USA, for their strength and rigidity, and their ability to withstand the rigours and stresses constantly induced through high-performance boating. But these are not just boats for rev heads. All right, the 272 Islander doesn’t muck around when the throttles are opened, but it certainly isn’t a mean, wild beast that requires skill and expertise in performance boating, to drive and enjoy. It is extremely easy to drive, very predictable in its handling with no tendency to get out of the driver’s control or try and chine walk, and because of its sheer size is one extremely comfortable, dry riding and spacious family runabout.
While the acceleration and speed are unquestionably much more than the average family man would want, this boat, as the figures show, cruises very easily and provides a very comfortable and stable ride at little more than 2500 to 3000rpm. The 385hp 454 MPI MerCruiser, as fitted in the test boat, is around the middle of the recommended power range and while this package delivered a very brisk and spirited performance, the top-range 470hp option has the potential of delivering real mind-blowing results. But back to the rig as tested!
With 385hp it’s not overpowered. The performance is exceptional, planing the hull with little effort and cruising nicely at less than 3000rpm. However, it’s not unusual to find your ‘cruise’ speed getting unintentionally much higher since the hull offers such a soft and comfortable ride, and response to the throttle is so smooth. Consistently I found myself ‘cruising’ in the 4000 to 4500rpm range, flying by many smaller boats struggling to retain a comfortable ride in the rougher parts of the Broadwater. Even at full throttle, you don’t get that feeling of speed that smaller high-performance boats produce as they twitch and float about in response to trim and conditions.
While the Baja responds nicely to sterndrive trim and gets up high and clean on the water, it still remains an extremely stable and easy-to-drive boat. The power steering is firm enough to give the driver good control and feel for the boat, but light enough to absorb any prop torque either at full speed or during turns. The driver’s console is well set out. The tilt-adjustable wheel is good and while the Keikhaefer performance controls with separate throttle and gear lever might not be as convenient to operate as the standard single MerCruiser lever, they are simple to use and well positioned to the side of the driver. The interior is very much standard sports bowrider configuration. The driver and passenger bolster seats are something straight out of an offshore sports boat. They are big, sturdy and guaranteed to hold any occupant firmly in place. The bow seating is deep and comfortable and running around with a few people in the bow isn’t detrimental to driver visibility nor the safety and stability of the boat. The rear seats are split as two side lounges but with the infill cushion make up a full-width rear lounge. The engine hatch is fully upholstered as a rear sunlounge, and with the engine hatch controlled by a remote electric switch, the storage bays can be easily accessed on either side of the engine.
With its performance and bowrider layout it’s not hard to lose sight of just how big this boat really is … at least until you find that fitted in the console between the passenger’s seat and the bow is a neat little bathroom. It’s not the most spacious of bathrooms, but a bathroom nonetheless and a luxury that you don’t see on any bowrider except for the maxi-hulls. It’s a tight space but manages to hold a porta-potti and wash basin.
But of course you will pay a price for all this luxury, performance, comfort and space. This is the most expensive bowrider I’ve tested. But then it is also the biggest, most comfortable and despite its sheer size, certainly the fastest. It’s a boat that you can load up with seven of your friends to enjoy a day out on the most open of harbours without being concerned about water conditions.