Bayliner 160, 185, 195, 215 Capri Review

The catchy names and codes that American boat manufacturers adopt to promote the supposedly revolutionary technology incorporated into their designs has long been a source of fascination and amusement for me. Whether it entices hordes of new buyers is debatable because the boating public, at least in Australia, is not easily fooled. If anything it simply gives the models a point of difference over their predecessors. In many instances the technology is rarely new nor revolutionary. Most hull shape tricks have been tried before – only the names have been changed to protect those old enough to remember.

Bayliner are no different when it comes to creative marketing. Their 2001 model Capri bowriders feature what is known as APS III, referring to a small cut-out in the chines. What it means exactly I don’t really know, but it sounds good. The brochure says that it ‘functions like a three-speed transmission, bringing you up to plane quickly and smoothly with minimum bow rise, maximum safety and unsurpassed predictability’. Nice sounding words, but where the APS III comes in I don’t really know. And where and how all of this is new, I’m not really sure, as the Bayliners have been extremely flat, smooth and quick planing boats for years…

There is nothing glaringly different with the underside of the Bayliner hull – the modified planing strakes and stepped pod have been in use in one form or another for years. The step in the chine is new and does have some effect on the turning ability, but generally the Bayliner follows vee hull convention. It is a formula that has been refined over many years to provide a shape that planes about as efficiently and as easily as you could wish and gives maximum performance from moderate horsepower.

The outboard-powered 160 is the newcomer in the Capri stable and it has been some time since we’ve seen a boat this small from the renowned US builder. While not having all the luxuries that are possible on the larger boats, this entry-level runabout offers a high level of space and comfort for five passengers. Like Australian builders, the Americans have tended to focus on the top end of the market and neglect to some extent the first-time buyer. That trend may be about to change, as there is evidence that some of the leading US builders are reassessing and remodelling their smaller trailer boats.

Given the limitations imposed by its dimension, the 160 is understandably different to its Capri kin. Notably, the outboard power source has dictated a conventional aft lounge (seating three) and forward swivel-moulded pedestals. The sterndrive models, conversely, have back-to-back seats and aft quarter jump seats that convert to raised sunlounges. The 160’s swivel seats can be locked into position, although there is no height or horizontal adjustment.

The drivers seat is reasonably comfortable, though the lack of height adjustment may be a nuisance for some drivers. I was quite comfortable behind the wheel, though our esteemed Editor, who is a little taller than me, found the top rail on the windscreen right in his sightline.

Also, because of the size of this boat, Bayliner are unable to employ the two-tiered helm consoles found on other Capri models. As it stands, the steering wheel predominantly obscures both the tachometer and speedo.

By testing a range of boats in the same bowrider configuration during the one outing, I got to appreciate the difference that size makes. It gives designers greater freedom and has a marked effect on boat handling, performance and comfort.

Of the four Bayliner Capris ranging from 16 to 21 feet, I have no hesitation in saying that the 215 Capri is the best of them all and definitely my choice. But this comment ignores purchase price and size of tow vehicle, things owners have to consider. Purely when it comes to ride, spaciousness, and comfort, the 215 is superior. But, I stress, there is nothing wrong with the other models.

The bottom line is that everyone purchases what he or she can afford. Each of these bowriders provides almost identical facilities and fulfils the same role of family day boating. The on-board space and load capacity varies with the size of the boat, but then so does the price. While the 215 is a nice comfortable boat, $49,990 is well beyond the reach of someone with, say, $40,000 to spend. Consequently the 185 at $37,590 is just what that buyer needs. No doubt many a Falcon or Commodore buyer would like a BMW or Mercedes, but the budget can only stretch so far.

The 185, 195, and 215 look almost identical on the water. The only difference is that the 185 has less pretentious passenger and helm consoles, forgoing the oval-shaped mouldings found on the larger boats. All three boats have the same back-to-back helm seats which can be laid down to sleeper position, while the rear seats can be lifted up to form a full width sun pad across the rear of the cockpit. The bimini top folds neatly away into a storage rack behind this sun pad and against the transom, and there is the usual good underfloor storage for skis, ropes, knee and wake boards. Not one of these models has adjustment on the driver’s seating, though the wheel is tilt adjustable. The driving position was a little tight for me on, of all boats, the largest 215!

When it comes down to driving, performance and handling, each of these Capris is as good as you will get in its respective class and certainly there is nothing in the performance that can be faulted. What I noticed most about these new models was the grip they had through the turns and just how consistent they were in responding to the wheel. The step in the chine may have something to do with this because it’s the most significant change to the running surface over the year 2000 models. Each model was very smooth and easy to drive, showing good response to engine trim – the outboard-powered 160 in particular. They could all be pulled hard and fast through turns with the highest degree of surety and comfort you could expect.

The power plant marriage was excellent in each case. In fact, despite the variation in size of boat and powerplant, there was little difference across the spectrum in performance, responsiveness and ease of planing. The 160 probably kicked the bow a little higher, for a little longer, than the rest in getting over the hump and onto the plane, while the 215 with its 5.7 litre V8 MerCruiser showed very little distinction in the break from displacement to planing trim. Each sterndrive boat was clean planing around 2500rpm, and the outboard was fractionally higher but still under 3000rpm. With top speeds of around 45 knots for each of the boats, cruising speeds were delivered at very economical revs.

All four of these year 2001 Bayliner Capri releases will have something to suit buyers at various levels of the bowrider market.