Lakeland Boating: “This Isn’t Your Grandpa’s Pontoon Boat”
For many people, pontoon boats are associated with Grandpa’s old ‘toon idling lazily around the lake with the grandkids fishing off the side. Early pontoons were not fast enough for watersports and had few of the modern conveniences that cuddy cabins and bowriders could provide.
In the late 1980s, manufacturers like Manitou Pontoons from Lansing, Michigan saw the potential of a faster pontoon boat and started designing models that could handle bigger engines. When 115-hp outboards appeared on the back of pontoons, customers that once said they would never get a pontoon took a second look.
The addition of a third tube to pontoon designs increased structural stability and buoyancy, and opened the door to even heavier, higher-horsepower engines. The increase in power allowed pontoons to pull skiers and tubers, and created a boat that was more appealing and versatile.
The 2018 Manitou X-Plode XT is a shining example of pontoon potential. With the X-Plode, Manitou set out to change the pontoon stereotype of a party barge into that of a fast, colorful, full-featured sportboat that could outperform many of its V-hulled cousins. The Manitou X-Plode XT accomplishes that mission with style and ease, while carrying more passengers, too.
A 70 mph pontoon?
When someone invites you to go for a ride on their shiny new pontoon boat, the last thing you expect to need is a pair of goggles. But goggles were the one thing I was missing when I met Greg and Tim from Manitou Pontoons at Duck Lake — about 20 miles south of Lansing, Michigan — to go for an afternoon cruise.
Manitou has built pontoon boats at their headquarters in Lansing for more than 30 years. They use Duck Lake for testing because it has a clean, predictable bottom free of prop-eating obstructions and submerged surprises that might create an unpleasant situation if struck at 70 mph.
Yes, that’s correct. Seventy mph. Seven, zero. And yes, on a pontoon boat.
Sitting at the dock, the 27-foot X-Plode XT looks like it’s straining at the lines. The boat comes in several color combinations, including more tame options like black or white. Customers who want to stand out from the crowd can choose a bright orange or electric lime green X-Plode.
Manitou works closely with several outboard manufacturers to ensure their engines are installed to the highest factory specifications and to offer their customers power options that best fit their needs. Our test boat featured twin Mercury 400-hp engines, but twin 300s are the most popular choice for the X-Plode series. Customers can also choose from smaller or single engine configurations.
Manitou takes their manufacturing standards to the extreme. With finished storage compartments, built-in seating hardware, one-piece aluminum safety doors, and engine mounts built to withstand the power and weight of twin outboards, Manitou’s workmanship, fit and finish are exemplary.
The Manitou X-Plode XT is offered in several floorplans, including the new-for-2018 27-foot RFX layout. All of the structures from the deck up are fiberglass. Vinyl seating and non-skid vinyl decks with snap-down covers resist stains and damage, making the entire boat easy to clean with a boat brush and a hose.
Felt-lined storage compartments are hidden underneath the seats, and a hatch in the floor allows access to the interior of the center tube. This 6-foot storage space is great for stashing longer items like skis or covers, and also includes an automatic bilge pump to ensure the contents stay dry.
Loud and proud
Creature comforts such as LED accents in the cupholders, around seat bases and on the sport arch are just plain cool. JL Audio is a standard feature with an amp, a subwoofer and LED-lit speakers throughout the boat. A color-matched Bimini and mooring cover are also included. A pop-up privacy station allows guests to change out of wet swimsuits before dining at the standard aft table.
Electronic options from Manitou’s engine partners are a nice touch. Systems such as Mercury’s joystick controls and VesselView provide engine feedback and precise handling in tight spaces. Manitou’s own Smart Touch screen gives the captain control over lighting, entertainment and navigation features.
Manitou recognized the benefits of the third pontoon early on. Structural integrity is improved with the extra tube, but Manitou went a step further and created a patented V-Toon design. The result is a faster, better handling pontoon boat.
With precise placement of the third tube and the addition of scientifically designed lifting strakes, Manitou has create a pontoon hull profile that mimics a V-bottomed boat. The design climbs up on plane with minimal bow lift, rides softer and more stable in rough water, and takes a hard turn with the same control and feel as a V-hull.
With Tim at the wheel and Greg up front, we went for a ride down the lake. I didn’t really know what to expect from a 70 mph pontoon boat. As we began to climb in speed, I was very glad I remembered what it was like to fly across open water and had taken off my glasses before they were ripped from my face.
When we hit just under 70 mph carrying three big guys and a full gas tank, I understood why a dog hangs out of a car window with his cheeks flapping. I had to fight the urge to grin like a cartoon character and let my tongue hang out.
Turning back, I was really impressed by the stable feel as the boat leaned into turns like a V-hull. We climbed back up to full speed again before criss-crossing our own wake and that of another boat. The ride was always dry and smooth.
Best of both worlds
The Manitou X-Plode XT is difficult to label. It’s a hard-charging, smooth-riding dayboat that reminds you it’s a pontoon when 15 people can find comfortable seats. With the sport arch, it could be mistaken for a ski boat and easily tows adult wakeboarders and tubers. The best classification I could come up with is “high-speed aquatic entertainment platform.”
We ran the X-Plode XT back toward the dock, then stopped and idled up the lake for a while so we could talk. As I tried to think of any last questions or clarification I might need, we all grew quiet, enjoying the fall air and beautiful view. After riding in silence for a few minutes, I turned to Tim, and with a silly grin I said, “Do it again.”
Tim’s grin matched mine as he leaned forward and pressed his glasses securely onto his face. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Greg grab one of the handrails as the twin Mercury 400s started to wind up, and we tore off down the lake like a rocket.
One thing is certain: This is not your grandpa’s pontoon boat!