When it comes to competing, Caravelle has never shied away from the competition, and this year they are taking on the big dogs of affordable boats with an entry-level model starting at $17,995. The 18-foot CX18 not only gives those new to boating an inexpensive way to get into the sport, at 2,500 pounds, but the boat also offers veterans an easy-to-tow package that doesn’t require a gas-guzzler tow vehicle to transport.
You won’t mistake the CX18 for anything else on the water, even if it does employ the popular “pickle fork” bow section we are seeing on many pricier ski boats these days. This Caravelle has a style of its own with a graceful design that uses a distinctive sheer line that swoops down at the bow and stern and uses tasteful graphics to accentuate that theme. Like other recently introduced Caravelle models, the CX18 features a transom walk-through and an integrated swim platform, completing the modern look.
The model we tested was something of a sheep in wolf’s clothing, being powered by the venerable MerCruiser 135 hp 3.0L in-line four-cylinder. Although most carbureted engines are hard to start and usually require that special touch only owners develop over time, this entry-level engine has the Turn Key Start (TKS) system that doesn’t require the driver to do anything but turn the key, as the name implies. While the 3.0L is one of the most reliable engines on the market – and is very popular overseas – its main deficiency is that at idle, it runs rougher than the proverbial night in jail and is rather loud at 68 decibels. But this proves to be an advantage for evaluating Caravelle’s quality of build because there is no vibration at startup with the no-wood-built CX18.
Sometimes carbureted engines will cough and sputter during takeoff, but not this time as we hook up nicely out of the hole with only moderate bow rise and get on a plane in 3.7 seconds. Thirty mph comes in 7.0 seconds, and it’s around this speed that the CX18 seems happiest. You can see why international buyers, such as our mates in Australia who pay much more than we do for petrol, like the MerCruiser 3.0L, when you consider that with this rig, we recorded better than 5 mpg at 25 mph. That said, with a top speed of just 40.4 mph, many will no doubt opt for the available 190 hp 4.3L MerCruiser or Volvo Penta package, which should push this Caravelle to a speed at or near 50 mph.
The day we tested the CX18, lake conditions were choppy thanks to a brisk wind. The Caravelle’s XPV hull has a rather narrow 7-foot, 2-inch beam and 18 degrees of deadrise that gives it the ability to render a very acceptable ride in these conditions. The standard power steering helped us carve hard turns with ease. Sometimes in choppy conditions, you can catch a chine and get squirrelly, but we cranked it over pretty hard at moderate speeds without penalty, other than a faceful of spray when we slammed over a larger-than-average wave at exactly the wrong moment.
For an entry-level boat, the CX18 comes with an impressive array of standard features, like the power tilt steering and a Kenwood stereo with an MP3 input in the simple but functional helm station. The array of large, aluminum-faced Faria gauges on the top row of the compact dash is easily readable, but the lower row of smaller gauges is partially obstructed by the excellent sport wheel. Unfortunately, for buffet-loving journalists, the wrap-around helm seat is a bit tight until you flip up the seat bolster. Maybe Caravelle should team up with Levi Strauss to develop a “relaxed fit” seat.
Because the CX18 is so well equipped, there aren’t many options to choose from, but there are a couple of must-haves, like the Bimini top and in-dash digital depth finder. One of the biggest dilemmas potential buyers will face is whether to go with the lightly tinted, full-coverage windshield that gives normal-sized crewmembers good hairdo protection or the very cool looking low-profile dark smoked model that looks like a pair of wrap-around Oakleys.
The CX18 is well suited for small to medium-sized lakes and rivers. There’s comfortable seating while running for seven passengers. The count includes two in the high-backed bowrider recliners, which don’t offer full stretch-out legroom. Thanks to the extra width up front, there’s more overall room than in standard bowriders. The only oops up here on this prototype is that bow grabrails are set too far forward to be useful. In the cockpit, there’s sport seating with twin buckets and a stern bench wide enough for three. One feature for boarding and onboarding is the wide walk-aboard platform in the bow for those who dock bow-in to their slips.
At rest, the CX18 is a good entertainer with features like a stern sun pad and carry-on cooler. The integrated swim platform is low enough to provide easy access to the water via the three-step boarding ladder that’s recessed when not in use.
Skiers will be happier with the optional 190 hp 4.3L engine package to give them a little extra oomph out of the hole. There’s an amidships ski locker that’s adequate for most boards, and there is a standard ski tow in the stern.