In the Darwinian view of evolution, only the strong survive, and this theory couldn’t be more appropriate for boat companies. A boat brand such as Starcraft must be doing something right to be in business for more than 100 years. One thing is clear; after testing the Limited 226 RE CR pontoon, the company must have lasted this long by listening to what customers wanted.
As is the case with most pontoon boats, how you equip it shows its personality. The feature that best sets the Limited 226 RE CR apart from the crowd is the optional sidewalk bistro-style umbrella for the bow table. When furled in its cover, the tall market umbrella looks like a sailboat mast, but when deployed, it casts a wide swath of shade, and it is a budget-friendlier alternative than a second Bimini top.
The Starcraft 226’s main distinguishing feature in the cockpit is the classy tuck-and-roll style of upholstery that’s delightfully free of the decorative piping that can be annoying to sit on. Another stylish feature is the 1-inch powder-coated rails with gates that are through-bolted and fasten securely for safety and no rattling. Also of note is the huge flip-up changing room (the CR in the boat model’s name), which is a vast improvement over the older 226 models that had phone booth-sized rooms.
Our test boat is set up for leisurely luxury cruising and is powered by Mercury’s 90 EFI FourStroke, an inline four-cylinder dual overhead cam outboard that delivers quiet, fuel-efficient power. It features a bore and stroke of 82 mm x 82 mm, which is called a “square” engine in gearhead parlance. This is notable because one of the traits of this configuration is typically a very linear power curve with the good low-end torque, as demonstrated in our performance tests. We got out of the hole with very little bow rise and accelerated smoothly to the plane in 5.8 seconds. At 3000 pm, we were on the plane at 14.6 mph, which proved to be the optimum cruising velocity, and registered only 74 dBa on the sound meter. The top speed was 22.8 mph, which is pretty consistent for a two-tube setup with 25-inch-diameter logs.
Although the Mercury FourStroke 90 is designed to reach 5000-6000 rpm, we seemed to be over-propped because the Mercury reached a lower-than-normal 4800 rpm at full throttle. If we were carrying the maximum load of 12 people, we would probably be lugging out of the hole and straining the engine. With this modest power, the 226 can handle inflatable towing duties just fine, but those wanting to go skiing should opt for the max power of 150 hp and three-tube performance package option that also gives you lifting strakes and an aluminum under-skin for better hydrodynamics.
During tests this year in Key Largo, Fla., the improvement in fuel economy was confirmed. Using the Carolina Skiff 198 DLV as a test platform for the DF90, mileage was measured at 8.63 mpg at a cruise speed of 21 mph at 3500 rpm. At idle, the inline four-cylinder powerplant gets an astounding 23 mpg – better than a lot of land-based vehicles. To compare this to the previous DF90, we looked at gallons per hour burned by both at a typical cruising engine speed. At 4000 pm, the old version burned 4.7 gallons per hour, which is very respectable, but the new model burned just 3.0 gallons per hour. This improved economy is also made possible by reducing friction on moving parts by using a new oil pump that more efficiently delivers lubrication where you need it.
The standard Teleflex single cable 4.2 system didn’t allow the driver to easily steer the Limited 226 – especially if the kids want to play crack the whip as they are being towed on an inflatable. For better steering, upgrade to the Bay Star hydraulic system unless you are going for a full, upper-body workout.
Otherwise, the driver has a cushy setup with an extra-wide captain’s bucket seat that swivels, has a pair of flip-up armrests, and features the EZ Slide adjuster.
Cornering with the two-tube setup is typical, with some lean to the outside in hard turns. Full-length keels help keep the Limited 226 tracking on the intended line and but for a slight list to port at idle, it runs very level.
If you are just interested in leisurely cruising, the two-tube setup with the Mercury EFI 90 FourStroke is fine, but for those who stay with the twin-tube configuration, a better option would be the 115 FourStroke, which weighs the same as the 90 at 399 pounds. For those who would like the flexibility of more speed for activities such as skiing, going with the three-tube performance package and upgrading to the supercharged 150-hp Verado FourStroke would be the way to go. You could save some money by choosing the OptiMax 150, which is louder than the Verado, but because it resides behind the large padded stern sun pad, it would be hushed up reasonably well.
You can option up the Limited 226 with some passenger comfort features, such as the aforementioned bow market umbrella and movable cupholder/armrest, while bumping up the entertainment quotient with a rail-mounted grill and an upgraded JBL satellite-ready stereo system.
The Starcraft Limited 226 RE CR is the perfect model for those who are heavily into comfort, whether cruising or at rest. Swimmers and skiers will love the large rear boarding ladder that features swimming pool-style grabrails to hoist them up. An optional ski tow rail is a must, and with the three-tube option, there’s an extra-large center locker for ski storage. Those who fish would probably be better served by Starcraft’s Starfish Series, which features fishing seats in the bow and an optional package that includes a trolling motor and a fish finder.