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I can still clearly remember the first time I saw a Bayliner advertisement. It was in an American powerboat magazine, and it pictured a young family man washing down his boat in the driveway of a modest home. It read: "The new Bayliner XYZ (I can't remember the model) just $999 deposit and $99 a month".

I was astounded. Here was this magnificent-looking brand-new trailer boat, superbly finished and with a huge array of extras, for what seemed like a ridiculously small amount of money.

In the early 1980s, New Zealand boats didn't look that good, and they certainly weren't sold that way. Banks were reluctant to lend money on rock solid investments such as houses; they definitely weren't financing anything as frivolous as powerboats.

A few years later, the first Bayliners arrived in New Zealand. They were initially treated with derision, described as flimsily built and dismissed as "lake boats", unable to handle our nasty harbour chop.


Yet, despite the almost universal scorn to which they were subjected, they gradually gained a foothold and, as a result, they dramatically changed the way we went boating.

Until then, Kiwi GRP boatbuilders had focused almost solely on designing and building boats that were well constructed, went well and were good for fishing.

Fancy fabrics, highly polished gelcoats, smooth curves and attractive dash areas were definitely not priorities; those things didn't matter to blokes and it was blokes who bought boats.

Twenty-odd years later, things have obviously changed. New Zealand-built GRP boats are not only among the best-built and best-performing in the world, they are among the most attractive and well finished, too.

What hasn't changed over those decades is Bayliner's clear determination to keep offering good-looking, well-appointed boats at a reasonable price.

Take the new 175BR. It is a 5.33m LOA bow rider, chock-full of attractive features and available from as little as $37,000.

Like its predecessors, it is not aimed at those who want to fish or dive but rather at those who mainly enjoy the other watersports - skiing, boarding, towing water toys and cruising around harbours, islands and beaches.

It is, therefore, primarily a boat for those with children or perhaps those in their 20s and 30s who enjoy going boating with friends.

It is also a boat that is available only with a stern drive. While this is common in the US, it is less so here, although diesel stern drives are gaining popularity.

As part of the giant Brunswick Corporation (think Mercury, MerCruiser, Sea Ray and a host of others), Bayliner always packages its boats with either a Mercury outboard or a MerCruiser stern drive.

In this case, the only option is a 135hp MerCruiser 3 litre MPI. It is a petrol inboard driving an Alpha One stern drive and swinging a 19in (48cm) alloy prop.

As one would expect, it is a well-matched combination. The 175BR gets on to the plane easily, and although the driver sits very low down, there is no loss of visibility during the transition - the horizon is always in view.

The boat is also very easy to trim. The power-assist steering goes nice and loose as the right level of trim is achieved; go too far and the prop cavitates. Easy.

The 175BR is also one of those boats that bleeds speed in the turns, keeping things comfortable for the passengers. This has a bit of a downside when towing, but it is easily countered with a little more throttle pressure when turning.

Although not a specialist tow boat, the 175BR has enough pull to give any moderate-sized wakeboarders a good ride, getting them on top of the water before the prop wash gets there, maintaining a straight track during the side-to-side carving and generating enough wake to get decent air under the board.

For those who enjoy blasting across the water with the wind in their hair (and who doesn't), the 175 will, properly trimmed, hit 40 knots at 4500rpm. At that speed it will burn 40.5 litres of fuel an hour. Most people will, therefore, probably throttle back to a more fuel-efficient and comfortable 3000rpm, while still covering the ground at 23 knots.

At those revs, the Bayliner's 79.5-litre fuel tank will give a cruising range of 175km with a 10 per cent safety margin.

Although Bayliner keeps its costs down by adopting the automotive industry's "one size fits all" strategy, it does offer the 175BR in two slightly different modes.

There is the fish and ski package - including a casting platform, pedestal seat, trolling motor, fish finder, and 30-litre live well - and the Flight series package, with extended swim platform, a wakeboard tower, and "cool" hull side graphics.

I think many in New Zealand will go for the Flight option. The 175BR is not a great fishing boat and those additions are not going to change that. On the other hand, that extended swim platform is a real bonus. It adds 600mm to the 305mm moulded platform, reaches over the lower unit when in the down position (a great safety feature with young children) and is lower to the water; an advantage when getting in and out of the sea and or putting on boards or skis.

The 175BR's engine box has a large, flat, non-skid surface on top, a handy recessed alcove a bit lower, drink holders on either side, a fire extinguisher discharge port on the starboard side and tie-downs for tubes and a carry-on cooler bag - a really good, very simple innovation.

There are also twin jump seats, one on either side of the engine box. These can accommodate children and adults and lift out to give better access to the stern.

The companion seat on the 175BR is a conventional "back-to-back" design. This provides a good possie for the mandatory observer when towing, as well as folding down for those who want to get horizontal. The helm seat is probably a tad low for those of my vintage but shouldn't be a problem for those in their younger years. The helm, too, has a couple of drink holders, a streamlined layout and lighted toggle switches.

As one would expect, the bow is as well-appointed as the rest of the interior, with comfortable back rests, well-placed hand rails and yet more places to handily place a drink.

Want to know more?

Check out the comprehensive boat test on the Bayliner 175BR in the January/February issue of Pacific Powerboat magazine or at www.pacificpowerboat.com.

Bayliner 175BR
LOA: 5.33m

Beam: 2.11m

Deadrise: 19 degrees

Construction: GRP

Trailerable dry weight: 1087kg

Engine: MerCruiser 135hp 3-litre MPI

Maximum speed: 40 knots

Cruising speed: 23 knots

Fuel capacity: 79.5 litres

Priced from: $37,000

Price as described: $39,995