Founded in 1979, Stingray of Hartsville in South Carolina is an independent boat builder with a very striking modern leisure fleet. In the last 33 years, it has become renowned for building relatively small, sporting power craft with a quality of build and a generosity of features that belie their entry-level pricing - and that holds true right across the range. Today, the Stingray stable comprises no fewer than 22 leisure boats across three main product lines (bow riders, cuddies and deck boats) and yet with lengths ranging from 18 to 25 feet, they remain a very accessible novice brand. The test boat, known as the 225 SX, is the most overtly sporting option of the entire fleet and slots neatly in toward the top end of the eight-strong cuddy range.
Wide and stylish
The overall length of this sporting weekender might be quite modest, but at more than 2.5 metres, the Stingray’s big beam is a very useful asset. In the aft spaces, it results in a very broad, square cockpit, with plenty of deck space for the passengers to enjoy - and even down in the cabin, where the impressively flat foredeck tapers toward the bow, you still get some very decent space.
However, this is only a 23-foot boat and even a clever designer can’t alter that, so there are a few omissions down here. There is no galley, no separate heads space and no dedicated storage compartments beneath the bed. In their place, you get a portable loo beneath the central cushion, and a set of full-length elasticated webbing sections on both sides at head height for the storage of small items. You also get a decent degree of brightness, partly from the skylight and partly from the stylish tinted panels in the folding door - and that’s an impressive feature in a small cuddy cabin.
The only real problem down here is the stark contrast between the stylistic bravado of the boat’s exterior and the relative tedium of the internals. Up top, you get raked steel vents, aggressive angles, crimson colourways and deep-set bucket seats. Down below, you get the timid interior design of an old people’s home, with bulkheads covered from top to bottom in shagpile carpet - and not just any shagpile, but a deep, hairy, beige shagpile, fully deserving of the name. It really doesn’t live up to the ‘Miami muscle craft’ styling exhibited elsewhere on this boat and for my money, it needs a bit of an overhaul with a cleaner, more modern fabric.
Back up top, as you shake your mindset free of the cloying cabin decorum, it strikes you that, at little more than £30,000 for a fast seven-metre weekender, the builders must have made some compromises to come in on budget - and yet there seems to be very little immediate evidence of penny-pinching.
The standard package includes a cockpit table, a compass, a Porta Potti, a marine audio system and a pair of bolstered bucket seats for the driver and his number two. You also get a five-year hull warranty, three-year blister protection, a stainless boarding ladder and lockable cabin doors. It’s only when you look a little closer that the compromises begin to emerge...
For instance, in the engine bay, you get conspicuous luxuries like LED lights and ingenious adjustable partitions - and yet elsewhere, you get grab handles built from pale brown plastic instead of stainless steel. Look again and you see sunken steel cleats all round allied to rather funky low-level deck lights - and yet when you dig behind the scenes, you see that there are no gas-rams to prop up the lids on some of the storage spaces.
This is not a criticism. On the contrary, this is common sense boat building, where the key budgetary questions have been well considered. The success of this is plain to see because, although the Stingray feels pretty well appointed, there are in fact only five optional extras on this test boat - namely, ‘Solid Red’ paintwork, snap-in carpets, a canvas cover, a digital depth sounder and a trailer. With prices going from little more than £30,000, that’s a rather impressive thought.
It may look like a red-blooded, ocean-cleaving, speed machine, but as I take the wheel, I am keen to adjust my expectations in accordance with the physical facts - and they are very simple. This is a tonne and a half of boat with a 2.5-metre beam, an alloy prop and a MerCruiser 5.0 MPI pumping out 60hp less than the Stingray’s rated maximum of 320hp. It stands to reason that it won’t go with quite as much vigour as its lovely looks suggest…
And as we get underway, my modest expectations appear to be borne out. At displacement speeds, the ‘Z-Plane’ hull (like most planing hulls) requires a fair bit of work to correct its zigzag tracking. And when we get to open water and pin the throttle, a rather sluggish 6.2 seconds elapse before the Stingray 225SX manages to heave her bulk over the hump and onto the plane.
However, from this point onwards, my expectations are profoundly contradicted. The nose levels off and with a little trim, the revs rise eagerly, bringing a very impressive response. I glance down at the dials and what feels like a moderate cruise is actually a 46-knot thrash. That’s just 250 rpm and two knots below the top end and yet the composure of the experience is extraordinary.
Trimmed out and flying, the waterline drops way aft, reducing drag and making everything feel very slippery and quick, but at no time do you feel like you’re losing grip. True, if you push her really hard in a tight turn or at low revs, that alloy prop can get a bit vague and ponderous, but that should take nothing away from this boat’s fine dynamic abilities. If you equip her with the stainless steel prop she so plainly deserves, this would be a genuinely excellent driver’s boat, with plenty of aggression for the thrill seeker and a very forgiving temperament for the family novice.
The 225SX looks great, drives beautifully and costs very little to buy. You need to add a trailer, a canvas cover and a stainless prop to the basic package - and you might want to ask about some cabin upholstery options too. But even so, this is one of those rare boats that combines laudable affordability with the capacity to make you feel just a little bit special. Hats off to Stingray for that. For more details contact Stingray UK.