Zar has added significantly to the upper echelons of its fleet in recent times, with some fairly complex recreational RIBs. The cruise-friendly 97 Skydeck and the 14-man 87 Welldeck immediately spring to mind - and at the Cannes Boat Show, they were at it again, taking the smaller of these two boats and using it as the blueprint for a more sporting model known as the ZAR 85 SL. At around half a metric tonne lighter, its use of the same hull form promises the kind of agility, speed and running efficiency the performance imperative of the SL series demands. But remarkably, when you step on board, that weight reduction doesn’t seem to have had any impact on the features and facilities at all. On the contrary, by RIB standards, the latest SL model looks like one of the best appointed 28-footers around. Take a closer look in the First Look Video below.


Unusual but effective

Zar describes its new model with words like “trendy, glamorous, futuristic and eye-catching” and there’s no doubt that the nature of its approach to form and space management lends it a very distinctive aesthetic. While most RIBs are very low-slung, shallow-decked and open, the collar on the 85 SL is integrated into some radically elevated aft mouldings. That inevitably makes the cockpit feel much deeper - and because the collar comes to an end toward the forward edge of the helm console, it means you get a hard bow section with no tube ingress at all. It also offers a tremendous beam of 3.2 metres and carries that breadth much further forward than you would ordinarily expect, so the stylistic impact is significant.

With its elevated, downward sloping aft mouldings and its broad, upward angled forward shape, the 85 SL has the look of a duck-billed deck boat that just happens to be folding in on itself amidships. But whether you like that unmistakable profile or not, this unusual approach generates some very handy benefits…

In addition to better forward visibility from the helm, you get much broader, more spacious and more secure internals - and Zar has taken full advantage of that vast internal capacity with a generous armoury of deck furniture. In the cockpit, for instance, the swim platform leads through the port walkway to an unbroken wraparound C-shaped bench unit, capable of seating six people with ease. A large dining table slots into place in the teak deck to provide a focal point for gatherings; and built into the aft-facing part of the helm seat unit is an alfresco galley comprising a stove, a sink, a pair of fridges, a work surface and some handy storage.

Zar 85 SL review: hull

The elevated mouldings and shortened tubes make a big difference to internal space.

Further forward, the helm console is offset to starboard, which frees up lots of space for a port walkway between the cockpit and the foredeck. However, such is the generosity of that internal beam that it remains perfectly possible to make your way to the bow around the moulded walkway on the starboard side too. The port Skipper’s position with top-mounted starboard throttle keeps the lever well out of the way of careless limbs and it’s also worth noting that the throttle is mounted on a dedicated base that extends aft from the main dash. Not only does that provide a great point for a grab handle to aid access to the cabin, but it also eases the Skipper’s ergonomics, enabling him to reach the point of wide-open-throttle without the slightest need to remove the small of his back from the support of the fixed seating unit.

The ergonomics are further enhanced by the fact that the high-quality side-by-side helm seats can be used as leaning posts for those who prefer to stand; and they also come equipped with a couple of folding foot braces, so you don’t have to dangle your legs or jam them against the console when you adopt the seated position.

Move up to the bow and the cockpit benches are supplemented by another huge section of wraparound seating, which can easily accommodate five people or be converted into a full-sized sundeck. The fact that the forward face of the helm console is cushioned and upholstered means two of the people in the bow can also adopt a reclined, forward-facing lounge position. And despite the provision of seating for at least 12 people and more storage space than a weekending family will ever need, you still get room beneath the console for a compact double berth and an optional toilet.

Back aft at the business end of things, there are some usefully extended swim platforms on both sides of the outboard – and just as the mouldings seem to dominate the inflatable collar in and around the rest of the boat, they splay out around the back ends of the tubes and extend a good foot or so beyond the aft ends of the cones. As for the engine itself, the 85 SL can be equipped with anything from a single 250 to a twin rig of 250s, but the recommended family option seems to be a single 300 - a modest and manageable rig that will still enable the 85 SL to poke its nose beyond the magic 40-knot mark.

Zar 85 SL review: layout

The layout prioritises seating and storage.

Zar 85 SL review:

The cockpit is much more versatile than most RIBs.


A 28-foot RIB that can seat 12 people, travel at 40 knots on a single outboard and sleep two for a long weekend is not to be sniffed at – particularly when it offers such impressive communal facilities, such ease of on board movement and such remarkable reserves of dry storage. Whether it makes the heavier, more powerful, more expensive 87 Welldeck a touch redundant is yet to be seen, but for those with modest overnighting requirements and a penchant for the unusual, the 85 SL is a very impressive (and impressively original) leisure RIB.

Zar 85 SL review:

This is a 40 knot boat with plenty to recommend it.

Zar 85 SL specifications

Length: 8.5 m
Beam: 3.2 m
Weight: 1,600 kg
Tube diameter: 0.6 m
Watertight compartments: 6
Seating capacity: 12
Minimum power: 250hp
Recommended power: 300 - 400hp
Maximum power: 2 x 250hp
CE certification: B

Read more about RIBs and boats for family boating in our features, RIB buying guide: which RIB to buy? and Five of the best family powerboat.

Written by: Alex Smith
Alex Smith is a journalist, copywriter and magazine editor with a long history in boating and a happy addiction to the water. He’s worked on boats, lived on boats, bought boats, sold boats and – when he’s not actually on board a boat – he can generally be found in his Folkestone office, tapping away at the computer and gazing out to sea.