There is a term in marketing that strikes fear into the hearts of all competitors, and builds the legacy of the company that can successfully pull it off. The term is “disruptive product.” For us normal folks, we would call it a paradigm shift, or a benchmark product. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it can rewrite the playbook for an entire industry. The last big disruptive products we collectively saw were the Apple iPhone, iPad, and the iOS platform. The world had never seen anything quite like them, and we don’t need to go into details on the effect they had. But every company seeks to capture that magic product that hits he right market at the right time.

We were on hand in Orlando, Florida last week with Sea-Doo to attend a colorful media event for the Spark, with the term “disruptive product” being thrown around more than once. The Spark is a new entry-level personal watercraft (PWC) with some decidedly out-of-the-box thinking. After riding it, we think it’s a home run. Did we mention it will cost less than $5,000?

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, and I need to do some housekeeping.

The specs

The PWC market plays in a decidedly niche market. There are family-friendly starter watercraft in the $8,000 range, and they go all the way up to $18,000 luxury performance watercraft that have technology rivaling some sports cars. With the rising prices in the recreational marine market over the last decade, the PWC market (like most boat market niches) has stagnated and become mature. For those of you playing craigslist Find of the Day at home, there are also no shortage of boats that fall in that range. All this adds up to is a mature, stagnant market that is not pulling new customers to the sport. Sea-Doo has identified a large hole in the market for a PWC that is fun, not intimidating, family-friendly, and inexpensive to own and run. Their market analysis shows a sweet spot for the 25 to 35 demographic in the $5,000 to $7,000 price point, where younger families can justify buying a PWC. Up ’til now, however, the PWC market starts just north of there. This is where the Spark comes in.

The Spark is offered in a variety of colors and two different hull sizes.
The Spark is offered in a variety of colors and two different hull sizes.

The Spark begins with a mission: a lightweight, durable watercraft that is fun, not intimidating, low-maintenance, and retains its Sea-Doo DNA. From there, everything else is a blank page. The Spark makes a strong play at reducing costs without feeling cheap. You have your choice of 2up or the slightly longer 3up hull. The hull is all-new, based in the X4L hull, and is made from a mixture of roto-formed polymer and fiberglass. This reduces cost and weight, and ups the durability quotient. The deck is entirely made from a durable polymer, and bolted to the hull. The color components are also bolt-on, and are cast into the material—there is no gloss finish on exterior. There is also no glue anywhere in the construction process. The entire deck can be removed with an impact gun in 10 minutes, exposing all the mechanical bits underneath.

There are five colors available, each rendered in the aforementioned textured plastic rather than gel coat. If you’re handy with a wrench, we have it on good authority that you can change the color on a whim. The theme here is light and durable, and able to be towed behind almost any car available in the U.S. today. And we do mean light—the final weight wasn’t specified, but we were told around 400 pounds, or nearly less than half of what current products weigh. Two people can pick the ski up without back injuries. The upshot here is a highly durable hull that can take a lot of abuse.

Speaking of mechanical bits, you will be looking at one of two power plants when you do get in there, both of them variants of the Rotax 900 ACE engine. The base engine is a 60 horsepower variant with closed cooling, or for a small-up charge you can upgrade to the H.O. version with 90 horsepower. Going for the larger engine buys you Sea-Doo’s electronic throttle control with Sport Mode, which sharpens the throttle and unlocks the extra 30 horses. Additionally, going with the engine upgrade opens the door to iBR (intelligent Brake and Reverse) option, Sea-Doo’s exclusive braking feature. The engine upgrade is optional on the 2up and standard on the 3up, with iBR optional on both H.O.-equipped models. The engine is designed for hard running, with an oiling system that can lubricate the rotating assembly up to 90 degrees from the horizon. Fuel capacity is 7.9 gallons.

But let’s be honest. You don’t care about any of this. You only care how it rides, right? In a word, it’s spectacular—and reminiscent of PWCs from a decade ago.

The Spark's simple controls and satisfying performance make it a great PWC for a new rider.
The Spark’s simple controls and satisfying performance make it a great PWC for a new rider.

On the water

Climb aboard and the craft is stable and the seat is narrow, giving the rider room to work. The controls are simple: start/stop button on the left, throttle on the right, and a multifunction gauge in the center below the handlebars that shows speed, RPM, and fuel. The combination of light weight and peppy engine adds up to spirited performance. We took the 60 horsepower base model out and felt it was very enjoyable—perfect, really, for a new rider. Acceleration is adequate, and flat-out she will top out in the low 40s (we were not able to hook test gear up to these units as they were pre-production models). Handling, however, was a real eye-opener. The ski changes direction on a dime, carves hard corners, and has enough power to jump its own bow wake on a hole shot. Lean into it and lay on the gas in a corner and it will slide and spin like a hooligan. The ride was also quite palatable, occasionally slapping over really rough chop, but at no point was it uncomfortable.

Move up to the H.O. model and you gain Sport Mode, which remaps the throttle to be an order of magnitude more responsive. This turns the ski into a much more dynamic PWC, with instant power anywhere, and ups the top speed to 50 mph. Sea-Doo’s iBR system is foolproof as well, and very effective. Tap the left lever and the ski goes into neutral, with thrust diverted to either side. It allows the ski to rotate on its axis. Hold the lever to go to reverse. Tap the throttle briefly to put it back into forward. It definitely makes the ski much more maneuverable at docking speeds, and reassuring to the pilot at higher speeds. This was the configuration that everyone was clamoring to try, and even the most jaded PWC enthusiast came back with a smile on their faces, wanting another go. More than one came back from riding Sea-Doo’s other models and headed right back for the Spark—including me, for that matter.

It’s the duality of the Spark’s personality is what makes it so endearing. If you are new and inexperienced, there is nothing about your first ride on the Spark that is intimidating. It’s zippy, fun, and stable. Take a few laps around the lake, and you start to learn you can throw it around more. The Spark responds by focusing, carving harder lines, and getting more and more playful. Suddenly gentle turns and relaxed cruising becomes super-sharp transitions from left to right, kneeling down on the floorboards and dipping your shoulder into the corner. It makes you feel like a hero.

And at $5,000, your wallet will make you feel like a hero too. The Spark opens at $4,995 for the base 2up. Going to the H.O. model with iBR brings you up to $6,399. Buy a 3up (which includes both the H.O. and the iBR system) and you’re around $7,000. It is nearly impulse-buy money, and you get a warranty on top of it. Production is up and running and they should be in dealers by Thanksgiving.

Two thumbs way, way up on this. Go try one.

Images courtesy Sea-Doo

What's Your Reaction?

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  • SaltInMyVeins

    I hate these things. They are a nuisance on the water. Most users are novices and dont know the rules of the road. WHY review them on microskiff???????

  • Wake Turbulence

    Notwithstanding this poorly written article in desperate need of proofreading, the last thing we need is a bunch of these things polluting our waterways, being operated by bad drivers with nothing more than five grand burning a hole in their pocket. Speaking of Sea Doo, the last thing I recall about BRP is their company yacht “Sea Doo For Dad” ripping up multiple east coast marinas doing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage to boats without so much as an apology or explanation from corporate. Yeah, I think I will save my $5,000. Now if I could just get my five minutes back.

  • Spark it Up!

    ^ Why you mad though? lol
    The Most fuel efficient PWC on the water!, Clean 4 stroke fun! Fun, engaged riding & great handling.
    = Gets new market away from older, less fuel efficient PWC. (FYI-Boats are the least efficient thing on the water period! ) *how do you like that perspective?

    The riding/actions of a few should not be the image of everyone. Same goes for boaters who tend to drink all day in the sun & run ashore. 😉 Hmmm, flipside. You dont see Jet ski’ers taking cases of beer aboard now do ya.

    I do agree there should be a mandatory safety corse as well as navigational corse(NY has implemented this for PWC… and is trying to approve for ALL water vessel operators). It sure will reduce accidents of all sorts & be a revenue maker for the waterways.

    Now, back to the SPARK.
    Great entry level price point & modern tech. w/ a warranty. Plenty enough speed & tons of fun for not a lot of money. New design architecture for easier repair & customization.
    Whats not to like?
    Obviously not for the high performance speed freaks but that can get old too. Tossable fun, great handling, easy to use, store, tow, operate, work on, efficient, etc. Getting PWC back to it’s roots for anew generation @ an affordable price.

    • Kyle Crunkfest Austin

      droppin hammers… love this ski and cant wait to get one, i cant afford a 10k+ ski… and now i can , thanks sea foo

  • BOC Member

    This kid writer is a idiot !!.

  • BOC Member 2

    How come you NEVER posted any pics on BOC with you on one ?????

    • BOC Member 3

      I want to see his 500 pound wife on one!!

  • Marty Ice

    Just got done chatting with my dad on this very subject. The last ski I owned weighed 550 pounds and was capable of 62mph. I would love to see this ski next year with more HP and trim, would be close to perfect. Love the smaller skis. The newer ones are not only expensive, but they’re so damn big, they are no fun at all.