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Mon 13 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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Suspending reality

With their new intelligent suspension system, Sea Doo has produced an unbelievably advanced personal watercraft.

With their new intelligent suspension system, Sea Doo has produced an unbelievably advanced personal watercraft.

There are few wetter and wilder waterborne experiences than riding a top-end performance watercraft...well that is, except a Press Trip to Florida complete with wriggly models, Nascar parties, 30 other hedonistic journalists and a hurricane.

But roll them all up into one experience and you'll understand why editing BOME is one of the best jobs in the world. Each year the ‘gentlemen' of the press gather in some idyllic location and are introduced to the latest piece of hi-tec adrenaline-charged machinery set to roll off BRP's production line.

The scene goes something a little like this: "Many thanks for joining us here in the Bahamas/Cancun/Florida/Bermuda (delete as appropriate) for the launch of our new model year line-up. Journalists we'd like to introduce to you the new GTX Ltd iS. Watercraft we'd like to introduce you to a pack of wild eyed children who have just woken up in wonderland..."

The power of 255 supercharged horses lurks beneath the seat.

The rest of the speech is lost in whoops of joy, the whistle of superchargers and the scream of rev counters, protesting as their needles contort around stops. At this point 30 skis blaze toward the horizon - It's a hell of a job and I'm glad I'm the one who gets to do it!

In all seriousness though, the Bombardier Recreational Products Press Launch is one of the most eagerly anticipated on any marine journalist's calendar because BRP, and the Sea Doo brand they manufacture, consistently raise the bar in terms of innovation, performance and style.

For 2009 however, they've not so much raised the bar, as pole vaulted out of the stadium and are enjoying a cool refreshment in the car park whilst the competition are left scratching their heads, wondering what just happened.

The truth is Sea Doo's new GTX Ltd iS and RXT iS 255 are the most technologically advanced watercraft on the planet. Not only have BRP produced what is effectively a two-piece PWC joined by a computer controlled suspension unit, but they've also loaded it with a bewildering array of additional features. We've already mentioned the iS system, so let's address that and save the rest of the goodies for later on.

Anyone who has ridden in a watercraft endurance race will be familiar with stepping off their craft at the end, only to have their legs buckle under them. While endurance racing is a strength-sapping, quad-burning physical extreme, the designers at BRP recognise that today's leisure rider enjoys the longer cruising ability of their craft, so they need a ride that is smooth, efficient and comfortable.

Upon firing up one of Sea Doo's two iS models, the whole top deck eases itself up from the sealed bottom hull by a full six inches - a bit like the old Citroen air suspension cars, but infinitely cooler.

Any chop or wave impact experienced while riding is then absorbed by the intelligent spring system underneath the whole rider environment - seat, handlebars and foot trays. The suspension allows riders to remain seated in comfort throughout most riding conditions, eliminating fatigue and increasing the sense of control and security.

Give me a brake!Clocking up yet another industry first, Sea Doo's two iS models for 2009 feature an intelligent braking system. The system is designed to, and ably acomplishes the task of, stopping the watercraft in a far shorter distance than it would when normally glide to a halt under it's own momentum.

Happily, during our attempts to test the iBrake system to destruction, it held up to scrutiny. Running flat out across the water, we applied full pressure to the brake lever - waiting for a sickening wrench and the sound of a reverse bucket being forcefully detatched.

Instead the ski responded by slowing to a stop in a sure and progressive manner. There was no danger of being thrown over the handlebars, but the craft does draw to a halt in a assertive manner.

When the brake lever on the left handlebar, similar to those found on Ski-Doo snow-mobiles and Can-Am ATVs, is activated, the engine cuts power, the reverse bucket deploys,then the engine reapplies power while in reverse mode - the result is outstanding.

At this juncture you may point out that Sea Doo incorporated a suspension system on their HX and XP models, and they were hardly a huge leap forward. What one must understand however, is that while their spring has sprung, the iS system ushers in a new technological age. It has a brain that could would give Stephen Hawking a run for his money.

In addition to being programmed with pre-set factory calibrations that ensures the GTX Ltd iS enjoys a smoother cruising ride - and the RXT 255 iS a sportier, stiffer set-up - the rider is able to adjust the suspension while riding.

A rocker switch on the left handle-bar enables the rider to fine-tune the suspension calibration through nine different settings; from soft to firm. The current setting is displayed at the top of the Multi-Function Digital Information Centre.

If the pilot prefers to let the iS system take the strain out of thinking as well as riding, a full Auto mode is also available. When engaged, the auto setting continuously reads the stroke of the suspension, amount of travel and rider weight, then adjusts constantly for comfort - independently compensating for changing water conditions.

When you arrive at your destination and switch the ski off, the suspension lowers back to rest position; lowering the craft's centre of gravity and improving stability. Would you have thought of that? We told you it is intelligent!

Those familiar with the Sea Doo range will recognise the GTX Ltd as being their flagship luxury cruiser, and for 2009 they have continued to add features that keep it ahead of the pack. Worthy of note are the retractable mooring lines, hidden on the cowling near the handle bars and at the stern.

This fantastic idea eliminates the requirement to forage around in the craft's cavernous storage areas for your ropes. Though it does make you wonder how long it will take for someone to come up with a similar system to stash the tow-rope on a PWC.

Another wonderful touch, on both iS models, is the way the multi-function display tilts in tandem with the adjustable handlebars, making reading your gauges a synch whilst underway.

Whilst function is all very well, aesthetics certainly have their part to play in any impulse purchase. With its angular profile, flowing lines the GTX Ltd iS certainly looks the part - though I'm sure the yellow ‘Hummer-esque' appearance of the ‘rugged yellow' RXT 255 iS will prove to be more popular.

"Function? Aesthetics? Tell us about performance!" I hear you cry. With the most powerful production PWC engine packed under a skirt that allows for easy access, you know it's going to move!

Admittedly the iS system does add weight to GTX Ltd iS, but the new lightweight S3 hull does go some way to compensating for it. Another revelation is the stepped form of the hull, utilising a design concept well proven in the sportsboat world. The steps introduce air into the water aft of the intake grate - this aeration decreases drag and improves hydrodynamic efficiency.

The power of 255 supercharged intercooled horses lurks under the seat, and it only takes the lightest of touches on the cable-free finger throttle to have you charging headlong toward the horizon. As the chop blurs by, beneath the gently undulating seat, a grin spreads across your face - the suspension may ‘sanitise' the ride for hardcore riders, but it opens the door to some long range cruising.

The long hull ensures good hook-up for the pump, and the back-end grips well in turns - though not as agressively as a bouy-racer ski, which is ideal for a watercraft in this class.

With the rev counter needle wrapped around its stop, the supercharger whistling it's high pitched tune, and a whoop of unadulterated joy, I head for the line where the sky meets the ocean. Reality is suspended; I'm on the world's most advanced watercraft.

Flying by wireBy installing a powerful computer aboard their new craft, Sea Doo have been able to open up a whole new world of applications, including a ‘fly-by-wire' throttle.

With the analogue cable replaced by electronic sensors, this new iControl system allows Sea Doo to include more world firsts like a GPS activated cruise control system, Neutral mode, slow speed mode, off throttle assisted steering, a GPS speedomeeter and more.

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