Stingray 181RS
Dynamic Duo
Trailer Boats - June 1996

NOTE: the 181RS was previously the 551zp

181RS The goal of most boatbuilders is to build a boat with good looks, good handling and a good ride. Fuel economy is generally less important. Boats on the showroom floor aren't required to display Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fuel-economy figures, and frankly, few people ask. Those who do usually get an inaccurate figure from the salesman, which is soon forgotten. In short, most people know that powerboats burn a lot of fuel.

Stingray boats, however, has put the good looks, handling and ride together with a bottom design that plucks the last mile out of a gallon of gas and the last mile per hour out of the available horsepower. The emphasis is on efficiency, and with the company's Z-plane hull designs, Stingray boats are at (or near) the top.

From a fuel-economy standpoint, Stingray makes all outboards look good, but when you mate a 551zp Stingray with a 90hp Honda four-cycle outboard, and you get some impressive economy figures that are seldom seen in boating today.

Stingray builds two outboard models: the 501zp and the 551zp at 16 feet 6 inches and 17 feet 10 inches, respectively. The 501 is rated at 80 hp, and should be a real screamer with a 75hp Honda. The 551, our test boat for this story, is rated for 120 hp. While not a screamer with the 90hp Honda, the package provides excellent overall performance.

Top speed for the 551 zp is nearly 44 mph, an exceptional level of performance with a 90hp engine pushing a nearly 18-foot boat. Add to this an optimum cruising speed of 25 mph and 7.4 miles per gallon, and it's a package that will go a long way on a tank of gas and still tow skiers without breaking the bank. The 551 is an entry-level boat, but there's nothing entry level about its construction, detail finish or quality of materials used. The 551 Stingray isn't loaded with accessories, but the important ones are there, such as an insulated ice chest, through-bolted and properly backed stainless cleats and a convertible top, plus a Maxxima stereo.

Stingrays are built primarily with hand-laid construction, using 32-ounce fiberglass and Klegecell core material for a strong, lightweight structure. Four longitudinal, cross-braced stringers are set to reinforce the hull at the planing strakes. These stringers are computer-cut for a perfect fit and are fully encapsulated in fiberglass for long life. The floorboard is glassed in place, and the voids are foam-filled for flotation. The hull molds are exceptionally clean and free of ripples, and the rubrail is straight and true. That's important, because a misaligned or wavy rubrail is a sure sign of a poor fit between the deck and the hull, an all-too-common problem on many boats. Thankfully, it isn't a problem on the Stingray. Gelcoats are clear and bright, and graphics are held to a tasteful minimum.

The wraparound, walk-through windshield has a jaunty rake, and is solidly braced and designed to enhance the appearance of the boat.

The interior layout is conventional, with a pedestal bucket seat for the driver and fold-down, back-to-back lounge seats on the portside. Two jump seats are fitted on either side of the outboard motor well. The bowrider area provides additional seating and storage. A optional second set of back-to-back seats is available in place of the pedestal bucket seat, but in my opinion, they consume too much floor space and make the cockpit a bit cramped. Additional storage is adjacent to the seats under the gunwale and in a generous ski-storage locker built into the floor.

The instrument panel is custom-molded, with a collection of essential outboard instruments on the driver's side and a molded storage magazine quote compartment on the port side. Upholstery is first-rate. The bucket and lounge seats feature a rot-proof, plastic core and have generous bolsters to hold you in place comfortably. Stitching is straight, the patterns are simple and attractive, and the colors and design are carried over to the cockpit coaming and hull sides in the bowrider area. A grabrail around the forward deck provides a handhold for riders in the bow area. An item I don't often comment on, but would like to see more of, is handholds for all passengers. This holds true for the Stingray and a lot of other boats.

The 90hp Honda goes a long way in adding to the desirability of this package. This four-cylinder, four-cycle, inline engine has several special features. It uses numerous parts from the Honda Civic automobile engine, including crankshaft, rods, pistons, rings and bearings. The block, of course, is new. The engine mounts the flywheel between the block and the tower housing, reducing the center of gravity. The starter motor is also lowered. By moving these relatively large items to a lower position, styling can also be improved. In addition, the engine features three valves per cylinder, an overhead camshaft, and four carburetors (one for each cylinder).

The idling characteristics of this engine are superb. No coughing, no misfiring, no bucking, and no smoking. The idle is extremely smooth and quiet; so much so that care must be taken to avoid trying to start the engine when it's already running.

The 90 Honda remains quiet and smooth well into the upper reaches of its rpm range. At wide-open throttle the engine has a distinct mechanical clatter that lets you know there are a lot of pieces moving around inside at a very fast pace. The noise is not objectionable, it's just there.

Four-cycle engines don't have the low-end torque of comparably sized two-cycle engines, and on acceleration the initial surge off the line isn't as strong. The engine has a long, flat torque curve and offers a steady, smooth pull from idle right up to top speed.

The four-cycle Honda also meets current and proposed EPA regulations for hydrocarbon emissions. However, like the direct-injected two-cycles, this clean-burning engine comes with some cost penalties. In this particular instance, engine complexity is responsible. Valves (12 in this case), associated valve springs, camshaft and cam drive are all pans that a conventional two-cycle engine doesn't have. The retail price of a 90hp two-cycle engine varies from $5648 for a Force to $8718 for a Suzuki; the average 90hp two-cycle is approximately $7740. The Honda 90, on the other hand, retails for $9270.

The Honda 90 is currently the only four-cycle engine in its class. It gets better fuel economy, it doesn't smoke, it idles smoothly and it runs strong. The real question comes down to one point - $9270 will also purchase a 120hp Force, a 112hp OMC, a 115hp Mercury or Mariner, a 140hp Nissan or Tohatsu or a 115 Yamaha Commercial model. Will consumers opt for the best-running, 90hp engine, or opt for a less-expensive, less sophisticated, two-cycle engine that puts out more horsepower? We'll watch the sales figures with interest.

Economics aside, if you think we're impressed with this package, you're right. The Honda is a superior outboard that's a pleasure to operate. It performs well with the Stingray 551 zp, a solidly built boat without frills, but nicely detailed with quality materials, excellent overall performance, a good ride and a respectable top speed. This is the type of package that will entertain friends and friends of friends for a long time to come.

Trailer Boats
June 1996


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