Bayliner 215 Capri Sport LX: America’s Runabout

Bayliner's 215 Capri Sports LX celebrates 20 years of Capris by setting a new standard

10th May 2001.
By Joe Skorupa

Bayliner's 215 Capri Sport LX has been updated and upgraded for 2001.

Bayliner’s 215 Capri Sport LX has been updated and upgraded for 2001.

Twenty years after making a legendary and extremely successful debut, the Bayliner Capri gets a major overhaul for 2001. This isn’t to imply that last year’s Capri was old. On the contrary, it was overhauled as recently as 1998.

But the Capri gets special treatment from Bayliner because of its status as the world’s best-selling boat model, according to statistics compiled from state boat registrations. The Capri gets refreshed every three years to make sure it stays ahead of the design curve and maintains its position at the top of the sales heap.

To get a feel for what the 20th anniversary Capri is all about I hopped into the 215 Sport LX model and took it for a spin near Boca Grande, Florida. While idling out of the marina, I couldn’t help but think of the first Capri to roll down the production line in 1981, my rookie year as a boating writer.

The First Package Boat

In 1981, I was breaking into the magazine business in New York. That was the same year a modest-sized company from the Pacific Northwest introduced a new model that would soon revolutionize boating. The boat was called Capri and, unlike other boats of the age, it came packaged with an engine, standard features and a trailer.

This package-boat concept may not sound revolutionary now, but it simply didn’t exist at the time. Instead, boaters sat down with dealers and individually ordered every item on the boat, from the propeller to the instruments on the dash. This buyer unfriendly process effectively doubled the asking price, caused unnecessary sticker shock and proved to be an all-around hassle.

The new package-boat approach made buying a simple, turnkey process. Bayliner sweetened the deal by setting incredibly affordable prices, and the concept took off.

Fastforward to the present. I’m sitting at the helm of the 215 Sport LX and pushing the throttle forward to reach planing speed. The smooth-running small-block V-8 engine pops up the boat with ease. After spending a few minutes getting a feel for the wheel, my next step is to put the standard 5.0-liter, 220-horsepower MerCruiser Alpha I stern drive to the test.

Bow-rise during hole-shot runs is minimal, and acceleration time from 0-25 mph is a respectable 7.25 seconds. Top-end speed, as indicated on the speedometer and confirmed by a hand-held GPS, is an outstanding 52 mph. (Test figures represent an average of multiple runs in opposing directions with three adults aboard. Wind and chop were negligible.)

These numbers prove that the standard engine is well matched to the 215 Capri’s size — 20 feet, 8 inches long, 8 feet wide, 3,063 pounds. To put this performance into perspective, it’s important to understand that an unofficial top-speed benchmark for runabouts is 50 mph. Models with base power often fall short of this mark. To get many base boats to climb above the 50-mph barrier you typically need to order the boat with a more powerful engine and pay a higher price. That isn’t necessary with the 215 Capri.

However, for those who want to squeeze out a few more clicks on the speedo, engine options include the 240-horsepower MerCruiser 5.0L EFI and the 250-horsepower MerCruiser 5.7L, both with Alpha drives.

Raising the Bar

VDO instruments are among the highlights at the comfortable helm.

VDO instruments are among the highlights at the comfortable helm.

As successful as the first few model years of the Capri were, enabling Bayliner to become the world’s largest builder of recreational boats by the mid-1980s, the much-copied package-boat concept also brought certain problems. Chief among these was an impression fueled by competitors and old-school boaters that questioned Bayliner’s dedication to quality.

To address this lingering impression, one of the goals set by the design team for the 2001 Capri, according to John Russell, president of Bayliner, was to declare “no excuses.” The design team was charged to build a boat that “in addition to being affordable and fun to use, is also durable, dependable and loaded with state-of-the art features,” said Russell.

To help achieve Russell’s goal, the designers came up with the following list of impressive standard Capri Sport LX features:

  • Integrated, in-dash gauge cluster manufactured by VDO, the same company that supplies gauges to BMW, Audi and Porsche
  • JVC radio/CD player
  • Sunbrella bow-well cover and convertible top with boot
  • Integrated trip gauge that displays engine hours, trip log, distance traveled and trip hours
  • Depth sounder and water-temperature gauge
  • Danforth compass
  • Speedometer that uses a paddlewheel sensor instead of a pito tube, which makes it accurate to about 1 mph
  • Two 12-volt accessory outlets
  • Tilt steering wheel with padded grip
  • XL plywood deck and seat components with lifetime limited guarantee against hull rot
  • Five-year transferable, limited hull warranty
  • Escort painted trailer with Super Lube bearing protection

This abbreviated list of standard features (the complete list is too long to show here) applies to the upscale Sport LX version, which has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $23,995. The boat is also available as a 215 Sport, which means that it omits the depth sounder/water-temperature gauge and compass, and substitutes a cassette player for the CD player. The non-LX version has an MSRP of $23,295.

The Sport designation refers to a bucket-and-aft-bench-seat arrangement. Capris without the Sport designation come with extendable sleeper seats and aft jump seats The only options available on LX boats are Sunbrella tops (Bimini, tonneau cover and side curtains/slant cover) and engine upgrades already noted.

Full Beam Ahead

The only way to get a feel for a boat’s rough-water ride on a calm day is to stir up some chop. And the best way to do this is to run through a series of high-speed, wheel-lock turns.

Naturally, drivers aren’t supposed to horse around making donuts and hair-pin turns under normal operating conditions, but if they did, the Capri would handle it with aplomb. There’s no hint of hooking or sliding wide at the stern. Prop ventilation is minimal even in the tightest of high-speed turns. And the 19-degree deadrise V-hull slices smoothly through chop.

Drivers should appreciate the helm with its padded-grip steering wheel, VDO dash gauges and a windshield that’s perfectly positioned for optimal sightlines and protection from wind and rain.

With base power, the 215 Capri Sport LX will run more than 50 mph.

With base power, the 215 Capri Sport LX will run more than 50 mph.

Like most bowriders, the Capri has plenty of drink holders, built-in stowage spaces, an in-deck ski/wakeboard compartment, ski tow ring, transom platform and a bow seating pod. Unlike most bowriders, however, the new Capri features a beam-forward design that widens and deepens the forefoot just ahead of the twin consoles. The result is a forward seating area that approaches the roominess and comfort level of a deck boat without the blunt-nosed shape.

So, how important is the 2001 Capri redesign to Bayliner? Last year, Bayliner sold 25,000 boats. Of those, about 13,000 were Capris.

Numbers alone adequately make the case for calling the Capri America’s runabout. But hopping into the driver’s seat and taking a test drive really drives the point home. Overall, the sweet-riding 20th anniversary version of this legendary bowrider may be the best Capri yet.

Boat Specification

Length Overall 20’8″
Beam 8′
Draft (drive up) 1’7″
Draft (drive down) 2’11″
Weight (with standard engine) 3,063 lbs.
Deadrise 19°
Bridge clearance 3’11″
Fuel capacity 45 gal.
Engine (standard) 5.0 L MerCruiser Alpha 1 stern drive (220 hp)
Price as tested $23,995

Standard Equipment

  • ski tow ring
  • three-step ladder
  • padded-grip steering wheel
  • VDO dash instrumentation
  • integrated trip calculator
  • depth sounder
  • Two 12-volt accessory outlets
  • Danforth compass
  • JVC radio/CD player
  • Sunbrella bow-well cover and convertible top with boot
  • Escort painted trailer
  • Five-year structural hull transferable limited warranty

Optional Power

  • 5.0-L EFI MerCruiser Alpha 1 stern drive (240 hp)
  • 5.7-L MerCruiser Alpha 1 stern drive (250 hp)

For more information

Bayliner Marine Corp.
P.O. Box 9029
Everett, WA 98206
(360) 435-5571


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