Have you ever seen a small dog that thinks it’s a big dog? It won’t back down from a fight, even if the challenger is a Great Dane. The Donzi 26 ZX is a lot like that.
Measuring a compact 26 feet, 5 inches down its centerline, this sportboat may not look as imposing as some of the larger offshore breeds, but it’s every bit as proud — and it has a bite to match its bark.
The 26 ZX is part of Donzi’s flagship ZX Series, which has a reputation for being anything but diminutive in the performance arena. Therefore, with its Z-Tech stepped hull and race-bred heritage, the 26 ZX conceivably has the ability to leave all who challenge it whimpering in its wake.
We were curious to see what would happen if we let the 26 ZX loose on the untamed Pacific, so we contacted Outerlimits Marine, the exclusive Donzi dealer for Southern California. They were gracious enough to take us out for a spin.
Bring a Leash
Douglas Phelps from Outerlimits Marine met us bright and early at the launch ramp in Newport’s Back Bay. Offshore boating in Southern California is best done first thing in the morning or later in the evening, because the wind tends to kick up a nasty chop around mid- to late-afternoon.
Smaller sportboats, such as the 26 ZX, do not have the weight and reach to compete against monstrous swells, so it’s important to monitor weather conditions when planning an offshore run. Just like the small dog that thinks it’s a big dog, the 26 ZX must rely on its master to determine when it’s time to back down. Although it’s aggressive, this boat is not suitable for rough-and-tumble play in big water.
It was a slow, 45 minute cruise through Newport Harbor to get to the open ocean, and the boat almost seemed to be begging us to let it run free. Powered by a 385 hp MerCruiser V-8 engine, with a Bravo One drive, spinning a 15-1/2 by 24 inch, three blade stainless steel propeller, the nose of the boat proceeded to point in every direction as we headed toward the breakwater.
This is typical behavior for a single-prop engine at near-idle speed, especially if it’s pushing a stepped deep-V hull, and it requires constant wheel correction. The wandering can easily be tamed with counter rotating props available on MerCruiser’s Bravo Three drive, which will give you better straight-line tracking at slow or high speeds, and also while backing.
Release the Hound
As soon as we passed the breakwater, Phelps gunned it and the boat leaped onto plane almost immediately. Since it was a Wednesday morning, we had the ocean all to ourselves. We were up against 2 to 3 foot swells and a light chop, but thankfully no white caps.
We started off cruising down the coast in quartering seas, watching the numbers on our GPS steadily climb to 46.5 mph at 3,900 rpm. Then suddenly, without warning, Phelps went charging into head seas in hope of becoming airborne. He accomplished his goal quickly enough.
We bent our knees in anticipation of a hard landing, but the boat touched down softly before rising up again, as if it were riding on a track. That’s the beauty of Donzi’s 22 degree Z-Tech hull design. The two-step ventilated bottom, with its modified-V pad keel, forces air under the hull to reduce the wetted surface. The result is less pounding when the boat re-enters the water.
We’ve ridden on a few offshore boats that make your backbone feel like an accordion — squishing together and pulling apart your vertebrae. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case aboard the 26 ZX, although fear of being ejected from the boat did enter our minds. Strategically placed grab handles and body-hugging seats helped ease our anxieties.
We then did a 180 and hightailed it in following seas. This time we recorded a top speed of 55 mph at 4,500 rpm. With a maximum horsepower rating of 470, the 26 ZX is capable of reaching 70-plus mph; however, we were content not to hit the revlimiter. Mind you, high-speed runs on the ocean are not like driving an automobile on the freeway. It is serious business, but also serious fun if you like to go “real fast.”
Good With Children
Another good thing about the 26 ZX is that it’s easily trailerable, so you can race it offshore whenever the need for speed arises, and also take it to the lake for use as a family boat.
While some sportboats are designed strictly for performance, Donzi also emphasizes comfort. The 26 ZX has a wide 8 foot, 6 inch beam, which allows for a roomier cockpit and cabin.
Up to six passengers can pile into the cockpit, which features a skid-resistant deck, and also comes with snap-in carpeting. There’s a roomy sunpad at the stern for lounging when the boat is stopped.
Lift up the center cushion on the aft bench seat to find cleverly hidden cooler storage. There’s also an insulated cooler in the passenger console that can hold a six-pack of your favorite canned beverage. Molded-in cup holders can be found within arm’s reach of the driver and passenger seats, as well as next to both corners of the aft bench seat.
Donzi offers an optional Family Package, which includes a windshield (a windscreen is standard), a Bimini top and a transom grab bar with a ski tow eye. The 26 ZX has no problem pulling up waterskiers and its step bottom produces less of a wake at high speed. For wakeboarding, you’d have to bury the trim tabs to create a bigger wake, but it can be done.
Overnighting is possible, thanks to a berth that’s actually big enough to sleep two adults. An overhead hatch provides adequate ventilation, and there’s enough room to move around on the cushion so that you’re not lying directly underneath the hatch. A small galley and a portable head complete the picture.
With its sensational looks, incredible performance and creature comforts, the 26 ZX may offer the perfect balance of an offshore racer and a family boat. Because it’s a single engine sportboat, it is much more affordable than its twin-engine counterparts, which makes it especially appealing to those wishing to break into the go-fast lifestyle.
Donzi 26 ZX Specifications
|Draft w/drive down||3’2″|
|Dry weight||5,000 pounds|
|Fuel capacity94 gallons|
|Maximum power||470 hp|
|Base price with MerCruiser 496 MAG stern drive (Bravo One drive)||$78,635|
|Price as tested with a MerCruiser 454 MAG MPI stern drive (Bravo One drive) plus upgrades||$84,186|
|Top speed||56.2 mph|
|Cruising speed||40 mph|
|Miles per gallon at 40-mph cruising speed||3|
|Fuel cost for 100 miles||$47.33**|
|Range at 40-mph cruising speed||282 miles|
(Fuel cost based on a fuel price of $1.42 per gallon.)
|Model||MerCruiser 454 MAG MPI stern drive (Bravo One drive)|
|Bore and stroke||4.25″ x 4.00:|
|Maximum engine speed||5,000 rpm|
Z-Care five-year warranty, cabin accent lighting, cabin/cockpit carpet, pop-up stainless steel cleats, compass, full Gaffrig instrumentation w/color-matched bezels, deck hatch w/screen, portable head, leather steering wheel, Sony AM/FM stereo system w/CD player/four speakers/remote, swim ladder, trim tabs, transom shower.
Dual batteries, electric bolster seats, digital compass/depth finder, full diamond-plated engine compartment, Quick & Quiet Plus exhaust w/mufflers, custom graphics, color matched pillows, external hydraulic assist steering, Ultimate Sony AM/FM stereo system w/CD player/five speakers/10-disc changer/remote, Zero Effort control w/trim, Family Package: windshield, Bimini top, transom grab bar w/ski tow eye.
For more information
P.O. Box 987
Tallevast, FL 34270-0987