You can skip this Performance Report if you own an exotic high-performance V-bottom or catamaran. Heck, you can skip it if you own a production-built sport boat or a cruiser. Chances are, your entry-level boat-buying days are behind you.
But if you did return to your runabout roots, you could do a lot worse than Chaparral’s 204 SSi. In fact, you couldn’t do much better, because the 20-footer is as loaded as entry-level offerings come and provides the kind of spunky performance that probably started you on your performance-boat progression. We tested the 204 SSi this fall in Fort Myers, Fla., and it reminded us that you don’t have to run 100 mph to enjoy moving across the water.
Standard power for the 204 SSi is a 260-hp MerCruiser 5.0 MPI with a 1.62:1 Alpha drive. The propulsion package, which included a Mercury Quicksilver 14 3/4″ x 21″ three-blade aluminum propeller, is an excellent choice for a number of reasons.
First—at least for us—it provided enough power to make the 3,400-pound 204 SSi come alive. Top speed for the bow rider, which planed out in 5.3 seconds, was 53.4 mph. The boat reached 47 mph in 15 seconds and ran from 20 to 40 mph in 6.5 seconds.
Second, the boat wasn’t overpowered. We suspect most buyers for the 204 SSi will be first-time owners. Given that, the boat’s 50-plus-mph top end and manageable acceleration numbers were more than adequate.
Third, the runabout’s small-block engine sipped fuel. At wide-open throttle, it burned a little less than 20 gallons per hour. Fuel capacity is 51 gallons, which means you could run wide open for a little more than 2 1/2 hours—unlikely as that would be—before running out of gas. Run a more reasonable 35 mph and you won’t have to stop for fuel for about five hours or roughly 165 miles.
Chaparral outfitted the 204 SSi with its tried-and-true, 20-degree Extended V-Plane hull, which produced predictable and consistent handling. The runabout was nimble and responsive in slalom and circle turns. It also tracked well, although being relatively light, the boat’s tracking was affected by strong wind gusts. The 204 SSi rode softly in smooth water, though the rough 2- to 4-foot slop we encountered at one point during our evaluations pushed it to its comfort limit.
The solid-feeling 204 SSi was built with Hydropel resin, fiberglass mat, woven roving and NPG gelcoat. For added strength and sound deadening, closed-cell foam was injected into the hull.
Vinyl tape accents complimented the boat’s bright two-tone, black-and-white gelcoat, which was protected by a plastic rubrail with a stainless-steel insert. Mold work was exceptionally clean, particularly for that of a production-built runabout.
Equally exceptional was the boat’s hardware, which included six Accon Pull-Up cleats and boarding ladders on the bow and on the stern. Particularly clever in design, the bow ladder folded above the anchor locker but below the lid that covered it. The bow ladder will surely come in handy when the boat is beached bow-in. The stern ladder folded into a recess in the extended add-on swim platform (an option worth every penny of its $867 up charge), which also featured two draining wet lockers.
A manual engine hatch/sun pad supported by gas struts covered the engine compartment. In standard production fashion, the builder installed the small-block engine with lag bolts driven into the stringers. Wiring, some of which was protected in conduit, was reasonably supported with tie-wrap-style cushion clamps.
Chaparral designed the 204 SSi with a sun pad that had a removable cushion over a walk-through on the starboard side. The provision enabled passengers to enter without stepping on upholstery and the builder also made the starboard cushion for the bench removable. Once everyone is aboard, cushions can be put back in place.
Decidedly upscale, the cockpit included swiveling bucket seats with flip-up bottoms for the driver and co-pilot and welted Berber carpet covering the nonskid sole. A separate piece of Berber carpet snapped onto the lid for the immense in-sole locker, which was supported by a substantial gas strut. The boat’s gunwales were richly padded, and its carpeted gunwale trays were deep and wide.
Though simple in terms of amenities, the co-pilot’s dash included a draining cooler and lockable glove box. The starboard helm, on the other hand, with its optional real mahogany steering wheel that tilted and privately labeled silver-face gauges in silver bezels, was posh. All accessory switches were on the right side of the wheel and the Mercury shifter/throttle unit was mounted on the gunwale.
The bow walk-through was exceptionally wide for that of a 20-footer, and the bow area was completed with strong attention to comfort and detail. Like the main bottom cushion for the bench in the cockpit, the bottom cushions for the lounges opened on two-position hinges for stowage compartment access. Under the removable forward cushion, which was not hinged, there was a small draining cooler. The open bow area’s sole also was covered in snap-in Berber carpet.
Boat prices haven’t exactly dropped in recent years, but then neither have consumer expectations. Even first-time buyers have become demanding—as they should be for the money they’ll spend—and they no longer accept bare-bones, entry-level models. The people at Chaparral know this, which is why the 204 SSi provides enough driving pleasure and smart features to please today’s most discerning buyers.
Hull and Propulsion Information
|Deadrise at transom||20 degrees|
|Hull weight||3,400 pounds|
|Engine MerCruiser||5.0 MPI|
|Lower-unit gear ratio||1.62:1|
|Propeller||Mercury Quicksilver 14 3/4″ x 21″|
|Price as tested||$36,124|
Upgrade to extended swim platform ($867), premium package ($564), cockpit and bow covers ($537), cruise pack ($443), snap-in carpet ($443), wide-band black gelcoat ($393), fire-extinguisher system ($244), champagne sport graphic ($183) and woodgrain steering wheel ($183).
|3 seconds||14 mph|
|5 seconds||22 mph|
|10 seconds||38 mph|
|15 seconds||47 mph|
|20-40 mph||6.5 seconds|
|30-50 mph||9.4 seconds|
Rpm vs. Mph
|Radar||53.4 mph at 5000 rpm|
|Nordskog Performance Products GPS||52.6 mph at 5000 rpm|
|Time to plane||5.3 seconds|
|Minimum planing speed||19 mph|
|At 25 mph||3.8 mpg|
|At 35 mph||3.4 mpg|
|At 45 mph||3 mpg|
|At WOT||2.7 mpg|
|Fuel capacity||51 gallons|
For More Information
P.O. Drawer 928
Nashville, GA 31639