Bringing home a brand new personal watercraft (PWC) is an affordable way to have a ton of fun out on the water.
For much less than $10,000 you can have yourself a brand new machine from Sea-Doo and Yamaha, while Kawasaki has a Jet Ski for you at just a hair under $10K. Let’s take a look now at the cheapest PWC model from each brand and what they offer.
The Sea-Doo Spark is still the most affordable PWC that you can buy in the US, selling for $5499 ($6599 in Canada). First hitting the water in 2014, the Spark offered something in the PWC segment that wasn’t there before: a truly lightweight affordable option.
Going for a base 60-horsepower Spark is different in many ways from the competition, with one of the largest being that it is only a two-up machine with a weight carrying capacity of 352 lbs. At Yamaha and Kawasaki, even the base models are 3-ups.
A 3-up model is available from Sea-Doo with a capacity of 450 pounds, but of course you’ll pay for it. Bumping up to that model and its 90 horsepower engine will set you back $6,699 ($10,099 CAD), though that still makes it the most affordable PWC in the US.
With a dry weight of just 425 pounds, the Spark has a strong power-to-weight ratio and it feels like a small toy underneath the rider. This is both positive and negative on a PWC. The Spark is quite controllable with your body weight and the handling is quick, but don’t expect to tackle any serious waves without getting thrown around.
A unique proposition in the Spark lineup is the Trixx model, fit with a variable trim system that makes it possible to get the nose of the machine way up in the air or plunge it deep into the water. It allows the rider to do all sorts of different riding maneuvers, and it’s easy to have a blast with a Trixx even as a novice rider. Going for a 3-up Trixx model will set you back $7,599 ($9,199 CAD).
Reverse is not standard on the Spark, though it can be had with the 90-hp engine as an option.
The most affordable machine from Yamaha is the EX, offered in a few different flavors. At the base, this machine is worth $6,899 ($10,099 CAD), just a hair more expensive than the Spark. For that money, you’re getting a 100-horsepower engine, a dry weight of 578 pounds and a weight carrying capacity of 485 pounds.
As it uses a fiberglass hull unlike the Sea-Doo’s reinforced plastic, the Waverunner EX feels a little more like a proper PWC while the Sea-Doo comes across feeling like a toy. Handling is quick and responsive here as well, and thanks to its skinny width, the EX is an incredibly fun machine to throw into a corner.
Yamaha also decided to up the ante a little with the top-trim EXR model, adding more power and stripping out weight. With 110-hp, a dry weight of 540 pounds and a redesigned jet location, the EXR is playful and quick.
Going for the quicker model will cost you though, as the EXR sells for $9,399 ($13,599 CAD).
Base EX models don’t feature reverse, but bump up one model to the EX Sport and it is added. Then, jump one more level to the EX Deluxe and you get the R.I.D.E system from Yamaha, an intuitive two-lever setup that has the right hand act as forward propulsion and the left for backwards. This is similar to Sea-Doo’s system, which is also intuitive to use.
Kawasaki Jet Ski STX 160
The Kawasaki Jet Ski STX 160 is new for 2020 and it is certainly unique in this comparison, as it isn’t nearly as lightweight as the other two machines. And with a starting price of $9,599 ($14,199 CAD), this is also the most expensive of these machines. But there is a reason for that.
The STX packs four-cylinders, one more than the other two PWCs, and puts out 160 horsepower, vastly outgunning the competition, though when you look at power to weight, the Kawasaki is actually a little worse off. That is because this PWC weighs 864 pounds.
This is easily the largest and most stable machine of these three as well, packing in over three times more storage than the other two. All the STX models are 3-ups and the load capacity is 496 pounds.
The downsides of this machine are partially its size, as it doesn’t feel quite as playful or nimble as the others, but also its technology. Reverse is standard on the STX, but even at the top level, it is controlled by a lever and there is no neutral. This is much less intuitive than the twin-lever setup on the competition, and not having a neutral means you’re always in motion. This is the way PWCs once were, but both Yamaha and Sea-Doo offer these features on its most affordable models, while Kawi doesn’t.
At the top end, pricing for the STX LX model caps off at $11,699 ($16,499 CAD).
For even more information on all of these machines, be sure to watch the video embedded above.