2014 Sea-Doo Spark Review – Rides Like a Sportbike

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The Ninja 300 of the personal watercraft world, the all-new 2014 Sea-Doo Spark is lighter, costs less and has a higher power-to-weight ratio than anything else twice the price. I just spent two days in Orlando with a new Spark and while I can’t walk today, it’s all I’ve thought about since giving it back.

What’s New

The team at Sea-Doo, a subsidiary of Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) and sister brand to Can-Am, spent the better part of eight years creating the 2014 Sea-Doo Spark, and used the Sea-Doo’s of the mid 1990′s as inspiration. Those were some of the first personal watercrafts (PWC’s) to launch the sport into mainstream status. Since then, PWC’s have gotten bigger, heavier and more expensive, causing the entire sport to become more of a niche with each passing year.

To combat industry trends, BRP set out to make the lake feel bigger by making the Spark small, fast and financially accessible. They gave it the code name “CAFE” which stood for Clean, Affordable, Fun, and Easy to use. Oh, and that you could get two for the price of one.

That said, the Spark is an all new beast while also incorporating several features from some of its more expensive siblings.

2up Model

The Spark comes in two different versions, the 2up and 3up. They are essentially the same, but the 3up has a longer seat and an additional section bolted onto the back for additional stability and buoyancy.

The hull and deck are made from a material called Polytec, which is a low-density (lightweight) and high-impact composite material that is also 100% recyclable. They chose this because it was lighter than the typical fiberglass that is used in pretty much every other PWC on the market. It also has the added benefit of a matte finish that is often seen in the automotive space. In real life though, it just looks like plastic.

The structure of the Spark is created by the Exoskel, an all-new aluminum skeleton that keeps the essential parts in the front of the watercraft while maintaining a strong but lightweight frame.

Instead of gluing the hull to the deck, as is customary on other PWCs, they found a way to screw them together while maintaining structural integrity and a proper seal. Why? You can literally unscrew the deck from the hull in about 10 minutes, giving you completely open access to work on any of the internal bits that need attention. I was skeptical, but after watching the demo, I can say they’ve cracked the code. This will cut down both service time and expense as you no longer have to gain access through tiny service doors as is typical for PWCs.

3up Model

The engine is the same Rotax 900 ACE engine found in many of the new Ski-Doo models. They offer two versions, the regular Rotax 900 ACE and the Rotax 900 ACE HO (high output) which is chipped to offer more horsepower. As with motorcycles, the Spark uses a fly-by-wire system that, in the HO engine, allows you to electronically choose between a Touring and Sport fueling options.

The Spark also incorporates features found in many of its higher priced siblings. The iBR (intelligent brake and reverse) can stop the watercraft up to 100 ft sooner than others on the market and also makes docking incredibly easy with the reverse function.

The D-Sea-Bel system is basically a giant muffler in the rear of the Spark which greatly reduces any exhaust noise. Walking between the different docking areas, I wouldn’t hear the Spark on the water until I was maybe 20 yards away from the beach.

Sea-Doo uses a closed loop cooling system in the Spark, which basically acts as a radiator. This means you don’t have to worry about flushing the engine out when you finish riding and are loading the ski.


The Ride

After the presentation the night before and the morning demonstration about how easily the deck and hull could be separated, I was pretty sure that this part of the review would look the exact same as our review of the Honda CBR250 or Kawasaki Ninja 300. Based on the price and weight spec and all the attention to emissions and noise levels, I was prepared to get on the best entry-level PWC on the market.

Turns out, the more accurate comparison will probably be something like the KTM RC390 or KTM 300 EXC. With such a small and short hull, and with so little weight, the Sea-Doo Spark absolutely flies. I started on the two-up model in Touring mode (60 HP) and was moving faster than I thought this toy-sized PWC would be capable of almost instantly. 40 mph feels incredibly fast on the Spark, in the same way that 85 mph feels fast on the CBR250R.

Switching into Sport mode, any chop in the water had me airborn. The short hull allowed me to put my feet on the rear of the Spark and, when given gas, allowed me to bunny hop across the water effortlessly. It wasn’t long before I was flinging the Spark across the water, throwing huge sprays as I whipped it around and then launching myself over my own wake.

The Spark doesn’t just allow you to take jumps like you would on a dirt bike, it’s also really quick around a course. They set up a small hourglass shaped course for us to go around and the Spark was absolutely brilliant to maneuver through it. Riding it is quite similar to riding an ATV; you give it gas till you get to the corner, let off and point the bars in the direction you want to go, then get back on the gas and the rear whips around. Only on the Spark, there’s no high siding into a rock or off a track, just a spray of water as the Spark whips in the direction you want it to go.

The intelligent Brake and Reverse System (iBR) is incredible. On the big boys it’s noticeable, but on the Spark it really stops the PWC quickly due to its lightness. I was shocked the first time I grabbed the brake lever and the machine stopped within 10-15 ft or so. It’s both super fun to use and makes the Spark much safer for those around you should you get a little too rowdy and not see an obstacle or another person in front of you until it would normally be too late.

It had been a while since I had been on one of the big mac-daddy PWCs Sea-Doo is famous for and they were gracious enough to give me a go on the Sea-Doo RXT-X aS 260 which, while an absolute blast and bringing completely different riding skills, just left me wanting to get back on the Spark. To me, Sea-Doo’s are more of a toy to play with rather than a vehicle to try and go as fast as possible on. It is easy to assume that Sea-Doo would give up performance and capability by meeting all of the “Clean, Affordable, Fun, and Easy to use” goals they had when creating the Spark, but after riding it I think it’s pretty much perfect.

Riding the big bad race machine in front of Shaq’s house.

As the youngest journalist at the launch, I had far more energy than the other guys to ride, and ride I did. I rode the Spark until my hands hurt so bad I couldn’t ride anymore. When I woke up the next day to legs so sore I could barely walk, I stretched them out and rode again. The biggest complaint about the small displacement motorcycles is that people will grow out of them. While I think that’s ridiculous and that there is always more we can learn, I do sometimes wish I had more power when riding on them. While more power is obviously better (I mean if they had a 100 HP version I obviously would have wanted to ride that), the thought never crossed my mind while riding the Spark.

What’s Good

Sea-Doo had a ton of goals when creating the Spark, and I believe they met them all.

They said they wanted to make a PWC that was fun for the whole family and would make the sport accessible again. The Spark is incredibly easy and intuitive to use and would make a great first experience for any kid, especially in Touring mode.

They said they wanted to appeal to new customers. If those of you considering a small track bike or new dirt bike aren’t reading this and salivating, I don’t know what’s wrong with you. It’s such a similar experience, only without the sweaty gear and fear of falling.

They said they wanted to be able to sell two for the price of one. With the average PWC cost hovering around $9,500, they hit the target and then some. It’s honestly amazing how much product you get for your money with the Spark.

They said they wanted to make it clean, affordable, fun, and easy to use. With incredibly low emissions, and incredibly low MSRP it easily meets the first two.

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this yet, but the ride falls on the “best thing ever” side of fun. With low service intervals combined with the fact you can split it apart for service, and the fact that a few guys can pick one up, the Spark is also incredibly easy to store, transport, launch, and ride.

They said they wanted to make it accessible and easy to own. You can pull two Sparks on a specially made trailer behind a Toyota Yaris because the three pieces combined only weigh a scant 1500 lbs. When they first unveiled the Spark, four kids quite a bit younger than me picked one up and carried it to the shore. To top it off, the Spark will take up a little more space than a motorcycle in a one car garage.

They said they wanted to make it fun. Well, yeah!

Getting the front end out of the water was so easy, I taught a guy from one of the lifestyle magazines.

What’s Bad

I can’t ride it on the street.

It doesn’t fly.

It isn’t free.

There aren’t any good lakes near my house.

I’m being a bit snarky, but I don’t think they could have made a better product keeping in mind the price they were trying to hit. Yes, it’s still about a $5,000 toy and that is a lot to spend. However, if you are considering a PWC, a Spark demo should be on your list. You can check one out during a local stop on the Sea-Doo demo tour, or you can schedule a test drive with a local dealer.

The Price

They haven’t released complete pricing for all of the options available, but the 2up Spark with the regular Rotax 900 ACE engine has an MSRP of $4,999. On the other end, we were told that the 3up model with the Rotax 900 ACE HO engine and the intelligent Brake and Reverse System would retail for around $6,300.

This stupid grin never left my face.

The Verdict

For two days, I rode the new 2014 Sea-Doo Spark with only one thing on my mind; I never want to get off. Hands bleeding and blisters forming, my legs trembling like my girlfriend’s chihuahua mutt; I always had one more jump, one more spin, or one more minute left in me. I know most of you do not come to our site to read about things other than motorcycle and I’m sure there will be a lot of complaints as we expand into other areas of the powersports industry, but please hear me out when I say that if you like motorcycling, you will absolutely love the Spark.

Would you ever take a crack at a Spark on the water?

 

  • Curtis Caulfield

    Did not read the article yet, but these are the best pics of Sean ever!

    • Curtis Caulfield

      Okay, I want to ride one of these now.

    • http://www.RideApart.com/ Jen Degtjarewsky

      I agree

  • http://garrett-nelson.tumblr.com/ Garrett Nelson

    Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy a jet ski, and have you ever seen someone sad on a jet ski?

    I’ve never really thought about spending money on a watercraft, but for $4,999 it might be fun to pick one up for next summer!

    • Clint Keener

      I want it in this colorway

  • HyperRider

    i had a 1999 Kawasaki Zxi (750cc) and this review reminded me of so many great times on that machine.. this thing is definitely on my radar!

  • Stuki

    Will all this greatness be apparent for those of us who aren’t as skinny as you? Or are we stuck with heavier, more expensive models?

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      the guy i spent most of the day with had 75 pounds on me. He was able to get the front end out of the water almost as easily as I was, but I had a harder time the ski in the water at speed.

      • Stuki

        Nice.

        This sounds like such a great deal for anyone with water access. What’s the gas consumption on these things? And maintenance intervals? Will they work in salt water/ocean waves, or is it really a lake boat kind of thing?

        Last (and first and only) time I was ever on something like this, was 20 years ago in the Mediterranean, on a much smaller, stand up, “jet ski” without a seat. Sounds like they have come a long way..

        • Dave

          They’ll ride in the ocean no problem, but salt water will cause major corrosion if you skip the post-ride maintenance even once. Expect to spend about 20-30 minutes per boat flushing and cleaning up after every ride, and expect several hundred bucks every year for scheduled maintenance, which comes around every 30 hours or annually. DIY maintenance is’t too bad, but it can be a pain in the ass compared to a bike.

          I’m also really paranoid about getting stranded in the ocean, so I spend 20 minutes per boat going over all the recommended pre-flight checks every single time.

          • Eric Schneck

            Actually these systems run a closed loop set up now so salt water never enters the engine. Only a light outer rinse is necessary. That “20-30 minutes” is a thing of the past.

            • Dave

              The closed loop only applies to the engine. You still fill the waterbox and cool the exhaust from the jet intake, and it still has to be flushed after every ride. The flush itself is 5 minutes. The extra 15-20 is hose-down, mechanical checks, engine fog, and anti-corrosion. (I’m probably more paranoid than a most people, but I do *every* post-ride check in the manual after *every* ride.)

  • Stephen Mears

    I miss the stand-up jet skis. Looks like they demand serious money these days new.

    • TreMoto_Armsdale

      Check out a WetBike. You can find them on craigslist using Search Tempest. Super cheap, super easy to maintain (2 stroke), steer balanced, James Bond ride

  • Guy

    I’m actually glad you guys are getting into other power sports, it makes sense. You opened my eyes up to Jet skis and piqued interest in them.

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      This is honestly the biggest compliment ever, but don’t call them jet ski’s (I was reprimanded at the event too, I guess PWC is the only generic term that is accepted:)

      • bluemoco

        Yep. “Jet Ski” is a Kawasaki trademark.

  • gaudette

    Finally, a sea-doo that isnt just a dream. Could never justify the crazy money that’s asked for their machines. The 255′s and 260′s are probably the most fun you could have on the water, but just not practical enough to buy.

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      honestly, only one other PWC out there was as fun as the Spark and it was the GTX limited iS 260. The others were crazy fast and everything, they were just too big to hoon.

      • gaudette

        I’ve driven quite a few from the range and I would definitely agree. The cheaper machines are too low on power and the rest too expensive. The suspension makes for an unbelievably smooth ride. My favourite machine they made recently was the rxp-x 255. It was when they first came out with the 255 engine. You could adjust the trim for bow up, apply full throttle, and bunny hop to your hearts content.

  • Guzzto

    Fun! but hey guys just try not to be squids if you get into these things. There’s nothing scarier than having to hold your breath for another minute whilst spear-fishing because some chump is buzzing around above you with no f***ing clue as to the marine rules regarding speed and proximity to the shoreline. Scary thing is that no form of licence or basic test is needed (so they have no idea what a dive flag or divers float looks like). As a result every year we get divers swimmers and kayakers killed by jet skis. Usually by guys with beer guts and mirrored raybans showing off to the ladies onshore. (sorry for rant but my pet hate just showed up on my favourite website) as you were.

    • http://www.RideApart.com/ Jen Degtjarewsky

      I’m a longtime diver too and second it when Guzzto says, “watch for flags” – To that same point, ascending divers also need to look up, not just out!

    • Piglet2010

      That’s what Kirsty MacColl said.

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      zero chance of being “that guy,” if only out of my refusal to own a beer gut.

    • John Donaldson

      It doesn’t matter the size or price of the ski. It’s the rider that makes all the difference. I’m a member of a ski club with over 110 members. We not only don’t bother people but we reprimand club members who do. It’s a shame that so many PWC riders have made a bad name for us and caused restrictions. I actually bought a boat because I was tired of all of the restrictions placed on PWC.

      It’s also not just PWC riders that ignore laws. I’ve actually had more problems with bass boats than PWCs. They seem to think they are outside of the law. Perhaps it is because a lot of them tend to drink beer while they fish and at the end of the day they are out of control.

      • Ken

        Hey John you should come back and visit us in Florida sometime. I can’t believe it has been so long since you were here talking about the first supercharged Kawi’s.

    • devin

      You do need a license for a pwc or a boat. Ifyour born after january 1, 88

  • Kr Tong

    I havent been on a jetski since I was a kid. The thing would top out at around 50 mph if the water was glass smooth and my favorite thing in the world would be to get it going that fast, then jerk the handlebars so the jetski would whip completely around, nose dive under water as well as go from 50-to-0 mph in no-time flat. I did it once with my cousin on the back. Once. I can’t remember but I’m pretty sure I told her to hold on and lean right into the turn. Needless to say she was hurled off and went skipping across the reservoir. I dreamed of owning a motorcycle ever since.

  • Benjamin Reynolds

    I grew up riding PWCs, started off riding the small ones then eventually moved up the the big huge supercharged monsters that are out there now. While they were fun, they never were as fun as the small ones that I learned on. I could never afford to buy one of my own either. This thing is on my shopping list though! $5,000 is a steal for a PWC.

    • John Donaldson

      I agree. I have a Honda Aquatrax which has been a lot of fun. For lake use a Spark sized ski might be a lot more fun and practical.

      I did a lot of ocean riding where the Aquatrax shines. I wouldn’t take a Spark on the ocean.

  • motoguru.

    Rad! Seems to be quite similar to the Yamaha Wave Blaster I had back in my teens. I never understood why PWC’s went from being small and fun to huge and huger.

  • Piglet2010

    Sorry, but “Sea-Doo” sounds like used whale food.

  • grindz145

    What’s the rough fuel economy for one of these? Could I take it across one of the great lakes? What’s the touring range :)

    • Justin McClintock

      I can’t speak for this new one, but most of them I wouldn’t attempt to cross any of the Great Lakes with. I used to live four blocks from Lake Erie and my brother and all his friends had PWCs. None had the range to go from Cleveland to Canada at anything north of 30 mph (and they were all 60 mph machines, so it was hard to keep them going that speed anyway), and it would have taken a full two hours at that speed. And you’d be running on fumes when you got there. Generally it would have been considered an incredibly bad idea. And that’s Erie. Most of the other lakes are FAR wider.

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      Regular engine uses 1.94 gallons per hour. HO engine is 2.4 gallons per hour. Both have an 8 gallon tank.

      • grindz145

        I’m guessing that would be at maybe 20-30 mph . I’m guessing that means you easily have a range of 80-120 miles. Not bad. Lake Ontario is only about 50 miles wide.

        • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

          they said they got those figures using throttle cycles that were average based on their research.

  • bluemoco

    I’ve ridden PWC since 1990, and I still have my 1996 Sea-Doo XP 800. The XP800 (available from 1995-96, then rebadged the SPX until about 1999) is prized for its light weight (~430 lbs) and potent 110HP 2-stroke twin. I’ve owned my XP since 1997 and never imagined that I would sell it — until I saw the announcement of the Spark.

    This new Spark is undoubtedly the modern incarnation of the old XP 800. For too long, we’ve watched the PWC market trend toward huge ‘couches’ with ever-growing engines and size/weight profiles. Why buy a PWC for $15k+ when you can buy a 17′ runabout boat (with room for your family/friends) for roughly the same money? The Spark is a throwback to the days when PWC were light, fun, and (comparatively) inexpensive.

    God bless the folks at Sea-Doo/BRP. This combination of fun/performance/value is exactly what the dying PWC market needed. I think they will receive a VERY positive reaction in the marketplace.

  • Ayabe

    Looks cute for someone getting into the sport, but I think I’ll stick to my Kawa Ultra 300′s – more than 2x the price though :(. That’s as close as you’ll get to motorcycle like acceleration on the water.

    Hitting 70+ when ungoverned on the water is…..something else.

    • bluemoco

      Bear in mind that a new Kawasaki Ultra 310R has an MSRP of $15,299. You can buy three(!) Sea-Doo Sparks for that money.

      Sea-Doo also makes large PWC for those who want them. Sean discussed his ride on the RXT X aS 260, and its performance/price profile is comparable to your Kawasaki.

  • hopalongTragedy

    Ah ha!

    It’s not the jeans – it’s the fact that you actually DO have the legs of an adolescent female. The girl-jeans thing makes sense, finally!

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      SOMEONE FINALLY GETS WHAT I”VE BEEN TRYING TO SAY ALL ALONG.

      Now try and imagine what normal denim looks like on my tiny legs!

      • MeatyBeard

        Rut rohhh. Looks like someone skipped leg day. Check out Function 5 Fitness. A little Muay Thai and kettle bells will take care of that.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Dude, you should see him in gym shorts. It’s like the cop from Family Guy.

      I’m planning a leg day intervention. You should join in.

  • Fresh Mint

    These look awesome!! I wonder how much they’ll cost on the used market in 2-3 years

  • Von

    Great review! I’d love to have a pwc one day. I’ve always thought I’d have to settle for a ten year old model in order to afford one. For this price point why buy used? I don’t need a $10k fire breather that can tow a water skier and seat four. Plus, being able to tow two of these with only 1500 lbs. is awesome! Take my money already Sea-Doo!

  • Kevin R Dunn

    Very smart move from Sea Doo. I was born and raised on stand up kawasaki jet ski’s, and even though I am also a long time motorcycle rider both on road and track, still have some of my most fun memories on stand up jet skis. Once they got bigger, heavier, and more expensive I got out and moved on. This new model would definitely make me think of getting back into it. Do agree with some of the other posters though, that their needs to be better training/licensing requirements of the “rules of the water and right of way” has always been an issue, but same issue with a lot of boaters. Glad to hear most states now prosecute like a moving violation or DUI now for those idiots.

  • John Donaldson

    I generally don’t like the looks of SeaDoo skis but their design of the spark looks good on the small frame. I just hope SeaDoo is able to do something about their reliability where they fall short of the competition by a long shot.

  • Jon

    Your statement about horsepower to weight ratio is wildly inaccurate. The RXPX comes in at almost 3 pounds per horsepower. The spark comes in at 4.5 pounds per horsepower. That is a huge difference.

  • Customs Review

    That whole image is horrible!

  • TL

    Are these Sparks good at towing a biscuit? And is a skiier too heavy, or can it handle it?

  • piperfan

    Would The Spark be safe on Lake Simcoe? I generally go out for leisurely rides up to half an hour. Usually taking my children.

  • Hugh Edwards

    Sean, thanks for your review. Owned an SP in 1995 that I used exclusively in the ocean off NJ. Performed great. Considering a Spark to use in same spot. Will the Spark perform as well in the ocean as the SP?

  • DaveK

    Part I: I’m in! Absolutely brilliant stroke for Sea Doo. I have a lake house and have been eyeing PWCs for a long time. But the price! Holy Cow, you’re up to $15K before you know it (before taxes, license, trailer, etc.) On top of that, you kind of need two, so out the door, I could easily be looking at well over $30K for a new pair. (Oh, by the way, the PWCs I was looking at were Yamahas, since the locals near my lake find modern Sea Doos far too complex to maintain.) So I rented one a couple of times and, you know what? Not really all that much fun! The problem, simply put, is that I already have a boat. A new Yamaha FX is almost half the width and almost half the length of my boat, at 4′x12′! And with a full gas tank it weighs almost half a ton! Yes, it’s fast, and more exciting than my boat, but it’s not exactly “zippy” either. It goes really fast in a straight line. If you take a hard turn in it, it’s more likely to tip over than to carve a sharp turn in the water. And if you do catch air in it? Landing that fat mother reminded me of the Dukes of Hazzard. Fun? Heck yes. $30K fun? Heck no. So, Sea Doo had officially lost me. And now found me! Along with, I have to imagine, a couple hundred thousand others who went shopping for a water toy last week and found the store only had expensive battleships.

  • DaveK

    Part II: Okay, they lost me again. Just called a dealer to order two Sparks. Looking to order two of them fully loaded. Told him I’m happy to order them and wait to take delivery in a couple months. MSRP is about $7,200, so with tax, license, and all that crap the government adds, it ought to be about $8K each (assuming I buy at sticker). This dealer, who said he would “give me a deal”, wants $9,704 each out the door, which includes almost $1,500 in dealer-added fees and another $200 in “dock fees” (which is interesting since I’m not renting a dock from him). So, while Sea Doo may have delivered these dealers something they can finally sell, I’m guessing this approach is not going to move a lot of units. For my part, I’m back to appreciating my boat.