With summer here and the heat sweltering, many have turned to the local lakes and rivers for relief. But, due to the limited number of waterfront homes and the expensive price of boats, many young adults have gone the route of personal watercraft (PWCs), which are relatively inexpensive and easy to tow back and forth to the water. One of the first makers of these toys was Kawasaki with their Jet Skis, and they continually improve their designs to have one of the best crafts on the water. When I was planning on purchasing a PWC last summer, it became a tossup between two of their models: their three-seater, the STX 1100 and their racing inspired two-seater, the ZXI 1100. While both have their strong points, the STX ended up being a better choice with comparable power to the ZXI, but with more passenger and cargo room, and greater stability.
When I first viewed the ZXI, I noticed that it had a very aggressive look compared to that of the three-seater. It was shorter and the body lines made it look as if it was moving fast while standing still. Under the plush and comfortable seat was a 1,100 cc three-cylinder engine that made roughly 120 horsepower. It had a few more go-fast goodies than the STX, but this was understandable, because the ZXI is Kawasaki’s racing edition. When I got it out to the water and blasted off, the ZXI jumped up to 50 miles per hour in about 4 seconds, almost throwing me off the back in the process.
It had tremendous power and acceleration. It’s automatic trim system made sure that it didn’t ride too high or low, which in turn, kept the Jet Ski firmly planted in the water and ensured that the power didn’t go to waste. It took turns easily, and spinning it around into 360’s and other tricks was remarkably simple.
When another passenger jumped on, however, a few negative points showed themselves. First, the seating for two people was a little cramped. While this wasn’t a particularly bad thing with the girls that rode with me, it seemed a little awkward with a few of my burly buddies. With the small seating area, there were no hand-holds for the rear passenger, forcing them to hang on to the driver. This proved to be a little dangerous, and once again, a little fruity with my male friends. The added passenger obviously means more stuff needs to be taken out to the water. With a single person the front storage compartment had just enough room for clothes, a towel, and a pair of sandals. This led to some very creative solutions to get the added gear of the second person on-board, which got annoying very quickly.
With the added passenger--and their stuff--the ZXI showed another problem when moving down the river. The front of the ski seemed to jump up and down from the extra weight, causing a very uneasy ride and often splashing a good bit of water on the passengers. The trim feature did not help any, and the only way to improve it was to slow down to a near canoe-like speed until the hopping subsided. Rough water from other boats and wind made it even worse. Also when not moving in the water, the extra weight made stability a problem. When a second person was getting on the back, or even leaning a little too far to one side, the ZXI wanted to roll over and dump the riders. Once again, this got old very quickly and made me continue my search for something else.
The three-seater STX, in contrast to the two-seater, had rolling body lines that looked very much at home on the water. It also had the same power plant as the ZXI--minus the performance add-ons--and it gave surprisingly similar acceleration but understandably lower speeds. Due to its larger and longer size, turning was a little slower than the ZXI, and it was harder to throw around and force into spins. For some reason, this model did not come with the auto trim system, which resulted in a longer period of time for the Jet Ski to plane out on the water. It also made it feel like a good bit of the engine’s performance was lost as it struggled to get a bite in the water.
When a passenger jumped on board, the STX really shined. The longer seat made more than enough room for two--even three--people, and hand-holds gave the riders something firm to hang on to. Under the front hatch of the Jet Ski, the extra people could fit all the crap they would ever need for a day at the lake. There was even room for a small cooler for…um…Pepsi, or whatever. Even with the added weight of a passenger and their gear, the STX never felt unstable or like it wanted to roll over. At speed, it never bobbled or sprayed the riders, and when boarding at the rear, you never had to worry about rolling off into the water. This model had another very nice feature, which is illegal on any two-seater PWC--a tow hook for pulling skiers or tubes. While, in fairness, this cannot be compared to the ZXI, it definitely helped this Jet Ski to round out a very fun-filled day on the water.
In the end, it all depends on what the rider is planning to do with his watercraft. If he is more likely to blast around the lakes and oceans at highway speeds, doing tricks and other such maneuvers--and no passengers are in the future--the two-seater ZXI would definitely suit him. If the rider is planning on taking more people with him or needs lots of extra space for personal items and water toys, the STX would probably be the better choice. I ended up with the ZXI, just because of the speed and overall fun factor, but after about a year, I regretted my decision. The performance of the machine was quickly outweighed by the fact that it was so unstable with more than one person, and when I wanted to take someone with me, it was more of a hassle than it was fun. For anyone considering the purchase of a new water toy, they cannot go wrong with the Kawasaki STX.