Home Monday, December 01, 2008 

 Introducing The Cobalt 296, All Things To All Boaters.

  (NEODESHA, KANSAS – NEW FOR 2009) The 296 comes directly in time-honored Cobalt traditions of design; that is, a broadly utilitarian boat now made even more elegant, even more representative of the “outdoor living” school of boating enjoyment. Powerful on the long haul, strong and stable in the turns, no-nonsense in the efficiencies it offers every boating occasion, the 296 brings together a thoughtful fusion of convenience, performance, and spacious, wide-open comfort.

Here’s design that encourages use of interior “furniture.” The Cobalt 296 demonstrates that no longer should a boat’s seating be imagined as padded fiberglass. Rather, the seats have become modules of genuine furniture, with pillow-back seating that refines the on-the-water experience, making a ride across big water reminiscent of living-room sorts of luxury. Cabin layout supports easy interaction among all aboard, most especially with portside dual-position seating, a quick-change, front-or-back-facing deal that ensures utility and conversational ease. Both helm and passenger seats are double-wide, both with adjustable backrests. As usual, bow and cockpit carpets remove for quick, easy cleaning. Carpet covers the aft walk-thru; doors cordon off the bow at the walk-thru, where a cushion inserts for additional useful space forward. Filler cushions maximize the room, promote the good times on both the aft seat and the sunpad. Altogether simple enough, these adaptable cushions, but they are already winning widespread, fairly unrestrained owner approval on other models in the Cobalt line.

The standard equipment list for the 296 is expectable Cobalt; that is, broadly inclusive, and especially well-chosen. The aluminum windshield is capped with a stainless-steel top, the first and most noticeable use certainly, with stainless following along in the Cobalt tradition from the bow scuffplate to the cleats amidships to the engine vents aft. Much drama hereabouts, as the vents become a focal point of the 296 profile, subtle but still forceful indicators of a fresh way of looking at runabout design. Cobalt engineers speak of “new DNA” in the 296, beyond generational change, beyond even the revolutionary vent stylings introduced now six years ago. The learning curve complete, the craftsmanship evident at every turn, the 296’s engine vents are, in the fullest sense of this much-abused word, “unique.” There’s nothing remotely like this look to be found on any competitive models, as the Formula 1-fast lines of the 296 culminate in the waterward sweep of the swim platform, now integrated with the hull (as on the sister ship 276): no more bolts, but rather the seamless strength of a molded part, itself protected with wraparound polished stainless tubing, tough on tough, ready for maximized use excursion after excursion, year after year.

The 296 helm meshes aeronautical accuracy and control with designerly good looks, from where the captain enjoys superior visibility ahead and tight, tight data-flow nearby. A stainless foot tread is standard, as are the medallion gauges -- new to the industry, second-hand to Cobalt, having been used handsomely on the 276. These gauges involve the expectable sweep of analog needles, albeit needles now digitally controlled for more reliable, more accurate, more instantaneous information. And these digital instruments are more compact, more efficient, more legible as well. Where a 29-footer with big engines would typically have required at least five large and four small gauges, the 296 goes confidently to sea with just four instruments in an identical dash configuration. Rudder and trim indicators make good sense as affordable, eminently useful options.

The standard sound system (AM-FM radio and CD player) pulses through six speakers thumped up with major amplification, all controllable from the dash-based stereo remote. An iPod/MP3 port waits nearby. Also, the head is both spacious and well-appointed, with a pump-out porta potti and a stainless sink, naturally.

The 296 gracefully accommodates Cobalt’s usual full complement of optional equipment, blending the niceties into the boat’s overall patterns of use and enjoyment. Those options run from the practical and the everyday – bimini tops and starboard windshield wipers and color GPS units and 12-volt refrigerators – to the aesthetic and the self-expressive – underwater lights and teak floors and a stainless-steel arch that just could not be more stunning. A quick word about the teak: Cobalt designers admit to some surprise in the sheer gorgeousness of the wood in its 296-ly application; they fully expected the treatment to be pleasing, but 296 #2 rolled out all teaked-out, and the effect was . . . well . . . overpowering. And the other upgrades represent uncommon value, uncommon wow as well -- in the sound system, for example -- with additional speakers and remote control at the transom for stem-to-stern management of onboard entertainment, even as the purely ornamental additions mean unmistakable bang for the buck, as in the three-color custom graphics package or the rivulet carpet or a flagpole flying Old Glory. A starboard galley unit will make meals afloat a chefly snap.

And then, the arch. The arch, the arch, the arch. Stainless, aggressive and oh-so-edgy, an option that transforms the 296 into something else entirely. Enough said.

For years Cobalt has been the repeated object of flattery in its most sincere form. As other manufacturers came to realize the long-term wisdom of various Cobalt ways of making things, they adopted those methodologies, from backing plates embedded in the fiberglass to the legendary Cobalt extended running surface. But now many of those manufacturers are reverting to shortcuts again, particularly in the use of CNC machining for fiberglass parts. Funny, but perhaps no other component has more to do with the 296’s performance than its hand-laid hull, Cobalt’s most recent triumph of team craftsmanship. This hull delivered exceptional results throughout testing and prototyping. Cobalt will continue to apply technology wherever a benefit for the owner might accrue; wherever old-fashioned hand-craftsmanship remains the better way, Cobalt will maintain its time-honored commitment to the personal integrity, the matchless skills of the boat builders in Neodesha, Kansas.

Cobalt has always understood the importance of sufficient horsepower to the overall enjoyment of a boat, a key ingredient of owner satisfaction as JD Power and Associates noted in last year’s Boat Competitive Information Study “Aside from engine technology, another purchasing decision factor is engine power. Most boat owners with small engines are less satisfied. One of the reasons for the success of the top boat builders is that they often sell their boats with more powerful engines. . . . More power is usually best, no matter which propulsion system is used. ” For the 296, MerCruiser and Volvo Penta powertrains begin at 320 php and then bump up to 425php and 375php respectively in single-engine configurations, with twin engines of identical hp ready to really kick out the jams.

The 296 then. A boat ready to become exactly what an expectant new owner hopes it to be.

That is, not less than everything.