Power Boat Review Chaparral SignatureThe jet black hull sides of our Chaparral test boat were impressively free from ripples or imperfections which is a hallmark of a well-built fiberglass boat; the black color minimizes the height while the white decking which sweeps up from the swim platform and arches towards the bow gives the boat a racy appearance.

Our Signature 350 test boat was a particularly good choice for Canadian inland cruising waters. The designers extended the interior accommodations right to the maximum by eliminating the side decks and giving more room for deck access through the windshield. They've also given the 350 Signature a coupe type roof with zip-out window sections rather than fixed glass.

Targeted for long distance getaways, the Signature 350 is available with gasoline or diesel and either stern drive or V-drive propulsion (including MerCruiser Axius with joystick docking control). The 350 comes standard with an impressive inventory: a generator with sound shield and a 16,000 BTU air conditioner/heater system; a windlass; a premium sound system; an extended swim platform; a transom shower; and a complete array of stainless steel hardware.

Bucking stiff winds and a nasty chop out on Lake Ontario, the Chaparral still planed off in only 9 seconds and hit a top speed of 48.6 mph on our GPS throwing spray in all directions but delivering a remarkably smooth and controlled ride. With very little bow rise, we planed off on light throttle and at a mere 2900 rpm we were traveling at 30.2 mph.

The smooth and powerful twin MerCruiser 496 HO engines and Bravo drives have all the SmartCraft features including Auto Start. Turn the key and the engines start themselves. The SmartCraft controls include a docking feature that allows easier and more precise control of the engines at low speeds. With the twin engines, an experienced driver will find this boat easy to dock Our test boat had Lewmar thrusters making it a breeze to put the boat just where you wanted it .

The double-wide helm seat allows for a very comfortable standing or sitting position. There's a passenger grab bar, an angled foot rest for added security and the multifunction SmartCraft instruments are attractive and provide a wealth of information, but we felt they deserved more precise markings. Other good features were the Leno trim tabs with LED indicators, a fume detector and an absolutely gorgeous wooden steering wheel that tilts for comfort.

The cockpit layout divides the space into two distinct areas: the helm and companion seat area and the aft space where you enjoy a U-shaped seat to starboard with removable table and abundant under-seat storage and a refreshment centre to port that has the battery system switches in a locker by the transom gate, a U-Line ice maker, sink, storage and a welcome hand rail.

The curved companionway makes it easy to get below boasting a generously high head that includes an opening porthole, mirrored medicine cabinet, stainless steel sink and hand-held shower and a VacuFlush toilet system. Like the refreshment centre and galley, granite-look composite counters are featured.

Where many boats in the size range have an aft cabin that's fairly low, the Chaparral has a full sitting height that makes the flat screen TV, opening portholes, Cedar-lined locker and center mounted table all seem very usable and accommodating. There's a privacy curtain for making it into berth and a larger flat screen television mounted on the bulkhead that can be seen from the salon.

The dinette is good for at least four people. The electrical panel is there along with the Clarion stereo system, four overhead lockers, two opening portholes with curtains and a high/low table if additional sleeping accommodation is needed.

Another strong point was the galley. This is handsomely finished but spacious too. A two- burner Kenyon stove with potholders and a counter that looks like granite is just the start. Chaparral gives you a large, round stainless-steel sink, handy trash locker, impressive food prep space and four drawers. The test boat had a Tappan microwave, Cuisinart coffee maker and, best of all, quite a large Isotherm refrigerator.

Normally, a cruising couple will choose to sleep on the big forward queen-sized berth. This area can be curtained off and has port and starboard opening portholes as well as a deck hatch. Our test boat had both a stereo and a flat screen television for entertainment in the vee. Other things we liked included a side seat for dressing and a Cedar-lined locker.

The key exterior features start with a swing down, stainless steel boarding ladder, a clever storage feature that is a booster system to get the engine hatch up (if the batteries aren't available). Our test boat had a mounting plate to put a barbecue out on the swim platform too.

The accommodations are very complete – especially in the galley– but what will sell this boat is a full throttle dash through the waves.

By Andy Adams

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