Reviews: 22 Stealth

Ultra Custom Boats - 2003 Bowriders - 22 Stealth
Hot Boat Magazine September 2003

Ultra's 22-foot Stealth makes a wonderful jet boat. It's beautifully styled, accelerates like a banshee, packs people and gear like a Suburban and flirts with 60 mph behind Chevrolet's six-liter Vortec and crate-stock Dominator drive. Here's what makes it even better, its builder seems to have a boundless enthusiasm for the craft of building individually planned custom ski boats, a condition that was reflected in every inch of this boat's impressive fiberglass and vinyl -which continues to make Ultra ownership something special even in the custom realm. No one this decade has built more jet-driven performance customs than Ultra, most of them visually striking, strikingly responsive pump boats like this one. One of several stars of an all-original tooling onslaught that reshaped Ultra's entire line of customs, the 22 Stealth debuted in 1998 and has sold briskly since inception.

Flush with the creative energy that has driven Ultra's emergence as one of the custom industry's top builders, the Stealth continues to bolster a strong Ultra presence on the Colorado River section that meanders between Parker and Yuma, where hot-boaters are left to negotiate fickle water levels and sand bars that are barely submerged. Shallow-water immunity is a great reason to own a jet boat we diverted from our time-worn test path to seek out our own shoreline seclusion, practical demonstration of the huge advantage the jets have over props on some water. But shallow water superiority and blade-free safety aren't the only reasons. The prop-driven 22 Stealth is a beautiful boat -but the pump version is imminently more fun to drive. Not only did it do everything our three teams asked of it, ride beautifully and respond to driver prompt almost instantaneously, but also it was absolutely one of the most fun boats to drive of the 18 we tested. That's saying something.

THE SETUP

Ultra builds everything from blown, 100-mile-an-hour hot-rod tunnel squirt boats to docile river runabouts, and they're counted upon to experiment and test every available power and pump combination. So it was with the new Vortec six-litre marine powerhouse: They got the first one Marine Power shipped (privilege of rank), and West was moved enough to make it one of two power packages (along with the 350 Magnum/Bravo) offered on his base boat.

Developed by GM on a torque hunt for its Escalade SUV, the injected six-litre is a true 364 inches, not a stroked 5.7. Still, with its aluminum block, it is five pounds lighter than the 350, though it builds 360 horses (at the crank, not the prop). It is the first small block that West has found suitable for jet application, and the numbers bear him out: the six-litre 22-footer was impressive up and down the ladder. It also delivers comparable fuel economy to the 5.7 and the same top speed as we previously got from a 454 Magnum/Dominator-powered 22-foot Stealth. It's rated at 5,200: Our Dominator, upgraded with a setback installation and fit with an A impeller, steeled up a 4,800-rpm summit that wrought 57.5. This is a very potent powering package, and, with a little more water time, the Stealth will find 60 mph behind it.

We turned our bow attitude (and, in turn, our ride) and threw off a few gratuitous, multi-story-high rooster tails, with our add-on hydraulic Place Diverter, which should be compulsory on every jet boat. Trim was administered off a very nifty piece of Dana billet, mounted to the wheel-part of a full inventory of billet hardware that was designed and tooled specifically for the shapes and surfaces of the Stealth. Dana's skills have rarely shown better than in the deep, cherry-hued aluminum that dressed this boat's installation. Everything fit perfectly. The engraved rocker switch panel and Faria gauge cluster recessed neatly into a stylish dash design, and the bow lights, vents, grab handles and pop-up ski tow were figured and factored into the fiberglass tooling-not stuck on as a matter of convenient afterthought. A polished Grant wheel is standard, along with ten cup holders, dual floor lockers (large enough for wakeboards) and a foot throttle on the jet version. We've never seen an Ultra without a great system, and their base boat's Pioneer CD deck powers tunes to four speakers.

One of the strongest appeals of Ultra ownership is the boat's constant evolution. Whether it's a new material, a made-from-scratch gelcoat color, an improved piece of hardware or an interior pattern that has not been tried before, Ultra is forever shading their production with a new spin on something or other. Owner John West was influenced by the interior in his new Cadillac Escalade in designing the elegant, tightly perforated, breathing interior that filled our test Stealth-and it was absolutely stunning. It added another touch of elegance to an interior design and execution that is already one of the nicest in the industry, with credit to D& S next door.

The Stealth's interior is spacious, practical and of the highest quality in every regard. The bow seating area is plenty roomy for three kids or two adults, with a wide walk-through and excellent access to the main cockpit area. The bucket seats are comfortable and supportive and very attractively cut, with tri-color graphics. Rear-seat passengers have abundant legroom. A standard, electric hatch reveals an extraordinarily sanitary installation, with wiring properly routed and support hardware neatly installed. Bow railing lines the passenger perimeter, and four deck cleats are standard. An Aqua-Step ladder facilitates rear boarding. Vents are smoothly integrated into the back of the boat, just above the jet drive. Though the Stealth's piercing profile was intended for the lake, its windshield was very effective in deflecting spray in the rough. Like its ride, the Stealth's layout and protected feel inside reinforced passenger confidence. Ultra is at the industry's top tier for color work no builder puts more time, effort and creative energy into every paint job. The results speak for themselves, very clear in this case: Our inspection team gave this Stealth the highest possible marks for a spectacular mid-night cherry and platinum-grey gelcoat display that was absolutely beautiful. This is about as sophisticated as it gets, in a turnkey 22-foot jet boat, the industry's best, current, proven technology, from lay-up, through gelcoat, into powering and to the trailer.

PERFORMANCE

Game time for our Stealth arrived on a windy, rough day on Havasu not the kind of day you'd pick for a family outing, but which you're likely to encounter if you boat here with any consistency. We found enough of a protected pocket to run our performance passes, but we were in pretty rough water for most of the Stealth's test. The Stealth fended off the conditions with its outstanding bottom, perfect balance and drivability that may be without peer within the vee-bottom-jet-ranks. The 360 builds yet another level of practicality into the family jet boat, with its lightweight economy, and this setup throws off a lot of fun and excitement, in the context of a 60-mile-an-hour family boat. The six liter may deserve some of the notices, but the Stealth is a great conduit. We carved this hull aggressively through the pattern of the chop, the hull obediently following our lead as we nudged the Place Diverter, tuning the ride attitude to suit. We were soon running pleasantly enough, in a 50-mile-an-hour rhythm, in a final rough water cruise before wrapping the day.

The down-trimmed Diverter popped the Ultra to plane immediately, and the acceleration felt, to each of us three drivers, a lot stronger than the acceleration figures indicated. Note the comment highlight reel taken from our trio's notes: "Most responsive jet-boat I've driven in a long time. Felt like you were driving something significant in the rough water. Fast, responsive and fun to drive. It is really spectacular at high speed.";

All of which tells you what the jet boat owner has known for a long time: a 57 mph jet boat is a lot more fun to drive than a 57 mph prop boat. The Stealth knuckled down and did a 360 in a shade over its own boat length. It turned, flat and sure, at full throttle, never yielding its natural stance. We liked it just as well at low rpm, where sometimes jets are susceptible to more wander than you'd like. Not so with the Ultra. It backed up decisively, idles easily and shifted immediately. Our team said: "A practical, clean installation that's ideal for shallow river boating. Loads of room and attention to detail throughout. Fun to drive, with great acceleration. Backs up with ease. Spectacular maneuverability at high speed. Handles very well. Kind of high performance, fast little hot-rod family boat. Great visibility, comes right on plane. Good tracking boat for a jet. Superior all around performance. Beautiful perforated interior, great finish work inside;.