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Chaparral Vortex 203 VRX Review

The Chaparral Vortex 203 VRX:  A BIG 20′ Boat

The Chaparral Vortex 203 VRX was released in 2014, and it seriously shook up the jet boat market.  The jet boat market, unlike the stern drive & outboard markets, has very few builders.  Many feel that Chaparral immediately leap-frogged the competitors in both quality and design.  The Vortex series was built from the ground up by Chaparral, and it’s clear these boats have been very well thought out.

This is a well-designed 20′ boat that shares the same quality that you’ve come to expect from Chaparral, just in a smaller package.  Although this is the smallest Vortex currently offered, the 203 is a luxury boat with lots of premium features.  This boat features the nearly the exact same layout/design and great features as the 223 & 243 VRX models.  It is appealing to boaters on smaller lakes or who might have size restrictions.  It is also an attractive option to boaters with a specific budget in mind.

Exterior Styling

The exterior styling of the Chaparral Vortex 203 VRX is a home run in our eyes.  If you look at all the Chaparral Vortex models (203, 223 & 243), you will find nearly the exact same lines & styling throughout.

One of the first things that we love about the 203 is the deep hull design.  In looking at some of the smaller jet boats in the 19′-20′ range, you will find that some of these boats feel very small.  This is not typically a good thing, for both the ride quality and overall safety.  The 203 is nearly as deep of a boat as the 223 when sitting side by side.

The lines of the boat flow very nicely.  Chaparral has, as we expected, included their integrated swim platform design rather than a bolt-on platform.  First of all, this looks great on any boat.  It is also much more sturdy and better finished underneath.  When sitting in the water, this platform sits at water level.  This makes boarding in deep water much easier.

The swim platform has several other features worth noting as well.  It comes standard with rear-facing seats that flip open.  Under the starboard cushion is a finished off storage area.  The port cushion opens to expose the battery on/off switch.  This is very handy to access if you cover the entire boat and then realize the battery is still turned on.  The swim platform also comes standard with stainless steel cupholders, swim platform mat & large stainless steel grab handle off the rear.

Center Walk-Thru

The Chaparral Vortex 203 VRX features a cut-out center walk-thru entry.  This is a great feature that makes stepping into and out of the boat much easier.

Some of the other manufacturers in the jet boat market have a large hump in the walk-thru area which you have to step over to get into the boat.  This can be challenging, especially for older boaters.  It also makes boarding tricky when the water is rough as you have nothing to hold onto.

The cut-out walk-thru entry is a feature that many jet boat buyers have been hoping to see on a boat for a long time.

Cockpit Seating

The cockpit seating on the Chaparral Vortex 203 VRX is most definitely one of it’s biggest selling points.  This is partly due to an advantage that jet boats have, and partly due to Chaparral’s design.

Let us explain:  Jet boats have engine(s) that sit lower and further back in the engine compartment compared to stern drive boats.  Stern drive motors sit higher and further forward.  This means on a stern drive boat, a large sunpad is required to cover the motor in most cases.  This is especially true on smaller boats.  The downside to this is that it robs you of interior seating space.

Jet boats can extend the cockpit seating further towards the back of the boat, which may give the boat an extra 12″-18″ of seating space.  Many people are shocked when they see the amount of room in the cockpit on this boat.  This extra seating is a valuable feature on boats of this size.

The seating layout consists of wraparound seating with a captain’s chair for the driver, and a flip seat on the passenger side.  This flip seat can be used to face forward in the up position.  It can also be laid down to create a long bench on the port side for extra seating.  It can also be used as a rear-facing lounger by leaning into the back rest that doubles as a glove box.  There is also a filler cushion option.  This adds a seat in the walk-thru area.

Driver’s Helm

The helm on the Chaparral Vortex 203 VRX is built to a high level of quality, just like the rest of the boat.  It is a full fiberglass helm with a vinyl wrap on top.  Chaparral has opted to use fiberglass to construct the dash, where as it’s competitors use more plastic.  The plastic tends to crack and fade over time, which will hurt the boat’s resale value.  The fiberglass Chaparral uses will hold it’s looks over time and preserve the life of the boat.

The helm has a vinyl wrap on top with stitching to match the interior color on VRX models.  The standard dash comes with 4 analog gauges and a digital gauge in the center.  Many people opt for the optional Medallion Viper II 7″ touchscreen.  This is a color touchscreen which is a flush mount in the center of the dash.  It provides the driver with quite a bit of detailed information.  It also controls many of the functions on the boat such as the stereo, ski mode, docking mode, cruiser control & more.

Storage

The Chaparral Vortex 203 VRX has a huge amount of storage for a boat of it’s size.  Nearly all of the seats open for storage underneath.  There is a removable cooler under the port side seat as well.  The ski locker in the floor has a wide access door.  It’s very long to accommodate boards & skis.  It also has a gas assist to keep the door open for access.

Some of our favorite storage on the boat is found under the helm stations.  Both helms have storage doors.  When opened, these doors expose large, dry storage areas which are basically the size of the entire helm.  This is a great place to put larger items and things that you want to be sure stay dry.  This is a great example of how Chaparral made use of every square inch on this boat.

Bow Seating

The bow seating of the 203 VRX is very deep, and this is a great asset.  We actually learned this the hard way.  When testing one of our competitors boats in the same size range, we took a wave over the shallow bow, soaking all of the passengers on a cold morning.  This was never an issue when testing the 203 Vortex.

The bow of the boat features a wraparound backrest with a large stainless steel grab handle.  This makes every seating position comfortable & secure.  Off the front of the boat is an anchor locker as well.  We like finding this on a boat of this size.  An anchor locker off the bow means not having to drag a dirty anchor into the boat when you pull it up for the day.

Another great feature that comes standard on the Chaparral Vortex 203 VRX is the bow filler cushion.  Although the boat does not have a sunpad on back, this gives passengers a spot to lay out and catch some rays.  The best part is that this can be done when the boat is underway.  You wouldn’t be able to do this safely on an aft sunpad.  We are willing to sacrifice the aft sunpad for the additional seating this provides.

Power

The Chaparral Vortex 203 VRX is available with several different power options for 2018.  The base motor is a single Rotax 1.5L 200hp.  If you want to stick with the single engine setup, you can upgrade to the 250hp as well.  When you really want to turn the 203 Vortex into a rocket, go with the twin 1.5L 150hp option.

If you are looking for a boat off the lot, you will likely find most Chaparral 203s with the single 1.5L 250hp option.  The boat performs great with the single 250hp and this option keeps the price at a point more attractive to many buyers.  The twin 150s will have a better holeshot, so if watersports are your primary activity, more power is always better!  This options will be harder to find though, as the price does jump substantially by adding a second engine.  The single 200hp option is more of a price point boat that will also appeal to buyers with a low hp limit on their lake.

Rotax Power Advantages

Chaparral Vortex boats are powered exclusively by Rotax.  Rotax motors are no stranger to jet motor building, and they have proven to be some of the best selling and most reliable jet motors of all time.  Rotax has a significant power advantage over our competition, sometimes up to 35% in twin engine pacakges.  This equates to better performance, plain and simple.

Rotax motors use a closed loop cooling system, similar to your car.  Our competitors use raw water cooling, so the water you are boating on is the exact same water cooling your motor.  Closed Loop Cooling means that anti-freeze is circulating through the motor rather than raw water.  If you boat in salt water or dirty water, closed loop cooling is a major advantage.

Standard equipment starting in 2017 is the new intelligent shift and throttle (iNR).  iNR brings electronic control to formerly mechanical functions in jet propulsion. More than just electronic actuation of the reverse gates, by coupling the technology with the reverse gate, the operator is able to adjust the neutral position on the fly. Additionally, the iNR system delivers smooth, predictable deceleration when shifting to reverse while underway.  Many of Chaparral’s competitors charge extra for this feature.

Chaparral Vortex 203 VRX Manueverability

All Vortex boats come standard with the Lateral Thrust Control System.  This is a game changer in the jet boat market.

The Lateral Thrust Control System directs jet thrust to either side of the transom using an oversized aluminum reverse gate during low speed maneuvers.  This gives the driver pinpoint control at the dock. Other systems direct the thrust downward or use very small rudders which are ineffective.  If you are unsure of docking jet boats, drive a Chaparral vs. the competition and the difference will be clear.

Computerized Driving Aids

Chaparral Vortex Jet Boats come standard with 4 computerized driving aids.  This includes ski mode, cruise control, docking mode & eco mode.  Although they can all be valuable, our favorites are the ski mode & docking mode.

Ski mode is for towing a rider behind the boat.  This allows the driver to set a tow speed, takeoff speed, and GO!  Once the driver selects a takeoff ramp and sets the tow speed, they engage the system and put the throttle down.  At this point, the boat will take over and pop the boat up and accelerate to the selected speed.  All the driver has to do is steer the boat.  This eliminates the struggle to keep the boat at a set speed by using the throttle alone.  It makes driving the boat easier, and gives a much better ride.

Docking mode is great to prevent any accidents around the docks.  This can be engaged when operating the boat in close quarters, and it limits the throttle that can be applied.  If the driver panics and accidentally applies too much throttle, the motor will only rev up a small amount.  It gives you enough power to get out of trouble, but not enough to hit something hard.  This mode alone can save many fiberglass repairs, especially when learning to first drive the boat.

Summary

The Chaparral Vortex 203 VRX is a premium 20′ jet boat with lots of great features not found in it’s competition.  It has a huge amount of space.  It performs great and has very sophisticated features for watersports.  The performance and maneuverability top the competition in nearly every way.  And best of all, it is a Chaparral with Chaparral quality.  For 2018, this boat starts at  $39,895 including trailer.  That’s a great bang-for-the-buck in a premium jet boat with high-end standard features.  If you are in the market for a new jet boat, start your search with the Chaparral Vortex 203 VRX.

For more info on this boat, check out Chaparral’s website at www.chaparralboats.com.  If you are new to jet boats, you might want to start with our Introduction to Jet Boats article here.

 

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