Right-sizing" is one of the more painful business catch phrases these days, but in boating, matching the size of your boat to your preferred body of water is a beautiful thing - and can save you a bunch of money. While the Qwest 7518 is only 18 feet, 6 inches in length, there are plenty of places in the U.S. where it's the perfect boat to have.
Obviously, the first thing you notice about Qwest pontoons is their stature - quite apparent if you see one of the builder's 14-footers - but what's different about them compared to some other smaller pontoons is the comfort factor, especially on the Luxury Series our test boat belongs to. Instead of sporting the Spartan look that seems to be the norm for this genre, these are downright plush. This year, there's an all-new look with charcoal-gray fencing and beige Soft Touch vinyl seats that are strokably supple. Apex Marine (Qwest's parent company) makes its own furniture and even has a division, Soft Trim, that sells the furniture to people who bought non-Apex boats that have seats like vinyl-covered picnic table benches. Because Apex uses SRT stain-resistant X-panded Back Vinyl that is highly resistant to tears and stains, you don't have to worry that the interior will age faster than a Miami Beach tanning fanatic.
Sitting at the helm, you would never guess you were on a compact model, thanks to the abundance of legroom and the plush captain's chair with armrests that adjusts for comfort. The skipper is in charge of the tunes with a JBL MP3 stereo with JBL Infinity speakers that are definitely an upgrade over the normal pontoon stereo. The captain holds onto an Italian sport tilt wheel, and new for 2011 are the burlwood accents at the helm station. We would have preferred that the throttle were placed a bit higher, but given the boat's speed you'll probably set the throttle and forget it on a cruise. The 7518 features a standard Humminbird 385ci color GPS/fishfinder that is flush-mounted, just one of the many items you want but might not order if it was extra.
Our test boat is powered by an Evinrude E-TEC 60, which is the maximum power for this model. The E-TEC 60 is a direct-injected two-stroke that provides lots of power and exudes remarkably low levels of carbon monoxide, but it is fairly loud when wound up to its top speed of 18.2 mph at 6100 rpm. While the noise level measures 90 decibels at wide-open throttle, which is loud but quieter than many other boats you'll see tested, it doesn't include the usual going-50-mph wind noise that puffs most boats into the 92- to 95-decibel range. I sat on the rear fishing seats while under way, and it was pretty noisy. My choice would have been a high-thrust four-stroke outboard for this application, and Apex can rig it for any brand, including a wide variety of electric motors.
Acceleration was strong, and we reached plane in only 2.5 seconds and hit a 15 mph cruise speed in 5.8 seconds. Fuel economy with the Evinrude is good; at cruise, you will be burning 2 to 3 gph, which still gives you plenty of running-around time when you factor in the 12-gallon fuel tank.
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