Manitou: High-End On A Budget

April 2012 Feature

Manitou pontoons are known for their all-around quality construction. That's a focal point for the entire company, visible in every model the company produces. We were able to get our hands on the Manitou 20 Aurora Lounger VP and though the expectations were high, the final verdict was very positive.

On A Budget

The first thing to note on the 20 Aurora is that it isn't technically classified as a high-end pontoon. Manitou puts it towards the lower-end of its categories, and the retail price of the actual boat tested was only $18,560 (boat only). That said, we were easily fooled into thinking this model belonged at a much higher price point. The first place to look is the exterior. One word sums it up: attractive. The maroon exterior stands out enough to catch your eye without screaming "look at me." It makes for a good, low-key, yet classy, profile.

The Inspection

A closer look below deck revealed a solidly constructed boat. While some manufacturers tend to skimp on using quality materials or building methods in this area-where customers rarely take a close look-the Aurora impressed us in this area. Over the years we've found loose or exposed wiring or hurried welding jobs when inspecting other boats from different manufacturers, but this high-quality Manitou is built to last. An area that especially stood out was the cross member section, which was exceptionally sturdy and featured spacing that was an impressive 12 inches at its widest and on eight-inch centers near the transom. This contributed to the smooth ride when we finally got her out on the water.

High-End Power

A noticeable feature of the Aurora we tested was the VP performance package. Those familiar with Manitou know about its SHP package, designed to give added performance to high-end, triple pontoon boats. The SHP combines a larger and deeper center tube with positive angle lifting strakes and a unique Barracuda nosecone for improved fuel efficiency, top speed and maneuverability.

However, Manitou recognizes that in today's market, boat buyers still want increased performance, but are a bit more budget conscious. To that end, they created the VP package, which gives you many of the same benefits as the SHP package, but at a lower price point.

The VP package comes with Sea Star hydraulic steering for easier control, as well as an underskinning to give you a nicer ride. While there are not as many strakes as there are with an SHP package, the existing strakes do give a higher, smoother ride on rough water.  Generally, lakes with high waves and rollers do not favor pontoon boats, and boaters have chosen larger crafts to navigate these waters. However, with the SHP and VP packages, pontoons are now making their home on large bodies of water. "Customer reception has been fantastic," Greg VanWagenen, director of marketing and communications for Manitou, said. "People are looking for a lot of value and versatility in their boats, and the VP fills that niche."

The VP package is generally paired with boats in Manitou's Aurora, Oasis and Encore lines, while the SHP package is added to the higher-end models such as the Legacy and X-plode.

This generally indicates that buyers looking to get a boat on a budget are still searching after that rush that comes with speed and power, and Manitou is working hard to help them reach this goal.

"One of the biggest differences you see with the performance packages is the steering," VanWagenen said. "You bank naturally into a turn, instead of the outward banking that triple-tube boaters are accustomed to."We found the Aurora 20's VP package performed well, and gave us nice, sharp turns when she was put through her paces.

"We believe Manitou was hit a little less hard than some pontoon manufacturers because of the SHP and VP packages," VanWagenen said. He believes this ability to steer a pontoon like a runabout or similar craft makes Manitou's offerings more attractive to potential boat buyers.

Another area the VP package shows its stuff is top speed. We found the Aurora had an impressive top-end speed of 43.1 miles per hour with a 150hp E-TEC H.O. outboard from Evinrude, a speed comparable to boats costing tens of thousands of dollars more.

The VP performance package can be added to any of the boats in Manitou's lineup, with the exception of the X-plode.

Comfort And Value

Above deck, the Aurora 20 exudes style. We appreciated the use of Manitou's "M" logo throughout the boat, and the textured vinyl on the seats made them very comfortable. Tall seatbacks, lumbar support and leg bolsters for everyone could make this boat a popular one with the owner's friends and family.

In an added touch that we truly appreciate, the boat's four cup holders do drain overboard, instead of leaving a sticky mess under the seats like we've seen with other designs.

At the stern, there's a single-wide, full-length sun deck that really makes good use of the available space. An easy-to-access pop-up changing room is a great feature for families, and it's vented for those hot summer days when being in an enclosed space for even two or three minutes can be stifling. The stern flooring also features a non-skid surface before the carpet starts, a good place for swimmers to towel off before entering the boat completely.

The gates are a good height for those worried about having small children onboard: 27.5 inches at the bow and port side, and 31 inches at the stern. The port gate is wide enough to be wheelchair accessible. With plenty of storage under the seats, it's hard to run out of room for life jackets, towels, other needs.

The helm is well-constructed and gives the buyer many more features than you'd expect at this price point. The gauges are easy to see, and the entire design flows well with the rest of the boat. A Sony CDX GT240 stereo highlights the entertainment options on the Aurora 20, and the in-dash 12-volt outlet is great for charging a cell phone or even running a portable DVD player. Overall, the interior of the Aurora 20 is spacious, and this contributes to the feeling that the boat is larger than it really is.


When you combine the sturdy construction underneath with the solid quality and comfort of the above-deck design, the Aurora 20 is definitely a boat for those interested in a good time with a worry-free craft. It's a good all-around option for people who like speed and performance, but are also on a budget. Young families with children can enjoy and feel safe here, while older couples can also enjoy the wide-open layout."It's not the least-expensive entry-level `toon out there by any means," VanWagenen said. "But for the extra money you're getting great quality and fit and finish. We hold it to the same standard as our other boats."

After putting the Aurora through the paces, we'd have to agree. In today's new world of economy and watching your wallet, the Aurora is a smart choice for the long haul.

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