BOAT REVIEW Challenger 720HT

December 2023 Trailer Boat Reviews
Words By John Eichelsheim. Photography & video by Roger Mills.
OUR RATING
4 STARS
Performance
Economy
Handling
Value
Build Quality
Specification
MODEL DETAILS
MODEL Challenger 720HT
DESIGNER Terry Reid/Challenger Boats
BUILDER Challenger Boats
PRICE AS TESTED $POA
SPECIFICATIONS
LOA 7.15M
BEAM 2.45M
DRAFT 0.38M
ENGINE Mercury 200 Pro XS
Weight on Trailer 2450 kg
Length on Trailer 8.75M
Height on Trailer 3.20M
Max Horsepower 250hp
Passenger Capacity 5 people
DEADRISE 20 degrees
HIGHLIGHTS
  • Easy boat to drive with excellent handling in the rough
  • Active Trim takes the guesswork out of trimming the outboard
OBSERVATIONS
  • Solidly-built, capable all-rounder
  • Well-specced and well-priced with several engine options

I remember being impressed by the ride the last time I reviewed a Challenger boat, which was 15 years ago or more. And after trying the latest, revamped 720HT, I’m still impressed.


Challenger Boats teamed up with Boat City and Auckland Marine Centre to invest heavily in tooling for updated decks and hardtops and to ramp up production. The 720 Hardtop (HT) is the company’s flagship model – the largest Challenger in a line-up of five models sold exclusively through Boat City and Auckland Marine Centre. Backed by robust manufacturing and retail strategies, there’s a Challenger model to suit every family’s budget.

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Like the rest of the Challenger range, the 720 HT’s fibreglass hull is designed by Terry Reid, who has also worked with highly regarded aluminium boatbuilders AMF and White Pointer. Solidly built in hand-laid GRP, and soon to be CPC-rated, the 720’s distinctive hull, rather unusually for a GRP trailer boat, has no planing/lifting strakes. It doesn’t miss them. On the contrary the sleek hull contributes to the boat’s plush ride, its prominent chine/spray rail turning the water down cleanly.


With the new hardtop – a far cry from the old 720’s squared-off version – the latest 720HT looks well balanced, sleek and modern. This is a totally new hardtop design – the windscreens are now curved and headroom inside is generous, achieved without making the boat look too tall or top heavy. The side windows slide open, there are stainless steel grab rails aft, a sensibly raked stainless steek rocket launcher on the roof, and the review boat was fitted with a windscreen wiper.


Challenger boats are known for being soft riding and this 720HT, supplied and rigged by Auckland Marine Centre, is no exception. It has an easily-driven hull with a fine entry and 20° of deadrise at the transom. The 720HT trades off a little stability at rest for good rough water handling, but underway it’s pleasingly stable, smooth and very easy to helm.

V8 power
The Mercury Pro XS 200 is a good match for the 720HT, providing spirited performance and a pleasing audio track from its 4.6-litre V8 powerhead – the model is rated for outboards up to 250hp.
The updated interior begins with the cockpit, which was lined with grey U-Dek on the sole, the transom and swim steps, with padded grey vinyl used for the gunwales, side-pockets, and rear seat backrest. There’s a large, inboard mounted bait table that fits onto the ski-pole, with two stainless steel rod holders across the back, complementing a pair of through-coaming rod holders either side of the cockpit.


The transom walk-through is on the port side where the stainless-steel boarding ladder is mounted and there’s a large removable rear seat-storage bin with twin upholstered bases. A pair of enclosed high-mounted transom lockers house the battery, switches and fuel sight glass.

Stylish hardtop
The stylish hardtop is relatively short, so the roof doesn’t extend too far over the cockpit, something anglers will appreciate, since they can enjoy clear space overhead when casting and working their fishing rods. It’s a harmonious design that works well aesthetically – getting trailer boat hardtops to look good is a challenge not every manufacturer successfully overcomes. Challenger Boats has got the balance pretty much right with the 720HT.
Challenger has been generous in providing handrails inside the boat – also fore and aft on the hardtop roof – and the good-quality roof mounted stainless steel rocket launcher is properly raked so that rods stored there don’t get in the way when people are fishing. There is also a backdrop cover to enclose the hardtop.


The hardtop features a vinyl roof lining and vinyl panel highlights around large sliding glass side windows – an opening skylight in the roof lets in light and air. A useful stainless-steel grab rail wraps right around the large cabin bulkhead opening and there are moulded footrests for the front passengers.
Two bolstered bucket seats upholstered in grey vinyl provide comfort and support underway. The helmsman enjoys a Deluxe Softrider pedestal seat, while the bucket seat on the port side is mounted back-to-back on a moulded seat base with an aft-facing seat. Lift the rear seat to access useful storage while in the base with more storage in an underfloor locker aft of the fuel tank, and in the side pockets – full length on the starboard side.


The helm station is a thoroughly modern design with enough space to accommodate modern flush-mounted multi-function displays. The 12-inch Garmin MFD fitted to the review boat looked a bit lost among all that white gelcoat – there’s space for bigger MFDs – but it left ample room on the fascia for Mercury’s Vessel View instrument panel, the Maxwell RC6 capstan control, windscreen wiper switch and trim tab rockers.
A GME VHF radio was mounted overhead under the ceiling, along with the Fusion stereo system, the remote VHF handset within easy reach on the fascia next to the helm. Stereo speakers are located either side on the hardtop at the rear.


The forward cabin features upholstered v-berths and side shelves with grey Frontrunner covering the rest. With the infill in place, the berths will accommodate two people in comfort and there’s provision for an electric flushing toilet under the squab between the berths. Cabin and hardtop lights are LED, as are the navigation lights.
The hardtop’s ceiling hatch provides ventilation, light and access to the anchor, anchor locker and winch. Access is also possible by sidling around the narrow side decks holding onto the handrails on the hardtop roof. The foredeck has a substantial stainless steel bow rail and a Rocna anchor snubbed tight to the moulded bowsprit.

Engaging drive
The solidly-built 720 HT is an easy boat to drive, helped by its soft ride and forgiving nature when it comes to engine trim settings. Engaging Mercury Marine’s Active Trim, which automatically adjusts engine trim based on changes in boat speed to improve performance and fuel economy, makes things even easier. There are selectable profiles to suit every boat. Nevertheless, during spirited driving, I found switching Active Trim off and adjusting the trim manually made for a more rewarding driving experience.


Hydraulic steering gives effortless control, but still provides enough feedback for safe operation. With its hardtop cabin, the Lectrotab trim tabs are welcome, especially in a cross-wind.
With the Mercury tachometer showing 3,950rpm, the 720HT cruised comfortably and economically at 24 knots, but at 30 knots, the ride was just as smooth, which illustrates how good the hull is. With its 47° entry, it cuts through the water with a minimum of fuss, landing softly, its chines directing spray well away from the hardtop. A quiet runner, the boat transitions onto the plane at around 12 knots, while we achieved a top speed of 39 knots fully trimmed out. The boat would be capable of well over 40 knots with more horsepower.

Capable all-rounder
With a 270-litre underfloor fuel tank, the 720HT offers decent range, which when combined with its excellent ride, safe handling, and the protection of the hardtop, make it suitable for longer runs offshore fishing or diving, commuter trips to the family bach, or weekends away – as well as general family boating.

As reviewed, the boat was supplied on a good-quality tandem-axle Voyager trailer. The multi-roller zinc-coated steel trailer features LED lights, a manual winch and over-ride braking on one axle. The rig tows well and is easy to launch and retrieve.

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