The Fantastic Four

We knew four-stroke engines would make jet-skis cleaner. But more fun?

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Yamaha FX 140

I turn the key and nothing happens. No throaty rumble, no smoke, nothing. But when I hit the throttle, Yamaha's new FX 140 takes off. The new four-stroke engine is so quiet, I didn't even hear it.

Makers of personal watercraft (PWC) didn't relish the move from two-stroke engines–a tightening EPA noose forced them–but you can't argue with the results: This generation is quieter, quicker, and smoother-not to mention up to 80 percent cleaner.

The first four-strokes hit the market this spring. Along with the Yamaha, Sea-Doo has the GTX 4-TEC and Honda is diving in feet first with the Aquatrax F-12 and the turbocharged Aquatrax F-12X. All are three-seaters aimed squarely at the family market.

If previous Yamahas were dragsters, the FX 140 is a Lexus. It has a linear power curve, unlike the front-loaded acceleration you get with two-strokes. The Sea-Doo, meanwhile, is perfect for novice riders who want to go cruising. There's a digital instrument panel with compass headings, a soft ergonomic seat, and a power-assist mode that adds thrust during slow-speed turns to ensure stability. It's great for rough water, though not as nimble as the Yamaha.

The smaller Hondas are speedsters. I got the FX-12X to 30 mph in just over 2 seconds, its deep-V hull nimble yet stable. The only negative: There's no passenger strap, a must if you want to stay on this stallion.

Bottom line: You can't go wrong with any of them. Intended or not, four-stroke technology will revolutionize PWCs. Enjoy the ride.

CLEAN MACHINES

How the first crop of four-stroke watercraft stack up.

Yamaha FX 140

Dimensions:131.5 by 48.4 inches
Engine: 998cc 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 140
Top speed: 57.4 mph
Price: $9,499
Coolest Feature: Drink holder
SUV Equivalent: Toyota 4Runner

Sea-Doo GTX 4-TEC

Dimensions: 130.4 by 48.1 inches
Engine:1,494cc 3-cylinder
Horsepower: 155
Top speed: 58.9 mph
Price: $9,499 to $9,899
Coolest Feature: Assisted steering
SUV Equivalent: Ford Explorer

Honda Aquatrax F-12 & F-12X

Dimensions: 125.9 by 49.0 inches
Engine:1,235cc 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 125 (165 for F-12X)
Top speed: 59.1 mph
Price: $8,999 ($9,999 for F-12X)
Coolest Feature: Turbo for the FX-12X
SUV Equivalent: Mercedes ML500