As far as I'm concerned when it comes to canoes it doesn't get any better than this.
It has withstood bending it around a few rocks, busted center thwart-like impacts, been kept intact with early-in-life applied front and rear skid plates and patching of the dings. I have carried gear galore while teaching many how stable a canoe can be in modestly rough waters.
Even with its well described short comings I'll keep applying the 303 vinyl product until I can no longer get into the boat.
WEAKNESSES: As is always the case in canoe design there are always tradeoffs. Lots of room, capacity, and stability mean this boat is BIG, HEAVY, and SLOW. We call ours "MOBY". You need a strong back for loading and handling this boat. This boat is not a good flatwater tripping boat unless you're going on short trips or need a ton of room for kids/dogs/gear. The extra width in the front causes paddling to be uncomfortable in the bow for long flatwater tripping (unless the bow paddler is tall) and also slows the boat on flat water. This canoe is definitely not a cruiser - it needs current. Generous rocker means that flatwater tracking suffers. Heavy wind and waves really slow the boat on a lake.
VERDICT: Mad River lists this canoe in the "Moving Water" section of their catalog and state that it is great for families. That is an accurate description and it delivers exactly what is promised. This canoe is PERFECT for heavy figity loads (dogs,kids,excited fishermen) and is TERRIFIC for running all types of class I-II rapids. The stabilty is also handy for non-canoeing friends, kids, dogs, etc. on short flatwater trips. Be sure you can handle the 78 lb weight before purchasing.
With that said, If you want a canoe with acceptable speed and tracking, and very good maneuverability, intial stability, and secondary stability, than this is the boat for you. This boat will gobble up gear, and never lose a bit of it's performance. However, do not plan on paddling this boat by yourself. With a freeboard capacity of 1200 lbs, its like a cork with only one person. I have owned this boat for year and have used it on many trips, both flatwater and moving. Although it is slow compared to my friends' flatwater boats, I can run rivers without the arm strain of trying to turn a boat with a keel.
The only thing I don't love about this boat was that it was only available with wooden or aluminum gunwales. I would have been much happier with vinyl because it is easier to care for and more indestructable than wood, and much better looking than aluminum. Mine is the color cherry, with ash gunwales, and it looks like a piece of art.
Below you will see this boat compared to a log, and a diving platform. If you want straight line tracking and speed, buy a composite boat with a full keel and slight to no rocker (From Mad River, look at the Lamoille, or the Malicite). But if you want to trip on moving water (I have had mine in class III whitewater), than definately look at this boat.
By all means, you should paddle every boat before you buy it. Buying a boat before you've paddled it, is like buying a car without driving it. Most companies do demos all over the country throughout the summer.
P.S. I am not a Mad River representative, I do however work in a store that sells boats (although not Mad River canoes), and love their products.
I have noted reviews where it would make a good diving platform. And would be a good freighter, but I would not recommend it to someone who likes to cruise. It might serve as a barge carrying a large load.
A really good friend got one in mint condition for $500.00 and sold it for $500.00 within a year. He would not paddle it when he had it when he had a choice; avoiding it like the plague. He has many boats and has never sold one that I know. When he and his girlfriend were paddling with us they had a hard time keeping up, something that never happened before.
I am sure there are things it would be good at but one of them is not paddling for pleasure or cruising that is for sure. I cannot believe the high numbers of the previous reviews. And strongly recommend you paddle this before you buy it. There are many great canoes out there that will bring your great pleasure, this one is not one I would recommend.
The rating of a 5 is mostly because of the craftsmanship and the woodwork. I give it a 0 for the design and paddling pleasure.