Manufacturers seem inspired by the convenience of driving boats equipped with the Volvo Penta IPS drive system. It's almost as if the system makes other aspects of their boats more user-friendly as well. On most 43' boats, for example, heading forward on the sidedecks requires even a person of average size to turn sideways, but on the Azimut 43S I faced forward and strode on. Belowdecks, zoned circuit breakers make it easier to deal with hiccups in the electrical system. And finally, because the Italian builder knew the importance of getting to items such as the genset and the fuel/water separators, it built in three separate hatches for accessing the engine compartment.
Because the IPS drives are the hot playthings of the marine industry, though, everyone wants to know - first and foremost - how a boat runs with them. My test boat had the 370-bhp IPS 500s, which delivered more than enough power to push it to 37.1 mph. Throttle response is somewhere between that felt from inboards and stern drives, and the boat reacts well to subtle changes in power settings.
During maneuvers, the 43S made arcs in a less than 70' radius in each direction. And when you put a boat this size with IPS through slalom turns, it feels like a big runabout. You simply won't get such performance with inboards. But there's high bowrise at midrange rpm settings aboard the 43S, most notably 7 degrees at 2700 rpm in flat calm seas.
If you're used to driving an inboard-equipped boat and backing into the slip using only the engine controls, you'll need to learn some new tricks. Docking the 43S feels more like pulling a stern drive runabout into the slip, and you'll need to use the steering wheel, too. The 43S was the first boat with IPS that I drove that didn't have a joystick. (It was an option on my test boat, but on future models it will be standard.) My advice? Get the joystick. Docking with it is one of the biggest benefits of IPS.
Both the Fairline 44 Targa ($847,000 with the IPS 500s) and the 40' Doral Mediterra ($500,000 with the IPS 500s) come standard with the joystick. I've docked the Cranchi 43 with the joystick and it's like playing a videogame.
Aside from a blind spot in the aft port corner, you have great visibility when driving the 43S, not something you should always expect with an express-style boat. The way the deck slopes, the forward visibility is excellent. A silver-gray finish on the helm reduces glare when the sun is out. I had a good view of engine health on the Volvo Penta cluster-style instruments and of my course heading on the Raymarine E120 plotter.
Abaft the helm, there's seating for at least eight people in the horseshoe-shaped lounge around the table to starboard and in the conventional couch to port. I liked that Azimut used stowage drawers that pull out of the lounge base. It sure beats pulling up the cushions and upending people. Unfortunately, there were no cupholders.
If you prefer the great outdoors, relax on the U-shaped cockpit lounge around another table. There's also a pair of large lockers that are perfect for stashing fenders and docklines. The best engine access is through the base of this lounge, and the hinged hatch raises on a kickstand-style strut. Maintenance access is typical for a low-profile boat. If you have a bad back, pay the yard to replace batteries; otherwise you'll have to crawl to get to the front of the compartment. A hatch in the salon sole provides the best way to get to the fuel/water separators, which means that you risk dripping diesel fuel on the carpet while removing them.
Getting out to the bow is easy, and I was impressed to find a dedicated chainbox in the anchor locker. The locker hatch lays over against the windlass, which could mar the nonslip finish if the windlass is ever operated with the hatch open. While peeking in the locker, I could see that the hull-to-deck joint was mechanically fastened and bonded with a methacrylate-type sealant. Construction is conventional with a solid fiberglass bottom and molded stringers and transverses.
Ensuring as much space as possible in the forward master stateroom, Azimut uses a blunt, wider-than-normal bow on the 43S. It's a smart move on a boat this size. I liked the liberal use of windows to make both cabins feel open. The hanging lockers are deep and tall enough to accommodate a sport coat. I don't, however, like the idea of having the holding tank in the base of the master berth.
Nor do I appreciate the location of the light switches for the master and day heads. You have to walk in and reach over the commodes to find them, not the easiest task in the dark. The same went for those switches in the midship stateroom. They were placed so low on the entryway bulkhead that I had trouble finding them.
At the opposite of the convenience scale is the galley, which is best described as a slightly down layout. It's only two steps below the salon level, and you can interact with people in the salon while cooking. When it comes to convenience, this boat cooks in the galley and on the water.