At first glance they look like innocuous through-hull fittings on the boat’s hull sides. Slightly forward of midships, below the portals, they could be for anything. But they hold the key to the performance of Beneteau’s Flyer Gran Turismo 34, a sport cruiser that brings something new to American boaters.
Long known for its production of sailboats and fast trawlers, Beneteau builds performance powerboats too. The Gran Turismo lineup features sporty European express cruisers ranging from a 49 down to the 34 we sea-trialed.
As soon as we pulled the GT 34 away from the dock on test day, those through-hulls started to do their job, funneling fresh air down to the reverse step molded into the hull in a V-shape, with the point amidships and the wings tapering aft toward the hard chines. Beneteau calls this design the Air Step system. Here’s how it works: As you throttle up to climb on plane, the through-hulls funnel air via ducts directly to the step, helping it break friction with the water to reduce drag and create lift, and deliver a smooth flow of water to the props. Beneteau claims this design not only reduces fuel consumption, helps acceleration and brings higher speeds with less power, but that it also improves stability and seakeeping. The only way to prove this was to hit the throttles.
We headed out of the inlet into three- to five-foot conditions and quickly decided to run the performance numbers in a following sea. I noticed that the boat climbed onto plane quickly — around four seconds — with no loss of visibility from the helm. Beneteau says the step significantly reduces the bow wave that all hulls must climb over before achieving plane. With the twin 300 hp Volvo Penta sterndrives, we pushed the 34 GT over 41 mph in less than ideal running conditions. Moreover, when we turned into a head sea, we could make way at 12 mph, a great speed considering the nasty conditions. As the water from the building waves started breaking over the bow, we closed the sunroof with the push of a button, and it proved watertight. I had a comfortable perch on the double-wide captain’s chair with a good view of the Simrad NSS 8 on the helm and an unobstructed view of the water. Knowing we’d stay dry, I goosed the throttles and executed some hard turns in rough seas. I came away impressed by the boat’s turning abilities and rough-water handling.
What didn’t I like? While recording the numbers as the captain manned the helm, I noticed a lack of grab handles in the cockpit. Beneteau would do well to place a few there, as well as on the outside of the hardtop along the walkway to the bow.
The GT 34’s cockpit has an interesting layout, with a circular lounge behind the double-wide helm, broken in the middle to create a walk-through. To starboard is a rear-facing lounge and to port is a rear-shaped sofa. They are covered with Silvertex, a PVC vinyl that resists staining and fares well in a harsh saltwater environment. It’s used on high-end patio furniture that stays out year-round at luxury hotels, so it has a track record of durability. The section of sofa along the transom is not protected by the hardtop, so this vinyl will serve the boat well.
From the cockpit, four solid steps with an Alpina wood veneer lead down into the cabin, a bright airy space with 6 feet 5 inches of headroom. The lightly colored walls and upholstery on the elevated dinette (which converts into a berth) and white Corian countertop of the galley serve to enhance the brightness. It might be the most luminous cabin I’ve set foot in aboard a 30-footer.
The midships cabin sports a full berth with Alpina shelving on the walls and air-conditioning vents overhead. The head, to port opposite the galley, has a Lewmar hatch overhead that brings air and natural light to a normally claustrophobic area. There is, of course, a privacy shade that slides over it. The head too has Alpina accents and a bright interior. It has a shower nozzle and the full headroom found in the salon.
Making my way to the bow pulpit via the side decks, I noticed that the bow rail — which runs thigh high for good security — had a clip-off chain completing it over the windlass, a nod to Beneteau’s sailboat heritage. It’s actually a nice touch to be able to remove it for open access to the anchor. A hatch in the bow opens for excellent rode access, and the chain is secured with a stop rope. The sun-pad filler cushions feature the same Silvertex vinyl seen on the cockpit furniture.
The Regal 35 Sport Coupe ($340,314 with twin 300 hp Volvo 5.7 GiDPs) makes an interesting comparison boat despite its much heavier price tag. The Regal has a roomier and more lavish interior and bigger dimensions overall. Yet, we recorded similar test numbers (October 2011) with an identical power package.
The Regal also has a retractable hardtop, a feature we got to enjoy on board the Beneteau after we returned to calm waters inside the inlet. That, and the vented side windows, created excellent circulation around the cockpit, demonstrating that this boat has superior airflow both above and below the waterline.
Comparable model: Regal 35 Sport Coupe