Barefoot and freshly showered, I grabbed a cold one from the wetbar and kicked back in the cockpit lounge of the new Cruisers Yachts 500 Express. I wanted to relax with a book. But the 500 Express made hard work of light reading. That's because every boater walking the dock at the marina where I was berthed stopped cold on the planks astern of me. Each uttered, "Nice boat," followed by a request for a tour and my take on the 500 Express' ride, handling, and construction. So join me on a quick tour of what's possibly the best-but still not perfect-express cruiser I've tested.
RUNNING IT. Take the helm and you'll begin to understand. Rotating in or out of a tight slip is made easy by the built-in slow mode available on the electronic controls of the 684-bhp Volvo Penta D12DMP diesel inboards that are the sole power choice for the 500 Express. With the idle dropped to 550 rpm, boat speed is just 4.6 mph. There's no lurching and jumping in and out of gear as often experienced on other boats powered by big, mechanically controlled diesels. Maneuvering is a snap.
Now push the levers forward. The 500 Express breaks over in a rush of power. You quickly settle into a brisk, 26.8-mph cruise at 1800 rpm. That speed is the point where the D12's torque is at the max and horsepower is near its peak. As a result, the 500 Express effortlessly climbs the back of a following sea. Plus, you can cruise for more than 280 miles at this speed. What's more, the torque and power curves remain high from 1800 rpm to almost 2310 (top end). So lay the hammer down. This 40,000-pound sport yacht responds with an exciting dose of acceleration.
In three-to-five-foot waves, the 500 Express ran smoothly, whether in a cross-sea, quartering sea, or downsea, at speeds to 30 mph. Running upwind in the same conditions required that I tab down and throttle back to 23 mph to maintain comfort. That's still quick, even for a boat this size. When the seas got rougher, I discovered that the 500 Express remained on plane and maneuverable at an enviable 12 mph, tabs fully deployed. By comparison, Sea Ray's 500 Sundancer fell off plane at 15 mph when I tested it, but it had smaller 635-bhp Cummins QSM-11 diesels turning smaller props through higher gear ratios, which results in less torque. Note that the 500 Sundancer is a foot longer but 1,000 pounds lighter. And with the optional 670-bhp MAN diesels, the 500 Sundancer ($949,541) likely will hold plane at a lower speed. So even though the comparison isn't completely equivalent-more like Macintosh to Red Delicious-the fact remains: The 500 Express stays on plane at the lowest speed of any express cruiser I've tested.
I also noted good visibility from the helm, comfortable placement of instruments, and wiper/washers that do a good job of clearing the view. However, the rail at the bow jitters like a divining rod-it needs an additional vertical support to stop the bounce. Cruisers Yachts says the fix is in the works. Be sure to check it out. There also wasn't enough heel room to assume a comfortable posture while standing, because the helm seat's base forces you to stand erect and close to the helm, despite the tilt wheel. There's nothing of consequence under that base, so making it a bit smaller or recessing it altogether should be easy. Again, the fix is supposedly in.