One of the hottest new cruisers is the Four Winns 318 Vista. But don't let its sexy powder-horn sheerline and near-50-mph top speed get you thinking that performance is the only card Four Winns is playing here. I discovered a designer cabin brimming with glossy wood, faux granite, and plush upholstery. Its bilge and engine areas are carefully rigged and arranged with service in mind. And proof abounds that it's been built by actual boaters. Only those who've had to scurry for a line or dock a boat without an experienced crew would install steps leading to the sidedecks at both the platform and the cockpit and cover the entire bow, not just its perimeter, in nonslip. Are there things to gripe about? Sure. But the sum of them won't prevent you from liking this boat.
PRESS ON. Twin 280-hp Volvo Penta 5.7 Gi DuoProp stern drives powered my test boat. You could opt for more power, including a pair of 300-hp Mercruiser 350 MAG MPI Bravo Three stern drives ($3,477), but I don't think that the extra horsepower would be necessary. When I pressed the levers, the 318 Vista jumped, transitioning almost imperceptibly onto plane, and provided plenty of midrange whoosh for confident running in following seas. Of course, the test boat was lightly loaded and had no canvas or bottom paint. But when you run as many boats as a Boating boat tester, you can tell: 560 horses is plenty for this boat.
The test propsets were too big. We got the engines to turn 4900 rpm, and Volvo Penta indicates that 5000 is the spec for wide open throttle. Once the boat is laden with crew and stores and has the canvas up and its bottom painted, the engines may drop several hundred rpm. A smaller prop could prevent the engines from lugging. The 318 Vista is quiet, posting in the low 80s on my sound meter in the cruising speed range. And even at wide open throttle, the sound levels in this boat never pushed the meter's needle past 90 dB-A. It's one of the quietest cruisers I've tested. Credit its robust engine installation, the precise fit of its engine hatch, and the copious use of acoustic insulation.
THE PLUSH RUSH. Acoustic insulation isn't the only soft material that gave me reason to smile aboard the 318 Vista. Squishing into the leather comfort of the salon lounge also elicited a grin. Saddlebuck in color and with pleated and rolled armrests, this is a comfortable pullout sofa-settle down for a long chat or open it up to sleep two, should the need arise. Opposite is the galley, which is anchored by a fiberglass counter that's inset with solid-surface material. The brilliant white perimeter and polished faux-stone insert look great together, and the solid-surface material is set deep enough to provide a fiddle that will contain spills or loose items-a good meld of form and function.
Forward is the slab-shaped master berth that's arranged askew to provide easy access. When you need privacy, just pull a curtain. For more practicality, the area is complemented by deep drawer stowage and an illuminated, cedar-lined hanging locker. Atypically, there's no shelf ringing this berth. Instead, glossy wood laminate cabinetry with smoked glass doors provides stowage above and around the berth's perimeter-another well-done meld of form and function. This berth's mattress lifts on a strut, revealing more stowage, including dedicated recesses for the dining table top and its pedestal.
In the aft berth, I found an expansive view of the forward part of the cabin, plenty of headroom, and a removable pedestal table, all of which make this spot great for entertaining. When guests set up the area for sleeping, they'll appreciate the width of the berth, the ventilation provided by the opening port, and the ample stowage. In the 318 Vista's head is another solid-surface counter. The vanity features a hefty, built-in grabrail. A full-length mirror graces the door. I especially liked the hinged, three-piece medicine chest mirror that allows for a range of adjustment.
The companionway leaves me with mixed feelings. I don't like the steps, which are steep and unnatural in the way they're laid out. But I applaud the use of an acrylic sliding door as well as a second door with screened inserts. You can lock the screened door, which will allow in the air but keep out unwanted bugs. Moreover, the screen door is sturdy enough to provide security. Should you wish to air out the cabin, you can lock the screen, walk away, and be fairly sure that no one is going to trespass below.
RIGGED AND READY. The boat runs well, and I liked the creature comforts it provides. I also liked the way it's put together-for the most part. For one thing, the head discharge seacock, located deep under the starboard side of the cockpit, is tough to get at and should be more accessible. In the anchor locker, wiring for the windlass, nav lights, and spotlight were draped too loosely across the top of the locker. In fact, on my test boat, the anchor chain-the links that dropped from the windlass-kissed this wiring. This is sure to abrade through with use, unless the wiring is rerouted and better supported. Four Winns says that the test boat was a prototype and that production models won't have this flaw, but check it out when you demo the boat.
Also of note, all underwater metals are bonded to inhibit corrosion. And in the engine room everything was accessible. The 318 Vista sports a fuel crossover system, a feature more typical of larger yachts. The four-step transom swim ladder is mounted under a hatch set at an angle: When you come off plane, your wake wash won't throw open the hatch as it does aboard so many boats. And just inside the transom door, right where it's most convenient for powering up at the beginning of a trip or cutting power at day's end, is a locker that houses the battery switches and main breakers.
When shopping the 318 Vista, you'll do well to check out Regal's Window Express 3060 ($146,972 powered like our test boat), Rinker's 300 Express Cruiser ($131,577 powered like our test boat), and Sea Ray's 300 Sundancer ($146,972 with twin 300-hp MerCruiser 350 MAG MPI Bravo Three stern drives). You'll find the Regal sporting a unique forward cabin window, the Rinker boasting a bit more standard equipment, and the Sea Ray featuring a choice of cabin layouts. Do your homework, know what you want, and then take the 318 Vista for a ride.
EXTRA POINT: The mirror at the head of the forward berth pulls out to reveal a hatch that provides excellent access to the rode locker.