If you think "value priced" and "high end" are mutually exclusive descriptions of boats, think again. Cruisers Yachts 360 Express offers stout construction, a great layout, and splendid accommodations for a middle-of-the-category price of $320,000.
Displacement is a good way to compare how similar in size boats are. It's an indicator of volume. Anyone who's ever said that a certain boat was big for its size knows what I'm talking about. A larger displacement on the same LOA makes for a roomier boat.
The 360 Express displaces 20,000 pounds on a 38' LOA, making it bigger than its model designation would indicate. So it's with no reservations that I compare it to Sea Ray's 380 Sundancer ($395,062 powered like my test boat), which, though a foot longer and carrying the same beam, has a nearly identical displacement.
Whoa! Am I telling you that you can buy the same size boat for tens of thousands less? No, because you have to look at other aspects as well. Although the 360 Express carries more fuel, and so should have greater range when powered equivalently (horsepower-to-weight ratios are to range what length-to-displacement ratios are to size), the 380 Sundancer comes standard with some big ticket items that are optional aboard the 360 Express. The hardtop and generator are the most glaring examples, adding $16,620 and $16,665, respectively, to the price of the 360 Express. That narrows the retail price gap to about 10 percent of either boat's manufacturer's suggested retail price. At that point, you can nitpick items, but instead, I'd suggest that you examine how you go boating.
The layout of the 360 Express is markedly different from that of the 380 Sundancer. It has a walkthrough windshield that offers quick access to the bow. Its small sidedecks allow for a bigger cabin. Of course, if you transit locks frequently, you might prefer more substantial sidedecks. The 360 Express's companionway hatch is on centerline rather than to port, allowing its companion lounge to lie along the portside of the helm deck. Three can sit on this lounge facing abeam, or one person can recline, head against the padded helm. The 360 Express's doublewide, flip-bolster helm bench contrasts with the 380 Sundancer's single helm chair and double-wide companion lounge directly next to it. The 360 Express has a large wetbar installed in the aft cockpit, compared to the 380 Sundancer's smaller wetbar installed at the port side of the helm deck. The larger wetbar on the 360 Express is superior for entertaining but reduces seating by about two, depending upon crew girth. (Order the optional rumble seat--$4,080--for the swim platform to regain those two seats.)
Belowdecks, at the base of the 360 Express's companionway steps, you'll find a large, swanky head with an impressive separate shower stall. The stall's bifold door folds flat against the bulkhead. When the shower's not in use, that feature allows for home-like elbow room for someone using the vanity and mirror. When the shower is being used, the door seals watertight with a gasket against the vanity. The 380 Sundancer employs a split head arrangement forward with dual access from both the salon and the master stateroom. Do you mind not having a private way into a head? Do you prefer that guests have quick access to the loo from the cockpit? Will you need to have the head available while another crewmember is showering? The answers to these questions are personal, intangible, and can't be priced.
Another feature that sets the 360 Express apart from the 380 Sundancer and other cruisers, such as the 41'3", 18,500-pound Four Winns V378 ($347,938 with twin 375-hp Volvo Penta 8.1 Gi gasoline V-drives, standard hardtop, and generator) is its variety of propulsion choices. Beneath the hatches aboard the 360 Express, you can install stern drives, V-drives, or tractor drives. You can choose gas or diesel. However, MerCruisers are no longer available.
My test boat, perhaps the last MerCruiser-equipped 360 Express, housed twin 370-hp 8.1S gasoline V-drive inboards. The installation and serviceability is as good as it gets. From chafe-protection and electrical bonding to labeling and the ability to lay hands upon filters, dipsticks, batteries, seacocks, and bilge switches, I found no flaws. The high-water alarm is an uncommon safety feature and conforms to the ABYC recommendation for boats with enclosed accommodation spaces. The only goof I uncovered was at the well that houses the windlass under a hatch at the bow. It's pitched aft and holds water. Cruisers Yachts says this glitch will be rectified. Grab a dock hose and see for yourself.
Hit the throttles. You'll find the 360 Express' performance as smart as its accommodations and rigging. Although undue inclination and hanging at hump speed are characteristic of many V-drive-powered cruisers, the 360 Express escapes this fate. It planes readily without loss of forward visibility. The prop pockets deliver a nozzle effect that increases the speed of water flowing through them. This counteracts the loss of buoyancy typical of pockets. Lift is increased because of the faster stream. While cruising, a gentle touch results in a quick turning response. With a top speed of nearly 39 mph, this boat feels as if it's loafing at a 30-mph cruise with these engines. That's good for engine wear. It's also good any time you're running in following seas. Having plenty of acceleration on tap is another fine feature found on yet another nice Cruisers Yacht.
EXTRA POINT: The transom rumble seat is upholstered with high-density foam, better suited to handle the soaking it gets as the boat comes off plane.