Little things aboard the new Four Winns 288 Vista add up to a lot. Start with something simple like the vinyl upholstery. Most vinyl on today's cruisers feels plush and is easy to clean. But Four Winns' Aquaflex vinyl has a synthetic cross-stitch backing that makes it more tear- and puncture-resistant, so you needn't worry about errant salad forks. Then look at how the removable cooler under the cockpit sink slides out on aluminum tracks, making it easy to access and stow. Plus, you don't have to unhinge any joints or remove any cushions from the transom bench to operate the electric engine hatch. That's actually a big deal. Think about it: You won't have to disassemble your cockpit every time you check the oil. Sweet, and something many competitors ignore. The 288 Vista is first and foremost an entertainment platform-whether for you and your closest friends on a day cruise, or for you and your significant other over a weekend-so the little amenities do add up. They contribute to less hassle, which leads to more freedom so you enjoy being on the water more. And that's the whole point of buying a cruiser, right?
NO GUTS, NO GLORY. But don't think Four Winns got lost in the details. The 288 Vista was designed to stay together over the long haul. Open that electric hatch and look how the engine is mounted. The 288 Vista's powerplants are set on aluminum mounts that are bolted to the stringers. This isn't unusual in this class, but Four Winns goes a step beyond by adding an aluminum saddle between the two engines. This holds the engines securely in place so they don't move up and down or side to side. Why is this important? Not only do engines vibrate from their own power, they are also subject to the same forces that make you lean in a turn. The motors are aligned with the drives to tolerances of 1/1000". Securing them with a saddle better keeps them in line with the drives over the life of your boat.
Another durable component aboard the 288 Vista is the standard aluminum radar arch. Aluminum withstands stress better than the fiberglass arches found on such competitors as the Sea Ray 280 Sundancer ($116,881 with twin 260-hp MerCruiser 5.0L MPI Bravo Three gasoline stern drives). That means the 288 Vista's arch is less likely to crack-a benefit that will show if you keep the boat over the long term. Sea Ray and Four Winns both use high-quality construction techniques that include cored decks and hullsides. Four Winns cores the 288 Vista with balsa, adding strength at a lighter weight. Balsa also has excellent sound- deadening and thermal-insulating properties.
COMMAND PERFORMANCE. Although I did exceed 46 mph during the 288 Vista's sea trials, top end is not the barometer by which to judge a cruiser. It's more important to look at how comfortable it is at midrange speeds. I took the 288 Vista outside the inlet into rolling two-foot swells, and the boat performed admirably at 3000 rpm. I could hold the boat on plane at 17 mph at 2300 rpm, making maintaining control in lousy conditions an option. At all speeds, cruising proved comfortable from every seat in the cockpit. How did it handle in turns? An anecdote tells all: During testing, a marine patrol officer stopped the boat to remind me that I wasn't on a waterbike.
The Sea Ray 280 Sundancer has a steeper 21-degree deadrise and a slightly narrower beam than the 288 Vista, so its ride is more comfortable in sloppy seas. On a previous test of the Sundancer, it held plane at 15 mph and 2600 rpm. Another notable item about the Sea Ray-it's available with a single engine, a 375-hp MerCruiser 496 MAG Bravo Three, which brings the base price down to $107,148.
Another contender, the Regal Commodore 2860, sells for $105,280 with twin 225-hp Volvo Penta 4.3L GXi engines-the maximum power package available. Because the Regal is a stepped-hull boat, it can get away with less power while achieving similar speeds. But stepped hulls require different handling techniques, something you might need to learn.
The only real issue with the 288 Vista is its anchor setup. Although such competitors as the Regal have a flat area to step on around the pulpit, and a notch that serves as a seat, the 288 Vista's foredeck slopes down to the pulpit, making it harder to drop and haul anchor in rough seas. Also, I could barely fit my arm through the access plate to the rode locker, making it difficult to deal with tangles. On the plus side, the 288 Vista's foredeck has a fairly shallow curvature, so the slope isn't overwhelming, and its surface is entirely nonslip, compared with the centerline-only nonslip strips found on other cruisers. Plus, the molded-in stairs leading to the bow are fantastic-easy to navigate when going up and when returning.
THE SPACE RACE. The 288 Vista is set up to be an entertaining machine. The aft cockpit has a U-shaped lounge that wraps from the transom along the starboard gunwale. The captain's chair is a doublewide, so the driver doesn't have to be isolated while the rest of the crew mingles. Going one better, the Regal's bench rotates 90 degrees so the captain can join the conversation while on the hook.
In addition to the cool slide-out cooler, the 288 Vista's entertainment center has a fiddled counter made of simulated granite, an easy-to-maintain material found in high-end galleys. Four Winns equips the 288 Vista with two dinette systems, as does Sea Ray: one in the cockpit and one in the cabin. This allows you to bring the party inside should it rain while you're onboard.
The companionway on the 288 Vista's cabin has a double sliding door-one full fiberglass and one screen that allows for a cross breeze down below. The screen door is actually a fiberglass component with screen cutouts on the top and side, a sturdier configuration than the typical full screen that bends to fit the opening.
Four Winns designed the 288 Vista's aft cabin to be the primary sleeping spot. It's well lighted and ventilated and has plenty of legroom and headroom for two. You can also sleep in the V-berth, but it's primarily for entertaining. The cabin dinette seats six, and an additional side settee seats up to four. The galley reveals another thoughtful detail: The standard refrigerator is located above the microwave so you don't have to bend down to access it.
The fiberglass-lined head has 5'9" of headroom, so most will have to stoop a bit to shower, but its guttered nonslip sole cleans easily. And here's one last detail to keep in mind: The toilet paper holder recesses out of the way so you won't soak the TP when dousing off.
The Highs: The aluminum radar arch will hold up better than the fiberglass arches on some competitors. You don't have to unfasten the aft bench to operate the electric engine hatch. The Aquaflex vinyl used on all seating has a tear-resistant cross-stitched backing.
The Lows: There's no ledge or flat surface on the bow to get a foothold while handling the anchor, and the small access port makes it difficult to reach in and untangle the rode. I'd add some fender cleats between amidships and the transom.
EXTRA POINT: Don't expect to find Aquaflex vinyl on any competitors. Four Winns developed the new material in conjunction with a vinyl manufacturer and has an exclusive deal in place.
Displacement (lbs., approx.)...........9,500
Minimum cockpit depth..................2'3"
Max. cabin headroom...........6'4"
Fuel capacity (gal.).....120
Water capacity (gal.)......27
Price (w/test power).......$119,708
Standard power Twin 225-hp Volvo Penta 4.3L GXi/DP V-6 gasoline stern drives.
Optional power Twin MerCruiser or Volvo Penta gasoline stern drives to 540 hp total.
Test boat power Twin 270-hp Volvo Penta GXi/DP-S 5.0L V-8 gasoline stern drives with 305 cid, 3.74" bore x 3.48" stroke, swinging three-bladed ss F5 propsets through 1.95:1 reductions.
Standard equipment (major items) Aluminum radar arch; extended swim platform; hydraulic trim tabs; snap-in cockpit carpet; dual trumpet horn; 6-gal. water heater; hot and cold aft shower; Sony AM/FM/CD stereo w/4 speakers and remote; windshield wiper; camper canvas; microwave; refrigerator; compass; digital depthsounder; 12v receptacle; dual battery system; CO monitors; MSD.