Saving $200,000 ain't something most folks would sneeze at. So if you're considering a big express cruiser, test ride the Four Winns V458. It has the size, goodies, and technology-Volvo Penta's IPS tractor drives and a three-sided "coupe" hardtop-for loads less than same-size, comparably equipped offerings from Formula and Tiara. Is there a catch? Digest our test, then decide for yourself.
Up and Running
Designed from the start for IPS, the V458 runs great. Other boats offered with either IPS or V-drives tend to run bow high. (One notable exception is Formula's 45 Yacht, $931,200 powered like my test boat.) This is partly due to the upward lift delivered by V-drive prop thrust, which occurs because of props that turn in tunnels, instead of being mounted "on the deadrise" as they are in IPS setups, and the weight distribution requirements that result. Suffice to say, I've noticed a price to pay, in the form of excessive inclination and reliance on trim tabs when boats are sent out in the world serving two masters. However, the V458's tabs are for refining the ride, not to compensate for a hull and drive design that don't mesh. Simply put, it's a joy to run.
Palm the levers and slide 'em forward. As you crest 2400 rpm, both turbos spool, the boat planes at about 20 mph, and the running angle peaks at six degrees. You haven't laid a finger on the trim tab switches nor have you lost sight of the horizon. And you have another 1000 rpm to play with-so do it. At 3000 rpm, you're running 31.1 mph, bursting smoothly through wakes. The V458 carves turns with the casual élan of a skiboat. Economy is about a mile per gallon, netting a range of 340 miles. Accelerate from here and the V458 jumps, topping 40 mph at full throttle. Noise levels are quiet, something I've come to expect from IPS-powered boats. In fact, while leaving the slip, a pretty, fine-lined Whitehall skiff was stroking toward us. The rower, naturally, was looking where he'd been instead of where he was going. Had I not yelled to him, he would have slammed into our topsides, despite the fact that somewhere lurking deep within the V458 was a pair of in-line-6s chortling away. When a guy in a rowboat can't hear your twin diesels from 10', rest assured you're aboard a quiet boat.
I also found it uncommonly quiet while inspecting the engine room. Often, while hip-deep in big iron, I'm tsk-tsking and noting departures from ABYC guidelines like a buyer's broker. (After decades inspecting boats, chafe hazards, structural shortcuts, and hurry-up workmanship jump out at me like spooks in a carnival fun house.) But the V458's engine space shut me up. Dipsticks, filters, batteries, bilge pumps, and seacocks- the quintessential set of maintenance points-are easy to get at. Plumbing and electrical runs are chafe protected, neatly routed, labeled, and generally easy to follow. Corrosion protection, in the form of electrical bonding and the drip protection afforded by the hatch's deep gutter, is top notch. There's even a contact switch that automatically lights the engine room when you open the hatch. It's a job well done.
Electric grills are all the rage, with each new 2008 express cruiser I test boasting the presence of one of these snazzy burger burners. The V458's grill installation is the best I've seen, not just because it's mechanically sound and electrically robust, but because it's on the transom. The others I've seen are in the wetbar, near the arch, or under the canvas or hardtop. Scorching and accumulated grease buildup on the underside of a hardtop or canvas are concerns I've voiced often. The optional ($27,692) hydraulic lift platform installed on my tester was 6' wide and covered, like the cockpit, in Flexiteek synthetic decking ($7,692). Including the standard, integral platform, which carries hull running surface under it, you get 12' of dance floor, party space, sundeck, whatever you want to call it aft of the cockpit.
This monstrous platform setup flows into the best arranged cockpit for a party I've seen. Imagine guests milling about the grill, noshing snacks while watching fish swim in the glow of the underwater lights ($4,000). Others are in the aft cockpit, some with elbows on the massive wetbar, and others splayed around the plush lounge. Members from either crowd can easily move to slap a back or enjoy a quiet aside with yet another group milling about the helm deck, with its cool dinette-style convertible companion lounge.
Belowdecks are two full staterooms, each behind raised-panel doors, and two full heads. Off the bat, I didn't like the drainage in the master head-a puddle remains after your shower is done. And access to the shower sump is difficult, compared to that aboard the Formula or Tiara's 4700 Sovran ($824,000 with twin 670-hp Cummins QSM-11 diesel inboards). The single-piece carpet runner would be better if it were divided into several sections to ease getting at service hatches in the sole. Finally, evidence of cost savings can be seen in the wood-look Formica cabinetry and bulkheading. Both Formula and Tiara use real wood laminate in these applications.
None of that should kill the deal-remember, you're saving $200K. Besides, the V458 has two full heads. The master is a split arrangement with the shower room to starboard and the residential-style commode and vanity to port. Aft, the WC is all in one room and stylized by a dropped light fixture and a fiddled, gloss laminate vanity. Full-length mirrors? Natch.
The salon's hi-lo table is solid wood and converts to a berth in a snap. There's also brushed-chrome sconce lights, solid-wood edge banding, a companionway hatch screen, a double sink in the galley, and skylights. All contribute to making the V458's cabin pleasant to be in and functional to live in. With its great platform, great performance, and great price, you gotta check it out.
EXTRA POINT: Voltage sensitive relays, or VSRs, keep the batteries charged better than isolators and without the need to fiddle with switches.