Throw a rock at any marina and you'll likely hit a good-looking, good-performing express cruiser. Finding one that's also practical is more challenging. So I was pleased that Maxum's 3100 SE had cord wraps for shorepower cables, cleats positioned where hanging a fender makes sense, and standard port and starboard windshield wipers. Sure, many express builders are great at installing backlit headboards, but a glance at their equipment lists tells you that few consider visibility through both sides of the windshield important.
The 3100 SE also boasts a standard teak salon sole, a 1" reveal on the solid-surface wetbar counter, and scads of polished stainless steel. It's a damn nice package at a modest price. What's the catch? For one, the swim platform is shorter than competitors' platforms, especially considering that express builders have conditioned us to believe that we need to have a patio follow us down the bay. Want to know more? I wangled a test of the 3100 SE before any other writer to get you the scoop.
Always Ready. Always Steady.
It's important to note that the 3100 SE I tested was equipped with the Axius system, which adds $20,157 to its price. By the way, Axius pricing is all over the board. I've seen it range from $16,000 to $23,000, depending on the engines, the boat, the manufacturer, and the version installed. Keep this in mind when comparison shopping.
Does this boat need Axius? No. The 3100 SE balances draft, weight, and windage. Coupled with the large blade area of twin-prop Bravo Threes, docking it conventionally was a cinch, despite a buffeting breeze. But you may want Axius. Joystick control is convenient, plus it's great to be able to move sideways around the dock. Also, as installed on my 3100 SE, you get Vessel View, a screen that displays all engine functions and diagnostics. And you get the Axius Plus control pad, a device that enables you to hold a course with the touch of a finger, sort of like a point-and-shoot autopilot. And you get DTS -- Digital Throttle and Shift -- which eliminates sticky cables and sticky shifting, and provides single-lever operation and unrivaled engine protection. All that, plus the cool factor, may be worth $20K.
In open water, the 3100 SE performed exactly the way I want an express cruiser to perform, thanks to the combination of tapered chines, reversed strakes, and other bottom surface refinements Maxum calls its Integrated Hull System. Go-fasts, hot-rod center consoles, jet boats of any ilk...all can be rife with handling foibles. However, a boat intended to take family and friends for a day on the water must be predictable. Take the helm of the 3100 SE and see how an express cruiser is supposed to perform.
There's power enough to plane without losing forward visibility. In a 3' chop, engine torque was enough, coupled with the boat's fine entry, so that the 3100 SE wasn't slowed by the oncoming waves. Get it trimmed and set a comfortable speed. Little fiddling is required to keep the 3100 SE dialed in. It holds plane at just 15 mph, with negative drive trim and full tabs. Unless you're out in a gale, you'll ride comfortably enough that your wife won't complain -- at least not about your piloting skills. Range? With test power, expect seven to eight hours running at 27 mph. Higher horsepower engines will decrease that while upping speed, but I don't think they're necessary as my tester performed well on a hot day with twin 300-hp MerCruisers.
Steps molded into the companionway hatch make the walk to the 3100 SE's bow safe. The 3100 SE also has sidedecks, a feature many other cruisers lack. On the bow, there's secure footing and a pair of lounge cushions. Creased longitudinally, these cushions cradle occupants and subtly accent the angular style of the 3100 SE. (The diamond-shaped aft lounge provides the same effect.) Open the anchor locker to find access to the rode, which can also be reached from down below. The wiring coming through the bulkhead is chafe protected, per ABYC, as it is aboard Chaparral's 310 Signature ($171,559, with twin 300-hp MerCruiser 350 MAG Bravo Threes) One gripe: There's no chain stop -- a device that takes the load off the windlass drum -- Maxum says it'll add one.
Stowage is a Maxum maxim. Flip open the cockpit lounge backrest. The dead space under the sidedecks conceals filler cushion and table pedestal stowage, a smart feature more boatbuilders should copy. A helm bench that rotates to face aft, the supplies caddy in the galley, and dedicated stowage for the two cabin tables and pedestals are other examples of space-saving ingenuity aboard the 3100 SE.
Slide open the companionway hatch, shift the standard screen, and head down the teak steps to the cabin. To take up less space, these steps are steep and end near the head door. This requires the head threshold to be 1'1" tall so that the door doesn't hit the steps and requires you to step over this when nature calls. The cabin sole is teak. Fabrics are a crisp combination from Sunbrella's designer collection. Such features as fully extending drawer slides and a stove lid equipped with a cut-off switch so it can't inadvertently be melted are clever. Port and starboard portholes in the aft cabin provide cross ventilation, also smart.
As aboard the Chaparral, the forward berth is a slab. This saves cabin space compared to a fore-and-aft arrangement, and you'll find more clear thinking here, too. Lift the mattress to access the stowage below -- you have to undo a pair of latches first. Why? Because unlike other cruisers, Maxum uses two gas struts, powerful enough to actually lift the mattress and hold it up. That keeps both hands free for grabbing gear. Most builders provide only one strut, which merely helps you lift the mattress. Using two strong struts requires latches to prevent the mattress from popping open while you're underway. I guess the extra parts and installation, like that of a portside wind-shield wiper, aren't thought to be worth it aboard most boats. Fortunately, the 3100 SE isn't like most boats.