There are those who will buy a boat on first sight, especially if the boat possesses muscular, angular good looks and hot helm styling. A boat such as Monterey's 290 Cruiser. But wiser boaters look closer, setting aside how the boat makes them feel to assess how well it will serve-and survive-its intended mission.
Express cruisers the size of the 290 Cruiser are as much dayboats as they are weekend cottages with power. As such, they need to provide some thrill when you hit the throttles and have enough grunt to make good speed when loaded down with gear. The 290 Cruiser delivers, topping out at 47.6 mph with twin 270-hp Volvo Penta DuoProp stern drives. It also planes briskly and angles at only 3 degrees throughout the cruising range. Handling is predictable, so you can whip the wheel to delight a tuber following in your wake. This ride report probably wouldn't be as favorable were you to opt for the standard twin 225-hp engines, which I would avoid. Regardless of power, the 290 Cruiser's hull effectively cleaves a two-foot bay chop.
Topside accommodations can be upgraded to include a large swim platform with a recessed ladder and teak inlay ($3,143). The dunnage box is big enough for a typical complement of fenders and lines. To port, a boarding door grants access to the cockpit. The "transom" shower is located behind this door, a clumsy arrangement. Monterey says it's working on relocating it. Cockpit seating includes an aft bench with stowage. I'd replace the nuts securing this lounge to the deck with wing nuts, to make it removable for fishing or diving. One smart touch-the backrest for this seat lifts off to become a filler for a sunlounge. A bow sunpad, complete with drinkholders, is standard. There's an aft-facing lounge for three, a three-seater helm bench, and a wetbar arrayed along the port side of the cockpit.
Belowdecks, you'll find a teardrop berth-cum-dinette forward that's roomier than a "V" arrangement. Trading increased social space for superior sleeping privacy, the aft berth is accessed through a tall opening served by a curtain. A screened sliding port provides light and ventilation. The galley has all the necessary gear, including a trash can. A big guy can comfortably shower, and the changing seat over the commode is convenient.
High Points: Engine compartment serviceability is top-notch: Check the location of the trim tab reservoir. Using backrests in the cockpit and aft berth as filler cushions is a neat, sensible stowage solution. Inside and out, this is one of the most stylish cruisers you'll find.
Low Points: Though self-bailing by design, I noticed that the cockpit scupper hoses ran uphill! Shorepower wiring carries 110 volts and shouldn't be sloppily draped across the engine room. Thin engine hatch with minimal insulation results in high sound levels.
Toughest Competitors: Take a look at Regal's Commodore 3060. It costs $139,206 powered like our test boat and includes a foldaway cockpit aft bench seat as well as innovative stowage solutions comparable to the 290 Cruiser's. Also check Rinker's Fiesta Vee 300, which has more standard features, except for a vacuum-flush head, than the 290 Cruiser. It costs $112,499 powered like our test boat.