With the popularity of pod drives, express yacht owners have more choices than ever. I found three, each with a different propulsion system-pods, surface drives, and inboards. The best news? They all top 40 mph. Pods let newcomers dock the boat with a joystick as if they were playing a videogame. Surface drives can be trimmed, which offers better performance and versatility. Traditionalists prefer the familiar straight inboard and argue that the addition of a bow thruster provides the captain with maneuverability that's comparable to pod drives.
Fountain 48 Express Cruiser, www.fountainpowerboats.com 252-975-2000
Displacement (lbs., approx.): 24,000
Tansom deadrise: 22°
Bridge clearance: 9'10"
Max. cabin headroom: 6'4"
Fuel capacity (gal.): 470
Water capacity (gal.): 80
Price (w/twin 480-bhp Cummins QSB5.9-480 diesels w/Arneson surface drives): $881,819
Details: The redesign of the 48 Express Cruiser's interior gives the boat a more contemporary appeal. In the cockpit, the bench seat bottom cushion rises on a hydraulic jack to create a large sunlounge with a huge locker beneath it. The cockpit wetbar is cleverly designed, and the helm arrangement is well thought out. By putting the trim switches ahead of the portside throttles, your right hand always remains on the wheel. Belowdecks, two adults would be comfortable in the midcabin, and the forward master and guest head rival their European counterparts.
Contruction: This is performance-oriented construction with stringers formed out of Coosa composite panels encapsulated in fiberglass, Divinycell foam coring in the hull bottom, sides, and deck, and quad-directionally woven fiberglass with vinylester resin. It's a lighter boat compared to the competition. It's also 2' narrower. Fountain bonds the hull-to-deck joint with Plexus adhesive and seals it with fiberglass tabbing around the perimeter. Rigging is also race-style with the engines mounted on aluminum L-angles through-bolted to the stringers. The compartment is laid out cleanly and with performance in mind with the genset on the centerline and the batteries low.
Performance: As if the performance advantage (including a 51.6-mph top speed) with a pair of engines isn't enough, you can get the twin-stepped 48 Express Cruiser with triple 480-bhp Cummins engines and Arneson drives ($972,727), which push the boat to 63 mph. The twin-engine version I tested planed easily at 18 mph with the engines turning 1950 rpm. If you get caught in rough water, keep the drives trimmed in and you still can make good headway. Of course, in smooth conditions, lean on the sticks and you'll pull away from virtually any other boat in this class. During maneuvers, it feels like a sportboat.
Highs & Lows
Highs: Arneson surface drives give the boat versatility, not to mention a big edge in top speed when teamed with twin-stepped bottom. Improved styling and interior design make the boat competitive with traditional yachts. Engine compartment layout is easy to work with. Cool convertible sunlounge.
Lows: Don't like circuit breakers in base of cockpit sink cabinet. White finish on dash panel causes some harsh glare. Midcabin needs some natural ventilation.