Not only did the V-drive's submerged hardware slow us down, it made things noisier in the cockpit. The stern drive boat peaked at 86 dB-A; the 260-hp V-drive at 90 dB-A; and the 300-hp V-drive at 94 dB-A. It should be noted that the 300-hp boat didn't have the sound-deadening cockpit carpet in place; the other two boats did. We could feel the water coming off the V-drive's props. As the water hit the hull, it caused a slight vibration beneath our feet.
Handling for each was also different. At cruising speeds the stern drive could carve a tighter turn, easily making a 180 within the confines of a 1/8-mile-wide river. The only way to make the same turn with a V-drive was by lowering the outboard trim tab to lay the boat more on its side, letting the strakes and chines get a better bite.
In slow-speed maneuvers, such as docking, the V-drive holds an edge because the props are farther apart by 2". This may not sound like much, but the difference is obvious to anyone pivoting in a wind. V-drives also have more torque to help push the boat around using short bursts of throttle.
The 290 Amberjack has three strakes per side, 4"-wide chines that are turned down slightly, and 21 degrees of deadrise at the transom. The only difference in the bottoms among our three competitors was that the V-drive models had two recessed prop pockets. There's also some downward "hook" incorporated into the bottom aft of the props that helped keep the bow down and the ride level. Also, since Sea Ray assumes the V-drives will be used in salt water, V-drive boats leave the plant with bottom paint, which cuts about 1 mph from the top-end speed.
The engines in a V-drive configuration are installed facing aft with the tail end of the motors and the transmissions accessible directly under the hatch. One of the biggest space eaters in this installation is the 4"-diameter mufflers that exit through the bottom of the boat and relief ports out the topsides. They block access to the batteries and other accessories mounted outboard of the motors, while the same areas are wide open on the stern drive boats. To Sea Ray's credit, the sea strainers for the V-drive engines are easy to get to on the engine compartment bulkhead.
The stern drive's motors are closer to the stern, leaving plenty of space between the front of the motors and the engine compartment bulkhead, compared to the tight squeeze on the V-drive installation. This makes maintenance easier, as does the fact that the drives themselves are mounted externally and easy to get at. But, then again, those same drives will likely need more servicing.