Every year we set foot on hundreds of new boats, crawling through the tiniest of openings to judge construction, fit and finish, and firing up the engines to test the ride. Some boats stand out more than others, either because they raise the bar for a category, create a new category or are so well built that they stand alone. Here are 10 we loved in 2012.
– The Boating Tech Team
The Gist: Meridian’s first boat designed from the CAD stage for pod drives, this 50-footer handles like a sport cruiser and puts the extra space to good use. The theme of this boat is social gathering points, from the aft cockpit bar to the galley to the raised salon. Belowdecks, the full-beam master stateroom offers luxe cruising quarters.
Lasting Impression: The retractable glass partition allows for a bar set-up between the cockpit and the galley, creating a great entertainment space.
The Gist: The 410 expands on the old 390 Sundancer and offers all kinds of options based on how you want to boat. Sea Ray calls it “flexible architecture.” Start with the stylish enclosed hardtop on our test boat. Sea Ray also offers an open hardtop, for which the windshield does not mate with the top, and a standard arch configuration with an open cockpit. The boat is well suited for day cruising or overnighting, with plenty of fine amenities.
Lasting Impression: The transom “sun gate” doors that can be opened to create opposing backrests, or for a traditional tanning bed.
The Gist: The 327 Cuddy runs on the latest iteration of Intrepid’s vaunted transverse step hull, which now features twin keel vents, a lower motor bracket “bucket” location and other refinements intended to accommodate larger and heavier outboards while retaining the efficiency and ride for which the brand’s boats have been heralded. Standard seating aboard the 327 accommodates a crowd. The forward lounge seats six easily and allows four to sprawl; backrests provide for reclining while facing either forward or aft.
Lasting Impression: Service access and fit and finish are all top notch.
The Gist: This boat epitomizes classic style and construction. Echoing the body styling of a first-generation Corvette, the A28’s deep topsides flutes taper aft, terminating at stainless-steel engine vents. Below these, protective quarter guards at the transom, where bumping a piling is most likely, narrow in width and decrease in height as they run forward: Sort of a high-profile boot stripe, these protect, yet won’t chafe or peel.
Lasting Impression: Cobalt’s execution of the folding, multi-use seats and tables is the best we’ve seen.
The Gist: The 290 EC layout is a successful attempt to mirror the popular layout of the boat’s larger sister, the 310 EC. There’s a transom rumble seat; the aft lounge backrest drops to form a sun pad; and a long, serpentine lounge wraps from the port side and around the transom. There’s no seating to starboard but for the helm bench: That’s where the oversize wet bar resides. The effect is a wide, fluid pathway between platform and cabin.
Lasting Impression: The 290 is perfectly proportional for its size and purpose, neither too beamy for its length or too tall for its beam.
The Gist: This hardtop express lives up to Cabo’s reputation for quality engineering and the ability to raise fish. It turns on a dime, thanks to standard Zeus electronic steering that adjusts for boat speed to keep everyone safe. Based on the sea trial and discussions with Cabo’s factory captain, the 40 HTX’s best cruising speed, with respect to economy and engine load, is 2,710 rpm, making 32 knots and burning 45.4 gph for a net of 0.71 nm per gallon.
Lasting Impression: Beautiful styling includes the tower matching hull/deck profile lines and the integrated hardtop with a huge windshield.
The Gist: The 39 LS’ twin-step bottom, designed by John Cosker of Mystic Powerboats fame, was drawn with offset strakes and convex sections in the bow to help carry the nose out of the water. This puts the propellers in good contact with the water to keep the boat moving forward in rough conditions and still lets it run at speeds exceeding 70 mph when you have the opportunity and inclination to pin the levers.
Lasting Impression: The convertible bow turns into a huge playpen.
The Gist: Regal brings back the trailerable cruiser with the 28 Express, a boat that has a truly livable interior thanks to a window design that allows a better flow of natural light. While other builders rely on the traditional oval ports, Regal uses larger, more stylish triangle-shape windows in its hull sides.
Lasting Impression: In the cockpit, the Ultra Lounge, a plush sun pad on the transom that has a four-position backrest, so it serves double duty as either a full tanning bed or additional seating. On a small cruiser, such versatility is a major plus.
The Gist: Grady-White’s Freedom 335 is the world’s largest dual-console boat, a vessel more seaworthy and easier to maintain than a bowrider. It offers more amenities than a center-console and offers the cockpit protection of a cabin boat, plus safe and easy access to the bow. This boat is the ticket to ride for those who enjoy a variety of boating activities with as little compromise as possible.
Lasting Impression: The Freedom 335 rides the vaunted SeaV2 hull, a C. Raymond Hunt and Associates design that has stood the test of time.
The Gist: The 370 Venture is an express cruiser powered by twin Mercury Verado 300 hp outboards. This seemingly incongruous marriage results in a cruiser with some remarkable traits and abilities.Outboard engines represent the quietest marine propulsion available, and under way, the 370 Venture proved to be the quietest express cruiser we’ve been aboard.
Lasting Impression: Topside, the cockpit is some five feet longer, as measured between the helm and the aft lounge, than you’ll find aboard traditionally powered cruisers of similar size.