Barefoot and freshly showered, I grabbed a cold one from the wetbar and kicked back in the cockpit lounge of the new Cruisers Yachts 500 Express. I wanted to relax with a book. But the 500 Express made hard work of light reading. That’s because every boater walking the dock at the marina where I was berthed stopped cold on the planks astern of me. Each uttered, “Nice boat,” followed by a request for a tour and my take on the 500 Express’ ride, handling, and construction. So join me on a quick tour of what’s possibly the best-but still not perfect-express cruiser I’ve tested.
RUNNING IT. Take the helm and you’ll begin to understand. Rotating in or out of a tight slip is made easy by the built-in slow mode available on the electronic controls of the 684-bhp Volvo Penta D12DMP diesel inboards that are the sole power choice for the 500 Express. With the idle dropped to 550 rpm, boat speed is just 4.6 mph. There’s no lurching and jumping in and out of gear as often experienced on other boats powered by big, mechanically controlled diesels. Maneuvering is a snap.
Now push the levers forward. The 500 Express breaks over in a rush of power. You quickly settle into a brisk, 26.8-mph cruise at 1800 rpm. That speed is the point where the D12’s torque is at the max and horsepower is near its peak. As a result, the 500 Express effortlessly climbs the back of a following sea. Plus, you can cruise for more than 280 miles at this speed. What’s more, the torque and power curves remain high from 1800 rpm to almost 2310 (top end). So lay the hammer down. This 40,000-pound sport yacht responds with an exciting dose of acceleration.
In three-to-five-foot waves, the 500 Express ran smoothly, whether in a cross-sea, quartering sea, or downsea, at speeds to 30 mph. Running upwind in the same conditions required that I tab down and throttle back to 23 mph to maintain comfort. That’s still quick, even for a boat this size. When the seas got rougher, I discovered that the 500 Express remained on plane and maneuverable at an enviable 12 mph, tabs fully deployed. By comparison, Sea Ray’s 500 Sundancer fell off plane at 15 mph when I tested it, but it had smaller 635-bhp Cummins QSM-11 diesels turning smaller props through higher gear ratios, which results in less torque. Note that the 500 Sundancer is a foot longer but 1,000 pounds lighter. And with the optional 670-bhp MAN diesels, the 500 Sundancer ($949,541) likely will hold plane at a lower speed. So even though the comparison isn’t completely equivalent-more like Macintosh to Red Delicious-the fact remains: The 500 Express stays on plane at the lowest speed of any express cruiser I’ve tested.
I also noted good visibility from the helm, comfortable placement of instruments, and wiper/washers that do a good job of clearing the view. However, the rail at the bow jitters like a divining rod-it needs an additional vertical support to stop the bounce. Cruisers Yachts says the fix is in the works. Be sure to check it out. There also wasn’t enough heel room to assume a comfortable posture while standing, because the helm seat’s base forces you to stand erect and close to the helm, despite the tilt wheel. There’s nothing of consequence under that base, so making it a bit smaller or recessing it altogether should be easy. Again, the fix is supposedly in.
INSIDE EDITION. Getting to the bow is done with ease-just check out the requisite cockpit steps, wide sidedecks, and sturdy grabrails and you’ll see what I mean. But the 500 Express also offers access through the windshield, which is split and hinged on its port corner, near the companionway. Going forward, whether to cleat a springline alongside, deploy fenders, or drop the hook using the windlass foot switch, is safe and easy. Simply put, this side walkthrough arrangement is unique.
Just as unique is the transom setup, which provides a threesome of amenities: dinghy handling, seating, and bulk stowage. Step out onto the extended swim platform and flip open the transom cap: a davit ($22,714) is revealed for easy launch and load of a small boat. Below the davit lid is a recessed area that forms a four-person bench, complete with cushions, plus drinkholders and a stereo remote. This lid opens the lower stowage compartment. Stand up and lift the seat lid. Stowage for fenders and lines as well as power and water inlets are inside.
The cockpit sports a cool U-lounge, a section of which pulls out from inside the transom to create a sunpad. The wetbar incorporates an electric grill ($1,607), and the table features a folding top, which I found convenient. Now take a close look at the table’s pedestal: Its socket features a collar that prevents the pedestal from going out of round. This solves a common problem: After the table has been leaned on a few times, the pedestal becomes oblong in cross-section and no longer fits tight, and the table wobbles.
THE FIRE DOWN BELOW. I woke up without the benefit of an alarm clock, as light streamed in through the six windows-vertical port lights, really-installed in the master stateroom. Window treatments are standard, but I’m so used to aft cabins being cave-like that I didn’t think to close them the night before.
The mattress proved comfortable to sleep on, though I kept bumping my head on the valance overhead, which looks great but overhangs the berth too much. Showering was easy in the master head’s wide and tall stall. I was also impressed with the cabinetry in here, which is real grain-matched cherry veneer. Now check the hanging locker. It has a shelf positioned at mid-height that has a section cut out of it. This allows you to hang long items, say a sundress, alongside shirts and still have a shelf.
In the salon you’ll find the settee, which is luxuriously completed with double incliners-a plush spot from which to watch the game. What’s more, check out the glass-fronted liquor cabinet built-in at the end of the galley cabinets. It’s lit from within, looks great, and lets you pick your poison from afar. All is well appointed-check the cherry tread companionway steps ($607). Too bad the companionway hatch needs a larger handle. I had a devil of a time using the little finger pull on the latch. Cruisers Yachts says it’s working on it.
Forward is the guest stateroom, which you can have arranged in one of two layouts: twin V-berths or a single queen berth. Either way, there’s a bulkhead, a door, and private access to the day head, which has a tile sole and shower stall.
In all, the 500 Express’ 15’6″ beam was put to great use belowdecks. Set up a sea trial and find out for yourself. And if you go for it, just remember to take your evening read while on the hook. You’re sure to be interrupted while dockside.
EXTRA POINT: Equipment such as tanks and air conditioners can all be removed for service or replacement without having to cut up the boat.