_****_I view boats through two lenses. using a wide angle, I look for how suited the boat is to its mission: Does it have the right stuff? Zooming in, I assess the details of that stuff. Applying both views to Formula’s new 290 Bowrider, I rate it A-plus. such high marks don’t come cheap. The 290 BR is the priciest 30-foot bowrider going. Is it worth it?
Featuring a bow lounge that converts from forward-facing recliners to seating facing abeam, to seating around a table, to full-on sun pad, the 290 BR’s flexible forward arrangement covers every scenario an owner might want.
Zooming in, I found that the courtesy lights feature glare-deflecting brows. These, like the drink holders and other metal accessories, are chrome-plated stainless, a glossier alloy that isn’t subject to the surface rust of unplated stainless. Such fittings make for an easier-to-maintain boat that looks sharp longer. A scupper in the sole ensures easy cleanup.
Inside the port console is a head, complete with a screened port for ventilation, a wood sole and a faux-stone vanity with recessed sink. Sitting headroom is generous, and a drain makes cleanup a snap. I wish there were a latch or strut to hold this door open. Someone’s bound to leave it open eventually — likely just before a wake slams the door shut. The faux-granite top isn’t just cosmetics: If scratched, polishing it is a simple DIY project as opposed to refinishing the more common gelcoated fiberglass counter.
I sat comfortably atop the double-wide helm seat, allowing myself and a mate to easily share skipper’s duty. The seat adjusts electrically and boasts dual flip bolsters, so I could stand while my companion sat. Seated, standing or “kicking back,” I never had to stretch for the wheel or controls. Very ergonomic. Bullet gauges add pizzazz.
Looking closer, you’ll note the narrow shelf with its lipped edge to keep sundries at hand and in place. You’ll also note the drain holes in the angle formed by the upright and horizontal surfaces of the electronics panel. These prevent water from puddling and are led by tubes to the bilge, so water doesn’t dribble on the wiring. Both features are rarely seen aboard other boats. Give a tug on that chrome-plated stainless windshield frame. Grab rails are abundant aboard the 290 BR, but you know some guest, likely a big one, is going to lean on the windscreen in a lurch. This one didn’t budge when I put my 190 pounds to it.
Abaft the helm is a six-seater C-lounge that runs to the portside transom door. Deep seats, with backrests that hit me at the shoulder blades rather than below, provided great comfort, rivaled by what I experienced aboard Cobalt’s 302 ($173,871, powered like my Formula test boat). The Cobalt is 11 inches beamier, with higher freeboard, and so provides more room, though it doesn’t afford as sporty a feel under way as the lower, narrower Formula does.
Zoom in and you find that the seat lids swing on articulating hinges, so the cushions open and drop in front of the lounge base. This provides two hands’ access to the stowage while rummaging. The cushions are a lamination of several densities of foam, so they don’t bottom out and your brother-in-law’s butt print won’t haunt you after a cruise. A supplied filler cushion turns the entire aft cockpit into a giant sun pit. This is in conjunction with the aft part of the lounge, which itself folds to create a mini sun pad while retaining conventional cockpit seating, or an aft facing lounge.
To port is the wet bar, with faux-stone lids concealing a sink and a trash bin. Inside, I found stowage as well as the breaker panel and battery switch. Convenient. looking closer, the lids are subtly recessed to inhibit snacks from sliding off.
The engines live under the aft lounge, accessed by an electric lift. This is wired to a contact on the transom door that doesn’t allow the hatch to open if the door is ajar, protecting the door from damage. Inside, I found good lighting and all service points in easy reach. I would like to see an access point to disable the electric ram so I could open the hatch should the lift motor fail. Closer, I applauded the screw-down battery boxes, just like I’d find aboard a Formula Fastech race boat. Things here are installed to stay put.
I could see the racing heritage in the 290 BR’s bloodline from the helm seat too. With twin 320 hp MerCruiser 377 mag MPI Bravo Threes pushing, the 290 BR shot out of the hole. Handling was glitch-free, since the 290 BR sports the proportions and shapes evolved over decades by Formula’s longtime designer John Adams. Adams told me that the rate at which the beam at the chine “accelerates,” or changes width, is one key to providing a great ride and ensuring quick response. This inexplicable feel of balance is best experienced while transiting choppy water.
Comparable models: Cobalt 302