Formula 34PC: Surprise Party!

Light those candles

It's a rare boat that has earned the right to call itself a performance cruiser-and Formula's 34PC has earned that right. It has a wave-taming deep-V hull that runs nearly 50 mph and can buttonhook turns like a bass boat with a jackplate. It's also packaged with enough flash and dash to keep you cruising in high style. Built extra-durable, the 34PC looks stunning. You can almost hear it proclaim, "I have arrived!" as you sidle up to the dock.

Intrigued? You should be. Even if you're not able or willing to make the payments for this crowd-pleaser, you can use the 34PC as a basis for comparison in what's arguably the most popular class of express cruiser.

INNER WARRIOR. Your first clue that this boat stands apart occurs the moment you push the button that raises the hatch and reveals the engines. Twin 375-hp MerCruiser 496 MAG MPI Bravo Three stern drives are bedded on through-bolted angles. Massive internal sea strainers prevent the engines from ingesting grass, trash, or (yeah, it happens) fish, and then overheating. Every electrical terminal is sealed. I couldn't find a single wire connection in which one stud served as the connection point for multiple leads. I test too many cruisers where engine security and drive alignment, cooling system protection, and the long-term integrity of the electrical system are sorely neglected. Formula really knows its ABYCs!

Need to get to a seacock, battery, or dipstick? Access the outboard sides of the engines? The genny's stick and filter? Access aboard the 34PC is all-around great. Plus, you can get into the compartment three ways. One, lift the entire cockpit with the flip of a switch. Two, open a large manual hatch aft over the motors. Or three, use the additional manual hatch for step-down access in front of the motors. Diamond-plate work platforms are right where you need them, and the entire compartment is white, which makes drips and leaks stand out and is more reflective and thus provides more light. Gray engine spaces are the norm. But white is right. I could go on-the bonding system, the extensive chafe protection, the drainage, insulation-but you get the picture. Besides, let's see how it runs. After all, that's the point, isn't it?

Mash the throttles-in this case, precision Gaffrig racing controls with trim in the handle-and you'll bare the soul of the 34PC. With its 18 degrees of transom deadrise, the bow came up rather abruptly, kissing the 7-degree mark before flattening out to run. But this elevation is accomplished so quickly, it's not a bother. Formula spins cupped propsets on the 34PC's drives, which contributes to some serious giddyup. The cupping also keeps the props hooked up, even at maximum trim. What's more, the helm is positioned so that the driver never loses visibility over the bow-even while sitting.

At 4200 rpm and 42 mph, with the drives trimmed just over 25 percent, the boat was in a cool groove. Then I pushed the levers ahead. There was more throttle and the helm felt light. Plus, there was trim left to goose it for added oomph. Throttle it down to 2400 rpm and you'll stay on plane at 12 mph-even hard cuts of the wheel didn't shake it off step. This tells me that when it gets rough, you can stay on top and in control instead of running a wallowing troll. Always test for minimum plane when you do your demo ride.

Raw performance aside, the 34PC provides a different ride experience than similar boats, including the Cruisers Yachts 3470 ($195,130 powered with twin 320-hp Mer-Cruiser MX 6.2 MPI Bravo Three stern drives). Twitch the wheel, and the 34PC responds with an aggressive, carving lean. Tweak the tabs, and the bow's attitude changes dramatically and instantaneously. Most boats of this type take their time-relatively speaking-coming around and reacting to tabs. But the 34PC's center of gravity is farther aft than most, more like that of a go-fast than a cruiser. And the tabs are mounted "on the wedge," Formula-speak for their span being mounted lower, down near the keel, rather than higher. Again, this is a go-fast design feature grafted onto a cruiser-no surprise given Formula's racing heritage.

The longer, though narrower, Fountain 38 Express Cruiser ($300,989 with twin 425-hp MerCruiser 496 HO ZR stern drives) shares the sports car feel of the 34PC and gets up to a blistering 65 mph. Just remember that, like a sports car, long trips in an ultraresponsive vehicle are more tiresome for the driver, with even errant twitches of the wheel resulting in a course change. Yet all sports cars and performance cruisers aren't created equal. It's subjective, so test-drive both. A final handling note: The 34PC's cupped propsets make for less effective reverse thrust. You may need to use the throttle more while docking than you would with straight-edged wheels.

LIGHT SEEN. I'd like to see a fourth step added to the 34PC's recessed swim ladder and a sliding screen in its companionway, but there was little else I'd bitch about topside. Check out any hatch or door hinge. Full-length piano hinges, instead of little straps, are powder coated white, rugged, good looking, and offer little opportunity to bleed rust stains. More hinge coolness: Lift any aft lounge cushion-they all flip up and drop in front of the lounge's base. Articulating hinges equal hands-free stowage access.

Gaining the bow is easy thanks to overwide steps beside the companionway. These have treads deeper than their risers are high so you can see where you're placing your foot. A thick rail guides your way. Also note how the nonslip pattern runs to the end of the step-I've slipped on plenty of steps where it stopped short. Once you're safely on the bow, take some time to enjoy the split sunlounge or admire the way the anchor, windlass, and washdown are concealed beneath a hatch. The rode is all chain, by the way, which eliminates the line twist associated with a windlass by getting rid of the line.

Belowdecks, the 34PC sleeps up to six in a forward berth, aft berth, and convertible dinette/salon settee. Curtains provide privacy. The galley has a solid-surface counter with a flush sliding cover for the recessed cooktop. If the cover isn't completely open, the power is cut so you won't accidentally melt the cover. There's plenty of stowage and a flat-screen TV that can be seen from the entire cabin. Drawers are numerous, but I prefer the ones on the Cruisers Yachts 3470, which are hardwood, not plastic, and ride on rollers and track rather than rely on simple friction.

The head is an easy-to-maintain affair, large enough to comfortably accommodate my 6' frame at both the commode and behind the shower curtain. The curtain is a rigid, trifold piece of plastic that's just plain cooler than the cheesy sheet of vinyl I've come to expect in this type of boat. Take the 34PC for a spin and I believe you'll find some of your expectations changing as well.

HIGH POINTS: Fast by most measures, it's also responsive. From wire terminals to the hull-to-deck joint, its construction is tops. Sun-pad doesn't obstruct center walkway. Replacing the anchor line with chain to get rid of the twist is just one of a host of great details.

LOW POINTS: Cupped propsets diminish reverse thrust. Though air conditioning is standard, we like fresh air: Install a companionway screen, please, like other boats in this class. Add a step to the swim ladder.

EXTRA POINT: Box-beam fiberglass braces inside the hull back up the hull-to-deck joint at key places such as just forward of the swim platform, where you're likely to bump a pole while docking.

LOA......................35'7" ** **

Beam....................11'6"

Draft.......................3'0"

Displacement (lbs., approx.).............13,916

Transom deadrise.................18° ** **

Bridge clearance.............12'3"

Minimum cockpit depth......................2'3"

Max. headroom...............6'8"

Fuel capacity (gal.)........206 ****

Price (w/standard power)...........$238,600

Price (w/test power)...........$254,070

Standard power Twin 300-hp MerCruiser 350 MAG MPI V-8 Bravo Three gasoline stern drives.

Optional power Twin MerCruiser or Volvo Penta gasoline stern drives to 750 hp total; twin Volvo Penta or Yanmar diesel stern drives to 570 bhp total.

Test boat power Twin 375-hp MerCruiser 496 MAG MPI V-8 Bravo Three gasoline stern drives with 496 cid, 4.25" bore x 4.38" stroke, swinging 24"-pitch ss propsets through 2.20:1 reductions.

Standard equipment (major items): Anchor windlass; remote searchlight; windshield wipers; radar arch; hot/cold transom shower; 30a shorepower; galvanic isolator; Gaffrig engine controls; trim tabs; AM/FM/CD stereo w/6 speakers; 20" flat-screen TV/DVD player; wetbar; Bimini top, front, side, aft curtains; 3-battery system; 60a battery charger; high-water alarm; 2-burner stove; refrigerator; microwave; water heater; vacuum-flush commode; 12K-Btu a/c; central vac.