The Azimut Grande 26M features pod drives and a wider beam, but does it match its older siblings when it comes to performance?
With its pod drives, high-tech construction, wide beam and zippy performance, this latest model in the range, the Azimut Grande 26M is an ambitious project intended to move the game on.
It has been styled by Alberto Mancini, who has imparted a slightly imperious quality to the new model’s profile – from a distance you could convince yourself that it’s over 100ft.
The businesslike wheelhouse windows set the tone, while the superstructure mouldings provide the illusion of an upper deck that runs in an unbroken line from the bow roller to the flybridge balustrade.
And once on board there is nothing illusory about the 26’s exceptional deck spaces, from the spacious and versatile foredeck seating to the wide prairies of the flybridge. It is not just the length of the flybridge that imparts this sense of space but its width, too – spreading across the Grande’s full beam.
This new Azimut model is very nearly 2ft wider than its predecessor, the Azimut Grande 25M, and that tells on all three decks. It feels big. It feels even bigger when the ingenious cockpit extension is deployed – the garage door hinging upwards to create a quite unexpected balcony overlooking the aft platform.
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The glass cockpit balustrade splits in the middle and swings out to embrace the new corners, while a lightweight infill section takes care of the gap. Simple but effective.
The interior is by another designer that Azimut has been keeping quite busy recently, Achille Salvagni, whose distinctive use of ovoid, organic shapes and tactile eggshell finishes has created a quirky but homogeneous design that should raise a smile, without losing sight of the fact that light tones and generous, open spaces are the best way to complement all that drenching daylight coming in through the huge side windows. Dark flooring and mid-toned veneers on the bulkheads keep things comfortably rooted.
Perhaps the highlight of the interior is the owner’s cabin on the main deck, with its floor-to-ceiling glass and a shower and WC that spans the full beam. It still feels absurdly spacious. This is another area of the boat where you can actually forget it’s only 85ft feet long.
There is one slight shortcoming in the layout forward, where the steps to the lower deck, master cabin, crew accommodation, galley, wheelhouse and flybridge all converge on each other, as if one designer started from the bow, and one from the stern, and this is where they met.
It’s like it’s been designed by MC Escher. In the middle of it all, the lower helm station sits on a sort of platform, with a single seat, awkward communication with the rest of the boat and poor visibility. On our sea trial we helmed from upstairs, as we usually do.
Down below, the eight-berth guest accommodation features a pair of impressively roomy symmetrical VIPs aft, each with a spacious shower and heads compartment along the engineroom bulkhead.
Just forward, the starboard double cabin is almost as big, losing out only slightly on floor area and the size of the head, while all three double cabins have the same size bed, at 6ft 2in by 5ft 2in.
The twin to port is the smallest, and suffers somewhat from clashing doors, as three – cabin, head and wardrobe – all compete for the same space. Otherwise it’s a reasonable sleeping space with decent stowage.
With a bathroom no smaller than the twin cabin’s across the corridor, your guests shouldn’t feel as if they have drawn the short straw.
Driving the Azimut Grande 26M
The Azimut Grande 26M is the first boat to sport ZF’s big new 4600 pod drives, designed to serve in twin-engine yachts up to 100ft, and in triple installations up to 130ft.
Pod drives can of course be great fun in boats properly set up and designed from the outset to take them, and the Azimut Grande 26M clearly was. It gave us a remarkably enjoyable drive, which seemed quite surprising in such a big vessel.
But perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised. The shipyard is well known for incorporating a lot of high-tech materials into its builds, and the amount of carbon fibre used in the Grande’s deck, superstructure, flybridge and hardtop reportedly saves some 30 per cent over the weight of conventional fibreglass laminates, significantly reducing the yacht’s centre of gravity.
Also, although the hull of the Azimut Grande 26M is little different in length to that of the 25 Metri that it replaces in the range, its extra width provides additional lift, while its stern sections are simple, efficient flat panels rather than the prop tunnels sported by its shaft-drive predecessor. Deadrise recedes from 20.4 degrees amidships to 13.8 degrees at the transom.
The result is a yacht that is a perfect match with its machinery when under way. It feels light and lively, and has plenty of power. The Seakeeper gyro was switched off for our sea trial and the Humphree interceptors were on automatic.
Although there is the option of Humphree fins as well, they would probably have spoilt the fun, for the Azimut Grande 26M launched itself into high-speed turns with all the puppyish enthusiasm of a lightweight sports machine, heeling over so far it felt almost undignified.
You couldn’t actually lean down from the flybridge and dabble your fingers in the sea, but the impression was there, always underwritten by a superb feeling of control. On a more sensible even keel it tracked beautifully and inspired confidence as a serious piece of cruising kit.
Of course it would be disappointing if a yacht packing 3,300hp didn’t impart at least a frisson of excitement to its driver, and the 26’s maximum speed during our test, with a realistic cruising load of fuel and water, topped out at over 30 knots – faster, incidentally, than Azimut’s claims for it.
A key selling point of the ZF pods is their efficiency, and they deliver here too – the new model is measurably faster than its shaft-drive predecessor with the same engines.
Azimut claims 20 per cent less fuel consumption than comparable yachts at “the most frequently set speeds”, which is vague but not entirely without substance.
In a very unscientific comparison with other new boats launched at the 2022 Cannes Yachting Festival, the Azimut Grande 26M might burn about 18 per cent less fuel at 20 knots than the 4,000hp Ferretti 860, but about 25 per cent more than the 2,000hp Grand Banks 85.
Different rev settings will probably give different results, and at full speed the Azimut is faster than both of them. It has a larger fuel capacity than its predecessor, which makes the 26 a distinctly more versatile cruising machine, with a useful range of about 360nm at 24 knots, even allowing for our conservative 20 per cent fuel reserve.
Azimut Grande 26M verdict
The new Azimut Grande 26M is a worthy addition to a high-achieving range of motor yachts which have invariably offered an impressive combination of style, innovation, comfort and sheer cruising competence.
Whether your idea of cruising is pottering about on the Côte d’Azur, or holidaying over the horizon, the Azimut Grande 26M is small enough to fit into most harbours, spacious enough to provide real home comforts for extended stays on board, and great fun both at anchor or at speed.
Azimut Grande 26M specifications
LOA: 85ft 7in (26.09m)
Beam: 22ft 2in (6.75m)
Draught: 4ft 11in (1.50m)
Displacement: 49 tonnes
Engines: Twin 1,650hp MAN V12 + pod drives
Fuel capacity: 1,870 gal (8,500 lt)
Water capacity: 330 gal (1,500 lt)
Top speed on test: 30.4 knots
Cruising speed: 23 knots
Fuel consumption: 348lph @ 18.8 knots / 64lph @ 10.5 knots
Range: 367nm @ 18.8 knots / 1,117nm @ 10.5 knots
Noise: 64 d(B)A @ 18.8 knots / 59 d(B)A @ 10.5 knots
Starting price: €5,750,000 (ex. VAT)
First published in the February 2023 issue of MBY.