With a sleek Coupé and a Sportfly model to choose from, the new Bénéteau Gran Turismo 50 has a foot in both camps. But does that enable it to offer the best of both worlds, or is it a compromise too far? We put both versions to the test
Taking in the fading embers of an autumn day in the Spanish port of Ginesta, I have the option to take one of two Bénéteau Gran Turismo 50s for an evening spin. To my right is the Coupé version, starting from €638,000, and to my left is the Sportfly model, which for around €20,000 extra, offers a flybridge deck up top. Both boats have exactly the same IPS600 435hp engines, the same air-step hull (the biggest that Bénéteau has ever built) and almost identical interior layouts. So, which one to choose? With some warmth still left in the evening sun, it has to be the Sportfly. The conditions are perfect, breathlessly still and clear to the horizon, so the proposition of enjoying this from the elevated viewpoint of the Sportfly’s top deck is too much resist.
Given the onslaught of sportsbridge models coming to market, it would be easy to assume the Sportfly makes do with a pokey flybridge, but it’s better equipped than it looks.
There isn’t enough room for a wet bar but there is a spacious dinette with a substantial folding teak table, and the area to port of the single helm seat cleverly converts from a double bench to a small sunpad. It isn’t as big as, say, the Princess 49 or the massive top deck on the Prestige 520, but for a boat that shares its design with a coupé counterpart, it’s an impressive effort.
The downside to having the flybridge is that the steps up to it, which to their credit have deep treads and chunky handrails, do eat up space in the cockpit. It’s not the end of the world as the GT 50’s cockpit is a good size, but there’s a lovely spaciousness to the Coupé’s cockpit that the Sportfly’s can’t match.
Both boats have a tender garage that can swallow a Williams Minijet and a door that instead of swinging up and out, lifts vertically at the touch of a button. A neat solution and one that doesn’t leave a heavy GRP appendage dangling over your head.
The sheer amount of seating on the main deck is quite a feat, especially as the bench running along the port side of the saloon can be extended right out into the cockpit once the doors have been slid out of the way. Thankfully, there’s another two-seat sofa opposite that helps avoid the feeling of everyone sitting on one side of the boat.
One drawback of this design is that the optional television has to be mounted behind the helm seat so that it can be viewed from both sides of the saloon. This creates a couple of small issues. There isn’t space for it to retract down into the cabinet below so it’s always on show, and it’s easy to catch a shoulder on the corner of the screen as you make your way past it. In fact, because of its position next to the step up to the helm, I found myself instinctively grabbing the edge of it to help myself up.
Whether you opt for the two or three-cabin version, the galley is still located below decks. This is a hangover from the Gran Turismo 49 that this boat is based on and it feels rather dated now that most of its key competitors have switched to
a main-deck galley. That said, it’s a good size and well endowed, with a good variety of fiddled storage and a full-height fridge-freezer, although the worktops could do with a lip on their outer edge to stop items sliding on to the floor.
The Sportfly we had on test was a three-cabin version, which means losing the lower saloon in favour of a pleasant twin cabin with side-by-side berths (not the bunk beds you would find on the Princess 49). The alternative of a second lower dinette seems redundant given how much room there is upstairs so this is probably the version to have.
The VIP cabin’s ensuite bathroom is shared with the twin and also acts as the day heads.
Another improvement over the previous GT49 is access to the owner’s cabin via a central walkway instead of a passageway to port. This makes it feels like the proper full-beam master suite it always should have.
There’s still an intrusion in the deckhead over the bed but Bénéteau has managed to free up more than 6ft of headroom all the way around the bed and enough space above it to sit up and read.
There is some great thinking going on in this cabin, like the heads, which now has separate toilet and shower compartments and a sink that is open to the cabin. On the other hand, having flat benches under the hull windows on both sides of the cabin seems a waste of space. At least one would be better used as a storage unit.
Though the interior doesn’t have the depth of quality of the Princess 49 or the (pricier) Prestige 520, there are some details that help raise the ambience to the flagship status it occupies in the Bénéteau range. The ceilings and helm surround are lined in a soft, suede-like fabric and faux leather inserts liven up countertops in the saloon. The cupboard doors have stitched leather handles a la Monte Carlo Yachts and there are dimmable LEDs throughout. Even the teak tables on the main deck sit on substantial stainless-steel legs that raise and lower at the touch of a button. Only some squeaky floorboards and the rather cheap-feeling cabinetry takes the shine off an otherwise very polished performance, and even then it would be churlish to bemoan it given the GT 50’s keen pricing.
Getting back to the flybridge and the Spanish evening sun, it’s time to find out how the GT 50 drives. The helm position
is set quite low on the flybridge, meaning it’s comfortable enough for anyone up to 6ft, but taller than that and you may feel as if you’re knees are brushing your ear lobes.
Strangely, the driving experience seemed to fluctuate depending on which helm I was driving from. Up top, the steering felt stodgy and a bit lifeless, even if the overall sensation was more exhilarating because of the accentuated lean of its elevated position. This may have been a one-off issue with the flybridge steering on this particular boat as from the lower helm,
the GT 50 felt like a different beast; here the steering was smooth with a feather-light action that perfectly complemented the composed, stable reactions of the hull.
It would be good to see the inclusion of a small hatch or some glazing in the panel above the Sportfly’s lower helm.
The GRP panel which is currently used to fill the space occupied by the coupé’s opening sunroof not only makes this area feel unnecessarily dark but also restricts the view in hard turns to port. If there was glass there, you could at least peep through it to check the coast is clear.
IPS600s are the only engines available on the GT 50 and there’s no escaping the fact that a combined 870hp isn’t a lot of power for a 14-tonne flybridge boat. Absolute and Princess fit the 550hp per side IPS700s in their 50ft boats, with the Princess returning an especially potent 35-knot performance. If you want to travel at that sort of velocity, the Bénéteau’s 28-knot top speed is going to leave you feeling a bit flat. In its defence, however, it feels so comfortable at 22-25 knots that its lack of top-end grunt is likely to be relatively inconsequential in everyday use, at least till mid-season fouling growth starts to affect performance. In fact, because the boat is more fuel efficient at this sort of cruising speed than it is between 15 and 17 knots, you may end up choosing to cruise faster than you would in a more powerful but thirstier boat.
It’s a quiet boat too, with the sound readings just tipping over 70 dB(A) at 23 knots. These low sound levels and
laid-back cruising speeds make for relaxed long-distance cruising.
The GT 50 is also the first model to benefit from Bénéteau’s new boat management system. It can do the usual things like monitor tanks and control lighting and AV throughout the boat, but the interface is beautifully slick and
it has added functionality like being able to empty the holding tank from the helm. Gone are the days of fiddling around in the heads compartment. It’s compatible with any MFD or tablet too, so you can control systems remotely. It’s probably the slickest boat-management system I’ve used.
With both versions of the GT 50 present, it would have been rude not to have a spin in the Coupé as well.
Naturally, it handles a little more sweetly than its more top-heavy sibling and with the roof open, you have almost the same connection to your surroundings as you do from the top deck of the Sportfly.
Both boats are attractive to look at too, with styling courtesy of Nuvolari Lenard, but the Coupé is undoubtedly the prettier of the two being sleeker and slightly less fussy. However, the extra living space of the flybridge version is hard to ignore for just €20,000 more. Even if you don’t think you will use the top deck all that often, it’s another enjoyable entertaining space for when you do have a boatful, and the elevated driving position comes into its own in fine weather and during close quarter manoeuvres.
Practical attributes are one thing but as we carved a loop back to port, spray peeling off the inside edge of the hull,
the sun illuminating our wake trail, the flybridge was the only place to be.
A closer look….
The detailing is of a high quality on the GT 50 and it’s the little touches like leather pulls on the cupboard doors that make the difference.
The Ship Control boat management system is superb. It can be operated from any of the boat’s MFDs or a tablet so you can manage systems from anywhere on board.
It’s odd that the tender launch system is part of an optional pack but a garage is a rare treat on any flybridge boat and that vertical lifting door means no banged heads.
The downside of having a tender garage on a boat this size is that it gobbles up space in the engineroom. Although clearance over the engines is limited, getting to daily service items isn’t too bad and there is a reasonable amount of room over the pod drives. For major work, the floor of the tender garage can be removed.
At a glance…
Fuel capacity: 286 imp gal (1,300 litres)
Water capacity: 88 imp gal (400 litres)
Draught: 2ft 11in (0.9m)
Designers: Nuvolari Lenard & Andreani Design
Displacement: 13.7 tonnes (light)
RCD Category: B for 12 people
Engine: Volvo Penta IPS600. Twin 435hp @ 3,500rpm. 6-cylinder 5.5-litre diesels
Price: €638,000 (Coupé), €638,000 (Sportfly)