The German car-tuning house Brabus is best known for transforming Mercedes. But what happens when it gets its hands on an Axopar 37?
The winding road that leads through the region of Sant Agustí, Mallorca is alive with the sound of thunder. The skies are clear; this is thunder of a different order. A deep, angry thunder that sounds like Zeus himself is gargling a bag of hammers.
This thunder is pouring from the side-mounted exhausts of a Brabus G Class Mercedes, which pulls into the car park at Port Calanova and comes to a halt in front of me, fans whirring in an effort to combat the afternoon heat and cool its snarling 5.9-litre V8. The reason for the car’s presence, aside from disturbing siesta, is to meet its waterborne compadre, the Brabus Shadow 800 by Axopar.
The link between the two companies was formally announced at the 2018 Düsseldorf boat show where the boat, based on the hull and layout of the Axopar 37, was first unveiled. The cynical will cry that this is simply an Axopar with a fancy paint job, a Brabus badge and an inflated price tag but there is more to it than that. The initial production run is limited to just 20 boats but a facility is under construction that will focus solely on building Brabus boats.
The hull and layout may be the same as the Axopar but the Brabus Shadow 800 takes three times as long to build and €75,000 of its €439,212 price tag is its high-gloss paint finish. In fact, the entire spec is through the roof with the only options being the wet bar, carbon-fibre packages and upgrades to the navigation and audio equipment.
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As standard, you get, amongst other items, the T-top with an opening sunroof that is bespoke to the Brabus, a full suite of high-end Garmin electronics including a Brabus-branded Garmin Quatix 5 watch, which syncs to the on-board electronics, and a pair of Mercury Racing 400R Verado outboards with a joystick.
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Jack Haines puts the Axopar 37 to the test in challenging seas off Mallorca
It’s an awesome thing to look at. Granted, it was given a leg-up being based on the Axopar 37, which is a rather cool thing in itself. The gunmetal paint finish contrasts perfectly with the bright red upholstery and the slender, upright bow gives it a menacing stance that is punched home by the pair of Brabus-branded 400hp outboards gleaming away on the transom.
You won’t forget in a hurry that you’re aboard a Brabus product as the logo is everywhere – the seats, the aluminium tread plates, the steering wheel and the cabin that is lined in quilted leather and thick carpet. It does, in the cabin especially, feel like it’s trying a bit too hard in places.
Our test boat has the extended carbon-fibre package, which is mainly focused around the helm area. The effect is superb, and it adds the finishing touch to a dashboard that is mercifully uncluttered thanks to the glass bridge interface and a neat row of buttons for other major functions. The steering wheel design can take some credit for the clean look too, as its central hub includes buttons for the bow thruster and trim tabs on one side and audio controls on the other.
This is such a simple idea that it’s staggering how few manufacturers have adopted a design like this. Not only does it clear the dashboard but it puts the buttons for major functions underneath your thumb. The wheel is centrally located, which puts the skipper in the middle of the boat flanked by supportive adjustable helm seats that guests can sink into as readily as they can stand, with excellent protection from the deep wraparound windscreen.
Firing up 800hp worth of Mercury Verados isn’t quite as eventful as igniting its road-going friend but they have more of a silent assassin vibe. Feed in some throttle though and my word does this boat shift. The ease with which it whips up to 30 knots is breathtaking, as is the way it storms to its top speed of 50 knots.
That’s 50 knots in warm water with some work left to do on exactly which props suit the boat best. It’s not as if you even have to work hard to get there; open the taps and trim the outboards out a touch and before you know it, you’re at the big five zero. The engines, though muted, are marvellous. They deliver controlled punches of power that pin you into your seat at every point of their broad power band.
Performance is as impressive as it is effortless and all of a sudden it feels perfectly sensible to cruise everywhere at 40 knots – the hull and the engines are more than up to it. The Axopar 37’s hull is an absolute gem and the Brabus inherits it and adds power, which the twin-stepped hull laps up with thirsty glee.
The balance of this hull is extraordinary and the way it skips gently between the lolloping swell with such confidence and poise is remarkable. You can carry serious speed in nasty seas and they will be soaked up and dispensed of without complaint.
The Brabus is just as controlled in hard turns where the narrow stepped hull behaves impeccably. Big outboard-powered boats can cavitate power away in an attempt to launch out of tight corners but there are no such issues with the Shadow 800.
In a place like Mallorca, where bay hopping is a sport and the afternoon chop can make the going tough, the Brabus’s ability to hammer through it at speed makes it an ideal tool for the job. It doesn’t hurt that wherever you go it turns heads, which is no mean feat in a place that is chock full of floating exotica. The performance and handling are outstanding but there is a very practical and useable layout to enjoy that has been inherited from the Axopar 37.
The central seating area is comfortable and big enough to serve seven people for lunch and the bespoke hardtop means you can switch sun for shade in seconds. The triple helm seats swivel to meet the table in dining mode but one of the best features of the layout is that there are seven forward-facing seats that allow guests to sit in protected comfort on the move. Those in the market for a superyacht tender will appreciate this especially.
There’s an unavoidable argument that you could get a boat with all the functionality and most of the performance of the Brabus for half the price simply by buying an Axopar 37, but there is something special about the Shadow 800 that coerces you into justifying the additional cost.
In all likelihood, there will be plenty of people who want one just to match the Brabus car in their garage. An equal number will want one purely for the way it looks or the way that, in leisure boat terms, it’s one of the most pleasurable ways to cross the water you will ever find. It may not bark and snarl like the G Class staring down at us from the quayside, but it wears that famous Brabus badge with equal merit.
LOA: 36ft 9in (11.2m)
Beam: 10ft 10in (3.3m)
Draught: 2ft 9in (0.85m)
Displacement: 3.6 tonnes (excl. engines)
Berths: 2-4 (with optional aft cabin)
Fuel capacity: 192 imp gal (730 litres)
CE category: B for 10 people
Engines: Twin Mercury Verado 400R 400hp
Top speed: 50 knots
Cruising speed: 20-40 knots
Price from: €402,080 (inc 19% VAT)
Price as tested: €439,212 (inc 19% VAT)