With the efficiency, agility and excitement of IPS, the Sunseeker Portofino 48 strikes an impressive balance between design innovation and practical refinement.
Designing is not only about the ideas, but also the magic that you use to make those ideas come to life.
If you’re familiar with Sunseeker’s outgoing Portofino 47, you might well believe that the Poole-based boatbuilders have been practising some form of sorcery.
How else could a closely related sportscruiser with all but the same hull length and exactly the same beam suddenly sprout a palatial full-beam owner’s ensuite where there once was a body-hugging twin-berth cabin?
The magic of IPS
But unlike the 47, there’s no 575hp shaftdrive option.
Consequently, Sunseeker didn’t have to allow for the extra length needed to accommodate the shaftdrives, with the 575hp engines further forward.
That spare space (around three foot or so) has been absorbed into the Sunseeker Portofino 48’s mid cabin.
Hey presto, a huge, light-filled owner’s cabin.
We would normally take issue with a builder who gives with one hand (a big cabin) and takes away with the other (no space left in the engineroom, nor any lazarette as recompense).
But thanks to two compensating factors, that’s not necessary. First, there’s a whopping garage with easily the fastest opening lid I’ve ever come across.That super-fast lifting lid is going to be an immeasurable benefit on a boat whose tender garage forms the main cockpit stowage.
Nipping in and out of the garage was absurdly quick and easy – I think it’s a class-winning benefit.
Secondly, the optional hi-lo bathing platform, which adds £23,000 and 15in to the standard fixed-platform Sunseeker Portofino 48, is in itself (with a pair of overhanging chocks) deep enough to carry a small inflatable or maybe a jet ski. So overall deck stowage is fine.
Engineroom access isn’t a patch on the old Portofino 47, but then that was freakishly good, the Sunseeker Portofino 48’s is still reasonable for this size and type of boat.
All told then, an IPS-propelled boat which doesn’t rob Peter to pay Paul. This boat flatters IPS in another way too.
Don’t imagine that all IPS boats handle the same, either at low speed or hurtling along. So it was great to find that this one handles particularly well.
At low speed, manoeuvring around the marina, the Sunseeker Portofino 48 feels unusually positive.
Going astern, which is what the Sunseeker Portofino 48 will so often be called upon to do berthing in Mediterranean marinas, IPS comfortably outmanoeuvres any other type of propulsion: sterndrive, waterjets or surface drives; even good old shaftdrives.
Because it’s so positive, even joystick manoeuvring doesn’t seem to cause as much of that leg-vectored commotion as usual.
However, if you want almost complete silence, it performs just as impressively if you drive it like a big sterndrive boat, by using the throttles and gears and vectoring the IPS legs.
I’ve driven a few IPS boats that handle as well at low speed, but none that conduct themselves any better.
Driving the Sunseeker Portofino 48
The 48 complements IPS in other ways too. Hurtling around outside Poole Harbour, just beyond Old Harry, the Sunseeker Portofino 48 felt exceptionally composed.
Some IPS boats can feel almost too lively and sporty, as if they’re trying to show off with their extraordinary manoeuvrability.
The 48 does turn quickly if you throw its 16.6-tonne deep-vee hull into a top speed, full lock turn, but it never feels over-eager or twitchy in any way, just very well balanced.
It’s a lot of fun to drive, but you’re never going to scare yourself however hooligan-like your behaviour. That’s surely the ideal combination.
As you can see from our photos, it was a reasonably undemanding day, at least for a deep-vee Don Shead-designed Sunseeker hull.
One thing I felt sure of when we tested the IPS and shaftdrive Portofino 47s was that the shaftdrive boat gave a smoother ride.
When it comes to ride comfort, I’d say the new IPS-propelled 48 is on a par with the IPS 47.
That is to say, it dishes up a reasonable ride, but not an exceptional one by Sunseeker’s standards.
It’s perhaps a little unfortunate that my yardstick is the shaftdrive Portofino 47 because that boat was truly amazing, handling airborne landings off short, steep, five-foot high, wind-over-tide seas with amazing aplomb, and never slamming once.
Treat our performance and fuel consumption figures with a generous dollop of caution.
Problems with our Volvo engines’ boost software meant that even with no tender or liferaft or stores on board, our boat under-revved by 40rpm, something that IPS boats with their multiple propellers do not seem to like.
Perhaps as important, something clearly wasn’t right – the revs kept jumping around and our Sunseeker Portofino 48 did not feel as willing or as urgent as I’ve come to expect from boats propelled by Volvo’s punchy IPS power-plants.
With a load comprising 70% fuel, 65% water, five crew, but no tender or liferaft, our Sunseeker Portofino 48 achieved 32.1 knots at 3,460rpm.
In comparison, our Portofino 47 reached 34.8 knots with identical 435hp IPS600s and a similar load.
I can’t be sure, but I have the feeling that the Sunseeker Portofino 48 has a little more potential.
If you’re attracted to IPS because of the promise of fuel efficiency, it’s worth examining the consumption figures.
The Portofino 48’s greatest fuel efficiency of 0.93mpg clearly betters the shaftdrive Portofino 47’s 0.80mpg maximum.
But bear in mind this occurs at a healthy cruising speed of 28.5 knots.
You won’t gain anything by slowing down, in fact it will cost you more to go slower.
This bears out what we are increasingly finding with IPS – that it is proving more efficient than shaftdrive (albeit by widely varying amounts), but that its fuel efficiency at lower revs is generally not its forte.
If I owned any IPS boat, first thing I’d do is load up the boat with all my gear, then conduct a full set of fuel consumption trials, just to make sure I knew exactly where the sweet spot lay.
However fast or slow, having fun in any boat is only possible if the driver is a happy soul. Most important, the driver’s view out on the Sunseeker Portofino 48, particularly forward, is fine.
Perhaps it would be nice to see smaller, less intrusive corner mullions, but it’s hard to complain on a boat that feels so rigid and with no obvious squeaks or rattles – the beefier the structure, the less something flexes.
Likewise, thanks to the substantial areas of fibreglass that form the aft end of the hardtop, you don’t get as good a rearwards view as on, say, the Sessa C46 or the Sealine SC47 with their more squared-off side windows.
Overall though, the helmsman’s view was fine and I never felt as though I was having difficulty getting a safe view out.
No complaints about the helm ergonomics, which should keep most shapes and sizes happy.
An adjustable wheel, perfectly placed throttles, and a flip-up seat bolster all help.
If I were being picky, a more rounded bolster might be less stylish but more comfortable, generating less pressure on the underside of the thighs of drivers with short legs.
On deck of the Sunseeker Portofino 48
For big sportscruisers that are often used as luxury dayboats, the deck is often the beating heart of the boat.
With one notable exception it’s all pretty straightforward, with a big sunbed aft and a roomy seating area opposite the wet-bar.
The foredeck is also beautifully detailed, with the usual tinny holders elevated to the status of art, and hingeing headrests for the tri-part sunbed – once you’ve tried these, you’ll never want to be without them.
Surprisingly, there’s no specific on-deck provision for the liferaft as yet, but apparently that’s under way.
A moulded recess in the starboard side of the tender garage or under the sunbed are the obvious solutions.
For me though, the undisputed highlight of this boat was the raised seating area to port, alongside the helm.
On this size of sportscruiser, builders often achieve the headroom necessary for the mid cabin beneath by plonking a sunbed here: Sealine’s SC47 and Sessa’s C46 are examples.
At the cost of visually foreshortening and reducing the feeling of space in the cockpit, this deals very successfully with the headroom issue.
But who really needs yet another sunbed (under the hardtop too – anyone for stripes?) when you already have one or even two elsewhere out in the sun on the foredeck or aft?
Instead, Sunseeker have designed a seating area, raised unusually high.
And I can’t overstate how brilliantly it works. Sitting down, with legs outstretched, the view out is superb.
Better still, stand up on the elevated floor, head and shoulders well clear of the hardtop, and it becomes a truly fabulous place for rubbernecking.
Plus, with the autopilot engaged, it’s the ideal temporary conning position for the helmsman to help with safe pilotage into unfamiliar harbours.
The icing on the cake is the considerable attention Sunseeker’s designers have paid to the black moulded unit in front of the seating.
Often no more than a simple locker, this moulding is blessed with a pair of tinny holders, another two recesses for odds and ends, two big sturdy handrails, and a secondary Perspex hinged lid that can be used to clamp old-fashioned paper charts (remember them?) into place. Definitely my favourite area on the boat.
Below decks of the Sunseeker Portofino 48
Funny how twitchy builders seem to get about their ideas being copied, because in many ways plagiarism invariably improves the breed.
We first saw scissor-action berths in the forward cabin of an Azimut 68S.
Then another Italian builder unashamedly copied the idea, and Sessa’s brilliant C46 sprouted a pair.
Now Sunseeker have adopted the idea on their Portofino 48.
It’s not hard to see why. The flexibility they add to a twin-cabin boat is immeasurable.
As with Sessa’s C46, in double berth form the space around the squared-off corners is unavoidably on the tight side – geometry rather than lack of space sees to that.
However, when the berths are spread apart to rest against the ship’s side, the forward cabin feels huge, with oodles of floor space in the middle, so useful for moving around or getting changed.
Swinging the berths apart or together is very quick and easy, especially on the Sunseeker Portofino 48 as the berths swung perceptibly more easily than on Azimut’s or Sessa’s boats.
The only minor downside is that in double berth form there’s a potentially uncomfortable join down the middle of the mattress, and all the builders need to put some thought into clamping the mattresses together more securely.
A strong full-length zip is the obvious answer. Other than that, it’s a one-sided trade. Once you’ve seen a forward cabin with this arrangement, it does leave you wondering: why would I want anything else?
At the risk of damning with faint praise, the rest of the accommodation is simple and straightforward – it offers what you would expect a sportscruiser this size to provide. Most importantly, it all works very well.
Apart from the uncomfortably high saloon seats, there’s only one detail I didn’t like. It seems increasingly common on the latest crop of European boats to have sharp, unprotected corners on the furniture.
It’s a cyclical style thing of course, sharp and curvy elements will always be trading places as time passes. How proud you feel about your boat’s super sharp styling might change the first time you miss your footing and fall against it in a bumpy sea.
A closer look at the Sunseeker Portofino 48 with David Marsh
Opening ports ensure good natural ventilation, essential for peace and quiet at night when you don’t want generator and aircon noise. Picture windows couldn’t get much bigger.
Tremendous detailing where there’s often just an uninspiring locker.
The opening lid is two-part (the obscured top one is clear) so paper charts can be pinned between the two lids.
Sunseeker have transformed the humble tinny holder into art, and along the way added invaluable pockets for odds and ends.
White plastic pads are hinging headrests for the sunbed cushions.
Nowhere near as roomy as the outgoing IPS-powered Portofino 47 engineroom, but that’s the unavoidable price to pay for the new Sunseeker Portofino 48’s amazing aft cabin.
Big tender garage inevitably intrudes overhead, but access to most of the day-to-day service items is okay with a comfortable clamber.
For an IPS sportscruiser this size, it’s actually quite reasonable.
Verdict on the Sunseeker Portofino 48
The new Portofino 48 is a very cannily positioned sportscruiser.
It’s what I call a ‘break even’ design, one where everything hangs together in an optimum way – just a little smaller and it would all come tumbling down; a little larger and there would be no real gain, just a price hike.
The key to this is definitely Sunseeker’s decision to run with Volvo’s IPS.
That’s far from novel, but unlike some other IPS sportscruisers, the precise size and the good design of the Sunseeker Portofino 48 means that the compromises that are sometimes evident – specifically poor deck storage and terrible engineroom access – are not manifest in this boat.
Strange too how one small detail can be so transforming.
On the Sunseeker Portofino 48 this is definitely the super-fast tender garage lid lift, which makes the voluminous garage a truly usable day-to-day storage area.
The switch to IPS is not an entirely one sided trade, and I’m convinced that in the rough, the shaftdrive Portofino 47 gave a smoother ride.
But perhaps it’s a little harsh using one of the most impressive heavy weather sportscruisers I’ve ever driven as a yardstick.
To date the Portofino 48 is amongst the best behaved pod-drive boats I’ve driven (38 IPS and four Zeus versions so far), certainly in the top five, with none that better it in terms of overall dynamics and low and high-speed handling.
If you can get past the Sunseeker Portofino 48’s stunning golden looks (subjective I know, but any dissenters?) then it’s actually a remarkably straightforward boat, and all the better for it too.
I couldn’t find any areas that had been fatally compromised for the sake of a headline grabbing feature elsewhere. It all works very well indeed.
On top of that, it has two excellent practical features which are entirely one-way trades: the scissor-action berths in the forward cabin, and the elevated seating area in the cockpit alongside the helm.
Apparently, because it was an unusual feature, Sunseeker had a few collywobbles with this latter element of the Sunseeker Portofino 48.
But they need not have worried, I reckon it will become the new-fangled highlight that everybody wants to copy.
First published in the August 2010 issue of MBY.
Price from: £538,150 (twin 435hp)
Price as tested: £706,768 (twin 435hp)
Length: 52ft 9in (16.09m) including pulpit & lifting platform
Beam: 14ft 1in (4.30m)
Fuel capacity: 290 imp gal (1,320 litres)
Water capacity: 72 imp gal (328 litres)
Draught: 2ft 9in (0.85m)
RCD category: B (for 10 people)
Displacement: 15.1 tonnes light (empty), 16.6 tonnes full fuel & water
Designers: Don Shead, Sunseeker, Design Unlimited
Contact: Sunseeker London/Poole