Used boat expert Nick Burnham picks out four of the best hardtop sportscruisers on the market, from the likes of Beneteau, Jeanneau, Hardy and Azimut.
Sportscruisers are brilliant! Low, sleek and fast, they’re the sportscars of the aquatic world.
A thrill to drive and a great way to cover ground, they’re typically faster than a flybridge boat, have more cockpit accommodation, put everyone on one level when outside and have a less exposed outside helm position.
They’re also a little more Ferrari than the flybridge’s slightly Range Rover demeanour. But there’s one big drawback – canopies!
Anyone who’s had to wrestle the acres of tent and supporting framework over the top of a 40ft sportscruiser in the rain knows the pain!
Which is why hardtop sportscruisers are so popular. All the GT-ness, but with a roof that shuts, often at just the push of a button. Here are four possibilities for you to choose from.
Beneteau Gran Turismo 40
The almost universal layout of a 40ft hardtop sportscruiser is a central companionway leading down from the cockpit and a door off to one side opening into a mid cabin with a transverse double bed beneath the cockpit.
For the Gran Turismo 40 however, Beneteau put the companionway to the port side and the cabin entrance centrally. This allows two single beds to lie lengthways, dropping the walkway between them into the deepest part of the vee of the hull, maximising headroom.
Up front, a central double bed shows nothing is lost in the owner’s cabin; the only area that suffers a little is the galley.
That offset companionway changes the cockpit layout too. This boat has its double helm seat mounted centrally, with the helm in the middle of the boat. There’s a third seat to starboard allowing three people to sit in a row at the helm.
And because there is a gap and a walkway between the seats, you can enter or exit with dignity. Overhead, the open-backed hard top has a GRP sliding sunroof.
Power comes from twin Volvo Penta D4-300 engines, rather than the larger straight six D6 motors often found in this size of boat (and available as an option).
But the performance is still quite perky because it weighs about 7 tonnes instead of circa 10 tonnes (some of that saving is, of course, in the smaller engines). The top end is about 32 knots, whereas D6 boats are usually nearer 40.
The Airstep hull has vents that pull air from above the waterline when the boat is moving at speed and push it out into the hull step, apparently reducing water friction.
It’s hard to tell how effective this is, but having pushed this boat in challenging conditions, we do know it’s a pretty good sea boat.
Beneteau Gran Turismo 40 specification
LOA: 41ft 2in (12.5m)
Beam: 12ft 8in (3.9m)
Draught: 3ft 7in (1.1m)
Displacement: 7.6 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 650 litres
Engines: Twin Volvo Penta D4-300 300hp diesel engines
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Jeanneau Leader 36
Jeanneau covered all the bases when it launched the Leader 36 in 2015, offering it in both open cockpit format or with the hardtop sportscruiser that you see here for about £5,000 more, a practical alternative for owners in northern climes.
Just like Beneteau, Jeanneau came up with something rather different from the standard pattern interior layout, but on this boat it concentrated on the forward part of the accommodation.
So back aft is the customary twin berth mid cabin (with a settee that can be pressed into action as an occasional third berth). But in the bow there appears to be no separate forward cabin, just an open plan layout with a small galley opposite the heads and a dinette that runs across the boat with a double bed in the forepeak.
But cunningly, a pocket door rolls out of nowhere to partition off the bed and settee, making for a separate owner’s cabin when privacy is needed.
The chaise longue next to the helm is there to create headroom in the mid cabin lobby, but there is a forward facing seat as well.
Further aft, a generous dinette with a folding table sits opposite the wet bar and has a backrest that flips forward to increase the size of the sunpad behind it. The hardtop has an electric sliding roof and the powered engine hatch is huge, giving great access to both motors.
Twin Volvo Penta D4-300 engines, like the Beneteau GT40, but on this smaller, lighter boat, top speed with these engines is lifted to 36 knots giving a high 20 knot cruise.
Michael Peters designed the hull, and a typically great job he made of it. Agile, quick witted, very grippy and “a real hoot to chuck around”, reported our resident boy racer when Jeanneau let him loose in one off Cannes.
But it proves capable of steamrollering a challenging chop too, “no slams, squeaks or groans from the helm, just a confident absorption of all in its path, interspersed with soft, controlled landings if the boat did get a little air.”
Jeanneau Leader 36 specification
LOA: 37ft 7in (11.5m)
Beam: 10ft 10in (3.6m)
Draught: 2ft 5in (0.7m)
Displacement: 6.5 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 550 litres
Engines: Twin Volvo Penta D4-300 300hp diesel engine
Contact: Salterns Brokerage
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Minimal is in vogue these days and the smallest Atlantis yet is an attempt to deliver a smaller, cheaper boat
The Jeanneau Leader 36 is put to the test in the choppy seas off Cannes
Hardy Seawings 254
Hardtop sportscruisers feel like a recent invention, generally found on boats of 30ft and above. In fact, Hardy launched this hardtop sportscruiser back in 1991, and it’s only 25ft long!
Until the late 1980s, Hardy was (and still is) best known for its traditional trawler style motorboats. The Seawings range was its attempt to take on the likes of Princess and Fairline, which at the time ruled this segment with the 266 Riviera and Targa 27.
There is sitting headroom only at the dinette but it’s a decent size and converts to a double berth. The chef gets to stand upright at the galley as it’s cunningly positioned under the sliding hatch to take advantage of the extra headroom when open.
There’s a heads down here as well of course, with a sea toilet. It’s all very nicely finished, with plenty of Hardy-esque teak.
The canvas roof over the helm detaches completely rather than slides, but it leaves a decent aperture as a result, and if you stand at the wheel you can look over the windscreen.
The cockpit layout is simple but effective. The backrest of the double helm seat folds forward to create rearward facing seating at anchor, augmenting the U-shaped aft seating around a table that drops to create a sunpad. It’s a very sociable layout. Six inch side decks offer reasonable access forward.
When this boat was first launched, powerful but compact diesel engines were in their infancy, so if you wanted the black stuff you had to make do with a 130hp Volvo Penta AQAD31.
You would be better to opt for the 4.3 litre V6 petrol unit fitted to this boat. It might cost a bit more to run, but it reached 30 knots when new and cruised at about 25 knots.
Hardys were built in Norfolk when this boat was in production, so it comes as no surprise that Andrew Wolstenholme designed the hull – is there any motorboat from the English east coast he has not had a hand in?
The Seawings 254 gave a, “sound, if lively, account of itself”, according to our original new boat test from this era.
Hardy Seawings 254 specification
LOA: 25ft 4in (7.7m)
Beam: 8ft 2in (2.5m)
Draught: 3ft 0in (0.9m)
Displacement: 2 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 313 litres
Engine: Volvo Penta 205hp petrol engine
Contact: Parkstone Bay Yachts
Azimut Atlantis 34
The Atlantis range is Azimut’s answer to the sub-50ft Fairline Targas and Princess V-Class. When the Atlantis 34 was first launched back in 2012, it was the smallest boat the company offered and was designed as a relatively affordable entry point to the Azimut range.
There’s an aft facing chaise longue next to the helm, the purpose of which is obvious as soon as you head inside and drop down to the lower deck. It facilitates a fairly remarkable amount of headroom at the head end of the mid cabin, making this a surprisingly nice cabin for a 34ft boat. But then it is the only separate cabin.
Azimut opted for an open-plan dinette at the forward end that converts to a second double berth. It works well, avoiding the slightly cramped feeling of trying to cram too much into a small space. Quality is good, as you would expect from an Azimut boat, a slight paucity of storage is the only small demerit.
That chaise longue is a great place to tuck yourself away with a good book at anchor beneath that hard top, or relax under way and watch the wake streaming out behind you while chatting to the helmsman.
There is a double seat at the helm with a fridge beneath and a wet bar behind it. The hardtop integrates well – given that this is a relatively short boat, it looks great.
When the Azimut was new buyers could choose any motors they liked, provided they were a pair of Volvo Penta D3-220 sterndrive engines!
A useful 30 knots was the top speed when we tested this boat in Italy with a clean hull, while throttling back to a 26-knot cruise at 3,000rpm gave a reasonably efficient 1.6mpg.
“Steady across the water”, was how we described it in the original magazine test of the period. It was stable too, due in part to its wide beam, so little tab was required.
But the overriding feeling for all involved was how solid the boat felt, helped in no small part by its rigid resin infusion construction, which was still pretty new almost a decade ago.
Azimut Atlantis 34 specification
LOA: 33ft 7in (10.3m)
Beam: 11ft 6in (3.5m)
Draught: 3ft 1in (0.9m)
Displacement: 6.6 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 650 litres
Engines: Twin Volvo Penta D3-220 220hp diesels
Contact: Global Yachts
First published in the August 2021 issue of MBY.