Used boat expert Nick Burnham picks out four of the best hardtop sportscruisers on the market, from the likes of Princess, Jeanneau, Sunseeker and Fairline…
Hardtop sportscruisers haven’t always been as ubiquitous as they are right now. Back in 1998 Windy introduced its replacement for the Grand Mistral 36, the Grand Mistral 37. That very slight change in name is echoed by a very slight change in boat, the 37 was an evolution of the 36 – Windy wasn’t about to mess too much with a winning formula.
But there was one surprise that came with the new model. The option of an open-backed hard top. At the time, this was a seriously rare option for sportscruisers much below 60ft.
Princess Yachts, for example, introduced its first hardtop sportscruiser two years later, and it was the 65ft Princess V65. What’s interesting about this brave move of Windy’s is how popular it proved to be. It’s actually quite rare to find a used 37 Grand Mistral without one.
Other manufacturers soon took note, and now the reverse is true – it’s rare to find a sportscruiser of circa 40ft and above without a hard top. Here are four examples that prove the point.
4 of the best hardtop sportscruisers
Princess Yachts originally launched a V39 back in 1994. It was a hugely successful boat, soon morphing into the Princess V40 (extended bathing platform) and then V42 (extended hull).
Time ran out on the triumvirate 15 years later with over 500 built and when a new Princess V42 was created a couple of years after that, it missed the ‘entry level’ mark on size and price. Princess needed a new route into the marque, and the new Princess V39 was introduced at the London Boat Show in 2012.
The big news about Princess’s new baby was the sense that there was no compromise in the interior fit-out. Satin finished walnut abounded throughout and everything from the light switches to the glass splash back around the galley was the equal of much larger (and more expensive) models in the range.
The layout echoed those earlier boats, with the owner’s cabin in the bow, mid-cabin back under the forward section of cockpit and saloon opposite the galley between them. But somehow the boat felt bigger everywhere than its predecessors.
Where the original V39, and the V40 and V42 evolutions that followed were resolutely open boats, a hardtop sportscruiser never even gracing the options list, the new Princess V39 was hard top only. How times have changed.
But the advantage with developing the boat as a hard top is how cohesive it looks. The way the swoop of the rear profile matches the buttresses either side of the bathing platform is particularly pleasing.
There was just as much choice in the engine bay – i.e. none. But again, optimising the boat around a single option – twin Volvo Penta D6-330 sterndrive diesels – is not without its advantages. Top speed on test was a healthy 37 knots with 29 knots the most efficient cruising speed.
Princess opted for flatter aft hull sections for more efficient planing but kept the deep vee forward to cut through the chop. The result is a harder upwind ride at speed, although lowering the tabs to dig the deeper vee forward sections helps.
LOA: 42ft 6in (13m)
Beam: 12ft 5in (3.8m)
Draught: 3ft 4in (1.0m)
Displacement: 9.1 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 650 litres
Engines: Volvo Penta D6-330 330hp diesels
Location: St Tropez
Contact: Parton Yachting
Fairline Targa 48 Open
When Fairline launched its new Targa 48 in 2013, it had everything to play for. This was the marque’s first all-new boat for two years and £3m of development costs resulted in the first Fairline with a resin infused hull instead of hand laid.
It was also the first Fairline with monocoque construction whereby both inner and outer liners are structural load bearing elements and the first time Fairline had spun three boats from one hull – the Targa 48 Open you see here; the Targa 48 GT (closed deck saloon) and the Squadron 48 (closed deck saloon and a flybridge on top).
A vastly different and more spacious boat than the Targa 47 it replaced, it was more than a foot wider, a lot higher and had very different styling. The lower deck sports the biggest differences.
That height allows standing headroom beneath the cockpit, and that allows the owner’s cabin to be positioned aft, taking full advantage of that palatial beam. What used to be the owner’s cabin in the bow is now the guest cabin.
This was the first Fairline to be designed by Slovakian design house Seaway alongside Fairline’s in-house design team. The result was a very different looking boat.
Earlier boats (like this one) had squared-off windows in very high topsides (later boats got dagger style windows). A high/low platform was a popular option and Open versions have tender garages big enough to swallow a Williams 285 tender.
Those changes keep on coming – this was the first Fairline to be designed and engineered exclusively for IPS drives. Mated to IPS600 5.5-litre 435hp diesels, top speed was a smidge over 30 knots with everything clean (dirty props reduce IPS efficiency surprisingly quickly).
Fairline used jackshafts to position the engines further forward in the hull than they would otherwise have been, moving the centre of gravity forward. This not only improves seakeeping, but also visibility, with that more balanced hull reducing bow lift.
Three and a half turns whip the Targa 48 from lock to lock, imbuing it with appropriately sporty handling.
LOA: 50ft 5in (15.4m)
Beam: 14ft 2in (4.3m)
Draught: 3ft 3in (1.0m)
Displacement: 13 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 1,308 litres
Engines: Twin Volvo Penta IPS600 435hp diesel engines
Sunseeker Portofino 53
Launched in 2003, the Sunseeker Portofino 53 replaced the Camargue 50, a beautiful and unashamedly open boat (although there was also a hardtop sportscruiser option). It proved popular, and Sunseeker launched a MK2 version of it in 2006.
Pre-dating the full beam owner’s cabins, the owner of this fine ship gets the fore cabin, complete with en suite.
There’s a generous saloon in the centre of the lower deck opposite a galley mostly concealed inside a long sideboard and then two further cabins aft, one with side-by-side beds, the other with crossover beds at 90 degrees to each other.
But as ever with Sunseekers of this era, the big news is the cabinetry, a riot of rich satin finished cherry or walnut with chunky cappings, Maple was a rare option too.
This is a Sunseeker boat from the old school. Long of snout, acres of foredeck arc forward from the windscreen, the sheer line describing a perfect curve from nose to tail beneath it.
This is what boats used to look like before accommodation took priority over styling (most modern boats have the windscreen six feet further forward to free up more space in the cockpit). No wonder this is such a great looking boat.
At the business end there are four forward facing seats and at the fun end, there’s a garage big enough for a Williams 325. A large settee splits them, complete with fold-out table and a wet bar.
The entire forward roof section cantilevers back to open the helm, although later MK2 versions got a more conventional sliding sunroof.
A pair of Volvo Penta D12 715hp diesels or MAN D2876LE 730hp engines, both on shaft drive were offered on launch, this boat getting the former for a top speed of about 33 knots.
Later boats got 800hp motors of either persuasion for a couple of knots more but there was also a Predator 55 version – the longer platform hiding Arneson surface drives connected to over 2,000hp worth of twin MANs giving a 45-knot max.
Over 50ft long, shaft drive and weighing in at almost 20 tonnes, you’d expect the Predator 53 to be a good sea boat and it is.
LOA: 56ft 11in (17.3m)
Beam: 15ft 1in (4.6m)
Draught: 4ft 0in (1.2m)
Displacement: 19.3 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 1,840 litres
Engines: Twin Volvo Penta D12-715 715hp diesel engines
Contact: Sunseeker Brokerage
Jeanneau Prestige 390S
Originally launched as the Jeanneau Prestige 380S, the 390S more accurately represents its length of 39ft 1in. It was designed from the off as a hardtop sportscruiser and is surprisingly spacious both inside and out.
It’s the usual matt cherry and cream linings of the era inside this Jeanneau; a little bland but it’s certainly never going to offend anyone.
And the space for a sub-40ft boat is excellent. There’s a centreline double berth in the owner’s cabin forward, and a generous three-sided dinette (which converts to occasional extra sleeping) opposite an L-shaped galley.
Back aft, the usual twin berths run beneath the cockpit in the mid-cabin but actually with a usefully high ceiling, and there’s space for a decent settee in here – somewhere to tuck yourself away with a good book perhaps.
Large hull windows were still a rarity when this model was launched, which is perhaps why Jeanneau only fitted one into the starboard topsides. The hard top integrates well with the design and features a large solid sliding section, beneath which the cockpit is split into two distinct zones.
The forward section has a double helm with a wet bar behind it and a large dinette, while further aft there is a second lower seating area (there was an option to split these two areas off, making the forward section akin to a deck saloon).
But what you might not expect, especially given that there’s not the usual ubiquitous sunbed, is a small tender garage beneath that aft seating area.
Cummins Mercruiser was the motor of choice for this model, a brace of them transmitting their 320hp each through Zeus pod drives. Top speed is in the 30-knot region, but at the other end of the performance envelope, a joystick control makes low speed manoeuvring in marinas and tight spaces much easier.
Michael Peters was responsible for the hull design – always a winning combination with Jeanneau. Good seakeeping is married to its eyecatching looks, with that beautiful flair to the topsides that is a frequent trademark of his designs.
LOA: 39ft 1in (11.9m)
Beam: 12ft 10in (3.9m)
Draught: 3ft 4in (1.0m)
Displacement: 7.5 tonnes
Fuel capacity: 920 litres
Engines: Cummins Mercruiser 320hp diesel engines
First published in the September 2022 issue of MBY.
4 more hardtop sportscruisers from the September 2021 issue
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
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
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.