By Zuzana Prochazka
Beneteau Gran Turismo 44: An Exceptional Express Cruiser
Value, speed, and fashionable design in one sweet new GT express cruiser package from Beneteau.
Following on the heels of the Gran Tourismo 49, Groupe Beneteau now has four GT models and is taking the world of express cruisers by storm. The second largest in the series, the GT 44, has found the magic formula of a fast boat that is also a very social platform, which can easily accommodate a dozen for cocktails. Its contemporary design is aimed at the fashion-minded who like to cruise fast, entertain a crowd, and get their money’s worth as well.
I stepped aboard the swim platform of the GT 44 and peered into the garage. The entire midsection including the aft sunpad lifts electrically to reveal a dinghy stowage space that will accommodate an eight-foot tender with the outboard still attached. A winch in the forward end of the compartment and flip-out rollers on the transom allow you to hook up a dinghy, and with the push of a button, pull it up and inside the boat, out of the way. No more towing a dink. Nice.
Two steps up on the starboard side and I was in the aft cockpit where a U-shaped dinette with a hi/lo table will accommodate six for dinner. Across, there’s a mini-galley with a sink, an optional Kenyon grill, and a refrigerator that can be exchanged for an icemaker. A few steps forward is a double companion seat amidships next to the helm seat to starboard. The entire section of the forward cockpit is below a huge sunroof that slides back to let in air and light, providing best of both worlds – an open overhead when you want the outdoors and the protection of a hardtop when you don’t.
The dash inspires confidence as everything is within reach including the gear shifts, joystick, analog gauges, rocker switches and the single Raymarine C120W chartplotter/radar. The visibility is good except for the wide wings that swoop down between the curved side windows and the windshield. They require a bit of head-bobbing from side to side to make sure no one is in the blind spots.
There is a bit of a serpentine flow when walking from the aft cockpit through the helm area to the companionway steps. This means the passenger’s seat can be accessed from either side and there is also room for sizable stowage lockers along the way.
Entering the boat, I came a few steps down to the combined galley to port and accompanying saloon settee to starboard. A standup refrigerator is closest to the steps and a curved counter leads forward to a double sink, a two-burner stove, an optional microwave, lots of stowage, and an opening port to provide ventilation when cooking. The side of the counter forms a half-partition that houses a flat-screen TV and stereo, which face an L-shaped settee that seats five and converts to a berth. Although you’re well and truly “inside” the boat at this point, there is lots of light from the overhead glass companionway slider and the extra circular “window” that’s up near the dash area and under the windshield. There is no cave-like feel in this bright living space accented with wood veneer and lots of white upholstery and cabinetry.
To borrow a real estate term, this boat has what might be called twin masters. The true master stateroom is aft and full beam, with a few different levels of overhead which changes the headroom depending on where you’re standing. To port is a separate lounge that beckons anyone wanting to relax with a book or just to gaze out the hull port. An ensuite head with separate shower stall are to starboard. Stowage throughout is immense and the large bank of AGM batteries lives below the bed.
The guest stateroom is almost as luxurious, with a large island bed and high headroom. Two hull windows provide light, and an overhead hatch along with two side opening ports bring in plenty of air. It has its own entrance to the head which can also double as a day head. The interior design is contemporary European chic – which is to say a functional elegance with a clean minimalist finish. It’s very much like what you’d expect a compact two bed/two bath condo in Miami to look like.
Barrett Canfield of South Coast Yachts provided my test ride on San Diego Bay. The inner waters were flat but the Pacific outside looked much the same, so we stayed in the harbor making our own waves. The sailboaters around us looked perplexed but intrigued, as we shot up onto a plane and then to WOT at 32 knots and 3400 rpm. At that speed, the range is about 170 nautical miles. The efficiency of Beneteau’s patented AirStep hull design reduces the friction between the hull and water, by injecting air from vents along the hull sides. This creates an air cushion of sorts for the aft third of the hull to ride on. The air is channeled to the midsection and back out at the transom, effectively providing lift and therefore greater fuel efficiency.
The GT 44 comes with twin Volvo Penta D6 370 hp diesels with stern drives, the largest drives that Volvo builds. They are accessed via a hatch in the tender garage. Joystick control is optional, but provides maneuvering ease without pod drives. It takes a bit of getting used to as the bow thruster isn’t as strong as the two sterndrives, so you have to get the hang of crabbing the boat a bit. But with only minutes of practice most owners will feel like they’ve mastered the art of docking, even in a breeze.
As I weaved my way back and forth over our own wakes, I felt nothing but a sharp slice through the disturbed water. The boat didn’t thud, jump, skip or waddle in any direction. The bow rise was relatively minimal and due to the AirStep, there was not much squat as the boat came up to speed. As I did hard stops and starts, Barrett instinctively reached to steady the coffee cups that he had place in holders in front of the passenger seat. There was no need, the ride was smooth throughout and the cups didn’t budge.
The Gran Turismo Series is a complete line of production motoryachts from 34 to 49 feet. The 49 offers a flybridge version, has a swim platform that raises and lowers to form a teak beach, has pod drives and has a slightly more generous layout. Otherwise, the boats are similar—especially in the fun quotient.
The base model of the GT 44 starts around $420,000 and priced as tested, with commissioning and delivery is $575,000. Groupe Beneteau provides option packages and with the so-called Dynamic package, the GT 44 includes the sterndrive joystick, aft garage launch ramp and winch, and foredeck sunpad. There is also the Ambition package that adds a 22” flastscreen TV, a cockpit grill, Volvo’s EVC display and more. On top of that, you can select from a la carte options including AC/heat, ice maker, Bose stereo, ultra leather upholstery, autopilot and more. The result is an appealing combination of the value of a production boat, and the choices and personalization of a semi-custom yacht. Not a bad deal for the boater—and another design coup for Beneteau.
For more information, visit Groupe Beneteau.
- Zuzana Prochazka is a writer and photographer who freelances for a dozen boating magazines and websites. A USCG 100 Ton Master, Zuzana has cruised, chartered and skippered flotillas in many parts of the world and serves as a presenter on charter destinations and topics. She is the Chair of the New Product Awards committee, judging innovative boats and gear at NMMA and NMEA shows, and currently serves as immediate past president of Boating Writers International. She contributes to Boats.com and YachtWorld.com, and also blogs regularly on her boat review site, TalkoftheDock.com.