Beneteau Gran Turismo

By: Kevin Green

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Italian inspired and French built, the new Beneteau Flyer Gran Turismo 44 sports cruiser has both performance and looks, reports Kevin Green.

Beneteau Gran Turismo
Beneteau Gran Turismo

Launched at the prestigious Cannes Boat Show, the new Gran Turismo 44 and flagship Gran Turismo 49 from French yacht builder Beneteau introduce a distinctly Italian look and feel, with the performance to match.

The debut of the new GT 44 and GT 49 extends the Gran Turismo model range to four and follows hard on the heel of the launch of the smaller but equally well-formed GT 34 and GT 38 two years ago.

The attraction of these sports cruisers is easy to see, with their combination of spacious accommodation and spirited performance ensuring a quick getaway and a luxurious on-board experience, relaxing in total comfort far from the madding crowd.

Having driven both the GT 49 and the GT 44, it is clear that both boats have considerable merits, but it is the smaller GT 44 that I would lean towards for the couple seeking an idyllic escape in a more easily-managed package, while giving up nothing in terms of on-board comforts and performance.

The GT 44 is obviously less expensive than its sister ship but it is not lacking in substance, with two comfortable double berths and adequate space below decks for live-aboard cruising, although it would benefit from larger fuel tanks for serious long-range passage making. Good engineering and clever design from the collaboration of Maserati and Ferrari ensure that style and substance combine on the GT 44 as a reflection of Italian Andreani's pen, meaning owners can really enjoy 'la dolce vita' – and not just on the Amalfi Coast.

At a glance

Berthed stern-to at the ancient port city of La Ciotat on the French Mediterranean coast, the Gran Turismo 44 looked very much at home. Raked lines to disguise high topsides, a teardrop wheelhouse and open-plan stern deck with wide swim platform certainly catch the eye.

Stepping aboard via the electric passerelle onto hard-wearing slatted decks is easy, as is opening the small gate that provides acces to the bridge deck. Here, the layout centres on a wraparound dinette lounge area to port, with the extended hardtop providing all-weather protection for al fresco dining and entertaining. The centrepiece is a large, fully-expandable and adjustable wooden table, which can be lowered to become a sun pad.

Up front, passengers enjoy the ride from a double seat alongside the skipper. The helm console is angled to provide a clear view of the boat's analogue gauges. Navigation smarts are from Raymarine, with a centrepiece e120 widescreen chart plotter and autopilot. The engine management gauges include Volvo Penta's EVC (Electronic Vessel Control) system, which allows you to click through various operating modes, such as low speed, single lever and cruise control. Down on the right and falling comfortably to hand is the IPS joystick and twin engine controls. A useful addition is the rudder-angle indicator.

Behind the helm station is a wet bar and grill in a compact unit, including a sink and the optional fridge and ice maker, along with useful bulkhead lockers for stowage.

The topside layout is stylish and functional, too, with generous side decks and high rails providing a safe passage for crew and guests moving forward to the bow. Up front you'll find a swivel bow fitting for the primary Delta anchor, linked in this case to a 1000W Lewmar vertical windlass with remote handset. A deep chain locker ensures plenty of drop and space within for the chain and warp.

Life below

Lighting and power controls are fitted at the stairwell exit for convenient access from both above and below. A sliding overhead hatch and port-side door separate the interior saloon from the helm station, with stairs that descend to the foot of the galley.

The galley is equipped with a two-burner ceramic hob, a small microwave oven and a 218-litre fridge-freezer. Counter space is adequate, with stylish white bench tops in easy reach of the dinette and dinette table. The latter can be lowered to convert to a bed if required.

Galley storage is reasonable, with overhead and under-sink cupboards, while opposite you'll find bookshelves each side of an opening port in the topsides, providing a glimpse of life outside.

The GT's interior is stylish and functional and although the joinery does have a CNC-machined look, it is nevertheless deeply lustrous. Nice touches include the tall fridge-freezer's wooden door and leather-wrapped grab rail on the stairwell.

Natural light floods into the cabin – even when the large foredeck sun pad is being used – through a port-side skylight located forward on the helm station bulkhead.

The accommodation plan puts the owner's suite amidships, with the advantage of being the most stable area on the boat while underway at sea. It also utilises the boat's maximum 3.93m beam and although it is close to the engine room, owners will enjoy the apartment-style space and feel and the comfort of the island-style bed, fitted with sumptuous double mattresses.

The en suite has dual access from the cabin and the saloon, making it a useful day head when guests are on board.

For relaxing, a chaise lounge is nestled in by the port-side window, with a nearby opening port for ventilation, while elongated topside windows provide ample natural light. To starboard you'll find useful lockers and a small bench, which might have been better employed as a small vanity table. One slight gripe is varied headroom within the cabin, which could give rise to occasional head-to-bulkhead moments.

The guest cabin is located at the forepeak and is similarly well appointed. Although being about 2m2 smaller, it still manages an island double with surrounding shelves and twin wardrobes. Ambient light is abundant from the topside port lights, opening overhead hatches and LED spotlights. Adjoining the cabin is the bathroom. Similar to that in the master cabin, it is nicely appointed with a shower cubicle, moulded sink and electric head.

Looking around below decks, the area is entirely liveable and not in the least bit stuffy should you need to close the topside off in inclement weather. Just turn up your favourite Jimmy Buffet album on the Pioneer sound system and it is party time, thanks to quality Bose speakers fitted throughout the boat.

The hull

The GT hull and deck are conventionally built with GRP balsa core sandwich construction. What's not so conventional is the clever layout. Computer-aided design has allowed designers to utilise every space within the hull and it is here that Beneteau excels on many fronts, one of which is the electrically -operated dinghy garage that cleverly adjoins the full-beam swim platform. Cavernous for a 44-footer, it is fitted with rollers for the easy deployment of a 2.4m inflatable tender with outboard attached.

Beneath this is a large, sealed engine room hatch cover, which exposes just enough space around the boat's twin 370hp Volvo Penta D6-series diesels for basic maintenance.

The engine room layout has twin 400-litre fuel tanks positioned in front of each engine, with space for the 6kVA Onan generator. The genset is optional but you'll need it to run the 220V air-conditioning and additional appliances when at sea. Other tankage is spread throughout the forward part of the hull to help ensure a level trim.

Stored power comprises a bank of eight 12V batteries (four engine batteries rated at 50amp/h, plus four 140amp/h service batteries). Output power includes a 12V/24V inverter and there's also a 24V 60amp/h battery charger.

The external hull has a unique underside, thanks to Beneteau's patented Air Step design which designers say sucks air down the topsides and under the waterline to reduce friction. Beneteau says the promotion of airflow under the waterline results in more efficient planing, thus better fuel economy. What I did notice during a sea trial in lumpy conditions was a dampened feel in the boat's motion.

At sea

With the remnants of a typically fierce mistral wind blowing across the dock, the IPS joystick system was a welcome aid to combat topside windage and clear the quay without incident. Pressing the button by the joystick locks the helm and centralises the drives, leaving you to simply push the joystick in your desired direction of travel. It's fairly intuitive, too. To turn, you simply twist the joystick. Of course, there's a lot of clever electronics behind all this but the fly-by-wire system means the joystick can be positioned anywhere, which is particularly handy for left-handed skippers.

Accelerating away from the busy harbour, the GT 44 was smooth onto the plane, as we headed towards a clear horizon and open spaces to release all 740 horses. The boat's top speed, with six on board, topped out at 32.4 knots, reached in about 25 seconds – the rev counters winding through to 3400rpm.

At wide open throttle, the GT 44 consumed 150 litres of fuel per hour. Throttling back to a comfortable 27-knot cruise saw fuel use drop dramatically to a more affordable 102 litres per hour for a range of about 195 nautical miles.

Banking the GT 44 into a series of tight S-turns took little off the top speed, albeit on a calm sea. Busy traffic off the French coast required the crew to keep a sharp lookout in every direction and this wasn't made any easier by the window overhangs and structural bulkheads, which limited surrounding views. We were even buzzed by a military seaplane, so it was handy the GT 44 was fitted with an electric hardtop which slid open quickly with the single click of a button.

Slow-speed manoeuvring presented no dramas, using only fore and aft movements on the throttles to spin the boat around in her own length. Docking with the IPS was effortless and had the big hull moving sideways through the water, with bow thruster and propellers working in unison.

In summary, I'd say the Beneteau Flyer Gran Turismo 44 earns its GT moniker, mixing good on-the-water performance and speed with Italian flair and style, in what is a spacious and sea-kindly hull.

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