Capt. Steve Says...
Not many boats really excite me, but this...this was such a nice handling boat that I just shook my head and thought “the guy who bought this is one lucky S.O.B.” Rarely have I come across a boat that handles so smoothly and cleanly that I actually caught myself thinking that these guys at Formula really get it. And for the first time, I’m straying from my long held policy that when a boat reaches 30’ (3.1 m) it’s time to move to inboards for the close quarters handling. For me, this boat changed everything. Let’s get into this story and I’ll explain how this boat has a lot going on for a fortunate operator.
A Few Tricks up Her Sleeve
Starting with the most obvious, this Formula 400SS represented the first installation ever of the new Volvo Diesel Sterndrive Joystick. This turns a 41'6" (12.65 m) boat into an easy handling pussycat. Now, joysticks aren’t new so I won’t bore you with the pontification of how easy it is and how the boat can move in any direction… blah blah blah. Suffice it to say that it does exactly what it is supposed to do, and it does it quite nicely. The fact that this is connected to sterndrives hanging off of Volvo Penta D6 engines is, however, noteworthy. I look at this system as having multiple advantages. • Reliability • Fuel savings• Ease of handling• And the ease of transitioning from a smaller yacht to one this size is a substantial advantage and those who might have been nervous about their docking ability need only schedule a trial to be convinced. And it does all this without the expense of a bow thruster. That said, as well as the system worked, I think it can use one more feature. Joystick operation with one engine out. It shouldn’t be hard to program the system to disable a dead sterndrive and maintain control over a remaining operating engine, but for now, with one engine out, the joystick disengages.
But Wait, There’s More
The thought of having to trim the outdrives on a 40 something yacht is enough to make one cringe. I liken it to driving a Bentley with a stick shift… it just isn’t done. And that was a real deal breaker for me until I saw the EVC… Electronic Vessel Control. Basically, it’s an auto trim feature for the outdrives. Sitting idle, the drives are resting at -3 degrees, which will give you a decent hole shot, if you can call it that. As you come up on plane, the system reads the hull angle, with what I can only assume to be the electronic equivalent of a bubble level, and automatically starts trimming for best performance. And there are gauges for each outdrive that show you the changing angle of the drives.
If desired, you can override the system and make your own inputs, but I saw no need to do it in my trials, and you won’t either. There are trim tabs as well, but they would only be used for handling varying sea conditions or uneven distribution of weight. This was a cool boat and getting cooler by the minute. Adding the diesel sterndrive joystick has its expenses, the first of which is the engine upgrade. Base engines for the 400 SS are the MerCruiser 496 MAG High Output with Bravo III outdrives. Converting to the twin D6 370DPH engines which includes the EVC power trim assist will run you an extra $76,700. We haven’t got a firm price on the Diesel Sterndrive Joystick option as yet, but the most obvious move is to make a comparison with MerCruiser’s Axius which adds $23,740.
So What If We Do Lose an Engine
I’m glad you asked. Normally we don’t bother cutting out an engine on a test boat but this was a unique circumstance. This 400 SS was recently sold, and knowing it was about to be tested, the buyer added the caveat that if the boat were delivered with more than a certain number of hours, then a substantial reduction of price would apply. This would, in effect, prevent me from taking the boat to, say, the Bahamas (a very real concern). Not wanting to inflict this penalty on Formula, but still needing to allow for time to test, I ran out the channel to the test area on one engine, and back on another (sneaky bastards aren’t we?). It begs the question, what does it feel like if you lose an engine? The answer is, not much.
I did notice that the boat has the normal slow back and forth oscillation that you normally find on a single engine sterndrive. But more importantly, I also noticed that the steering was equally easy on both engines. In other words, Formula installs the power steering pumps on both engines, so that if you lose one, the other works as a backup. Not bad. I expected to have to drive like a trucker with two hands cranking the wheel and what I got was fingertip steering regardless of which engine was shut down. Then I decided I’d take it a step further and actually dock the 400 SS on one engine. I already mentioned my disappointment that the joystick auto-disabled itself, but I was not to be denied. As it turns out, docking on one engine was as effortless as with both due to the fact that we are still controlling an outdrive. Thus, handling and docking on one engine was a non event. Sorry.
This is where the 400 SS really shines. She handled solid as a rock through all maneuvers. We had a 31 PC as a chase boat for the cameraman and I had the driver speeding up and slowing down to create varying wakes. Then I tried to plow through, jump over, and otherwise soak the 400 SS in any way I could. It was not to be.
She took everything I could give it with a solid feel and a gentle ride through everything. Not a drop of spray on the deck or windshield. Not a single slam into a wave, I didn’t even have to over steer to prevent getting pushed aside while surfing down a wave. Heck, for that matter, I didn’t even spill my Coke that I laid on the dash. It was the smoothest, most graceful performing boat I’ve tested. This was a seriously cool boat. Still not to be content, I decided that this is a Formula and they’re known for taking whatever gets thrown at them. So I decided to drive it like a sportboat. I was going to crank and bank it until she showed her frailties. I made a max speed run (hitting over 47 mph) braced myself, and threw the wheel over to the stop. As if to roll her eyes and say “whatever”, the 400 SS carved through the turn just as if she were happy to do it. There was about a 10 degree heel and around we went without even needing to hang on. Cranking over to the opposite travel of the wheel, and she simply rolled to the opposite direction and made a graceful curve the other way. It was like we were on the dance floor. I was holding the wheel with my fingertips and hanging onto nothing. There was nothing I could do to generate an uncomfortable ride.
The Formula 400 SS has an empty weight of 17,100 lbs (7,756.4 kg) and with 3/4 fuel, and two persons, her test weight was 18,575 lbs (8,425.5 kg). She had a top speed of 47.2 mph (76 kph) and a best cruise reached at 2500 rpm of 28.8 mph (46.3 kph). At that best cruise, the 400 SS was burning 19 gph (71.9 lph) for a range of 341 miles (549 km). Clearly, I found the Formula 400 SS to be nothing short of a lady. True, I may have treated her rather unladylike at times, but she never faltered and stayed true to her pedigree. I was totally impressed with what I saw and could only reflect on how her new owner would receive her. I’m sure that I was just at the beginning of a long list of people that she was about to impress.
Test Result Highlights
- Top speed for the Formula 400 Super Sport (2010-) is 47.2 mph (76 kph), burning 41.0 gallons per hour (gph) or 155.18 liters per hour (lph).
Standard and Optional Features
|Outlet: 12-Volt Acc||Standard|
Boats More Than 30 Feet
|10 Years Yes|
|5 Years Yes|
|2 Years Yes|
|5 Years Yes|
|ISO Certification NMMA Certification||Yes|
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