By Steven Bull
If you’re anything like me, when you hear the name Beneteau you think of sailboats. I’ve seen plenty around and there are a handful of them in my marina. The family-owned French boat builder has been in the game for 130 years, but they also make some tremendous powerboats that are as stylish and clever as their sailing cousins.
The Gran Turismo 38 – commonly, the GT38 – looks quite similar to its competitors at first glance. Beyond the surface, however, is where things are intensely different. Beneteau has developed what it calls AirStep technology and is featured on the model we took out on a crisp, sunny morning last fall.
In short, it means the stern third of the hull is cut out to serve as a pocket. On either side of the hull, well above the waterline, are air intakes. They funnel air back, down and under the hull into the cut out so that at speed, and while accelerating, the stern of the boat is propped up on a pocket of air.
Does it work? Beneteau has complex descriptions and detailed videos on their website demonstrating the AirStep and in my experience it does indeed pop onto plane much faster than you expect. It runs along feeling lighter in the water than, for example, my own 15-year-old, 38-foot cruiser.
Zero-to-plane took just six seconds, which is quite staggering compared to what I’m used to. Cruise speed is comfortable and peppy in the 25-30 knot range (28-35 miles per hour).
Handling is responsive to say the least, banking so sharply in corners that it actually is one of my complaints (that complaint is more related to the structural design than the handling itself).
The windshield is a massive single pane of glass that offers unobstructed views dead ahead, but that means in the corners – the 10-o’clock and 2-o’clock – there are pillars to hold up the hardtop with sliding sunroof. When turning, the supports obstruct the lateral views, especially in turns when you’re banking hard. Though, if the roof is open you can see through it.
The rest of the design is clever and stylish. The swim platform is massive, with plenty of space for deck chairs and even a table for outdoor dining. The cockpit is dominated by bench seating wrapped around a wooden table on the port side and a rear-facing lounger opposite.
The helm is dead centre with a raised captain’s chair wide enough for two. The controls are as modern as the design with large Simrad multifunction display and joystick steering controls.
With the huge windshield pushed forward on a sweeping angle, there is room for a frosted skylight on the starboard side that allows light into the head. The access door to the interior salon down below opens and slides back and, when closed, allows natural light to flood in thanks to the clear design.
Down below, there is a port side settee with galley opposite all in bright cherry wood and white colouring. The bow stateroom features drawers below the bed and multiple windows – including a hatch on the ceiling that is placed in front of a bow sun pad.
The stateroom amidships is full-beam and mostly bedding, but the light and bright colours help open up the otherwise smaller space. With so much open seating up above, the compact salons down below are more functional than spacious and that’s fine.
Beneteau is a well-known name in sailboats and has a solid reputation for motor yachts across the pond, but with the GT38 and their AirStep hull, I think we’ll be seeing more of these in our backyard in the coming years.
TEST BOAT ENGINE
Volvo Penta 300 Diesel
0-plane / 6 seconds
35 knots (40.2 mph)
25-30 knots (28-35 mph)
Length: 37 ft 7 in / 11.45 m
Beam: 12 ft 2 in / 3.7 m
Weight: 16,199 lbs / 7,347.7 kg
Fuel Capacity: 2x (172 gals / 227 L)
Price: $500,000 as tested
Speed testing by Simrad
This test is featured in the Spring 2016 issue of Boats&Places.