These four boats are generally similar -- they all have enclosed heads, all have sterndrive power starting at twin 300-hp gas engines, all have the usual assortment of bench and lounge seating fore and aft. But they differ in the details -- and we predict one of them will light your fire more than the others. That is why it is important to “drill down.”
The Sea Ray SLX 310 has the room and equipment for serious day cruising. She weighs 10,787 lb. dry, and her extra weight means extra comfort, especially when punching through a chop. We tested the SLX 310 with standard power, twin 250-hp MerCruiser Bravo III sterndrives, and found 44.1 mph top speed, and efficient cruise in the low-20-knot range. If you need more power, Sea Ray offers several engine options, up to twin 350-hp MerCruisers, with Axius joystick control; there's also a twin 260-hp diesel option. (And an outboard version, the SLX 310 OB.)
The SLX 310 comes with a standard water sports tower with integrated Bimini top; a fiberglass hardtop is optional, with or without a canvas sunroof.
Important Details. The SLX 310 has seating for 17 people, more than most pontoon boats are rated for. She comes with a touch screen instrument panel, a VacuFlush head and the MerCruiser engines are built by Brunswick Corp., which also owns Sea Ray.
Regal's 3200, like the other boats in this roundup, has an enclosed head compartment, but it's particularly well-done with a full-sized toilet, walnut cabinets, a sink with pressure water, and "soft-step" sole. An electric toilet, overboard discharge and opening port are optional. There's a “step-in” locker in the console opposite the head, and more stowage in the cockpit sole. Coolers fore and aft, a refreshment center with sink, a marine stereo with smart-phone integration, and stainless-steel hardware are standard.
The standard arch lowers hydraulically for sneaking under low bridges, and comes with a sunshade. We tested the 9,000-lb. Regal 3200 with twin 300-hp Volvo Penta sterndrives, and hit a top speed of 51.2 mph. If that's not enough, engine options range up to MerCruisers 430-hp 8.2 L engine. Twin 220-hp diesels are available.
Important Details. She was the quickest of the four boats on plane at 2.7 seconds, and at 10’4” she is the beamiest, nearly a foot wider than the smallest boat in our quartet. There is a centerline walkthrough to the stern platform, which is unusual.
The Formula 310 Bowrider has raceboat DNA in her fibers: Go-fast legend Don Aronow founded Formula in 1962, and that heritage shows in today's 310 Bowrider: The hull-to-deck joint is chemically bonded and through-bolted for maximum strength, and guarded by a stainless steel rubrail; cavities in the hull structure are foam-filled for added support and to keep noise at a minimum; the engine room rigging is as neat as a pin, with nary a wire nor hose out of place; and the helm is fitted with Livorsi instrumentation, shifts and throttles, with waterproof rocker switches that are illuminated and circuit-breaker protected.
The dual helm/companion seat has reversible backs, and can be quickly converted to aft-facing lounges. Blue and white courtesy lights illuminate the cockpit and swim platform at night, giving a Euro-style disco glow that also preserves night vision. Engine options are typical for boats in this class. Our test showed a top speed of 50.1 mph with 300 MerCruisers -- fast, but we'd spring for twin MerCruiser 380s, at least, and get another few knots – 58.0 mph in our test of the Formula 310 FX5.
Important Details. A painted hull is optional, something that most every customer opts for. The “Formula Flex” program allows buyers to specify upholstery, instrument panel and other cosmetic details from a wide selection; “My Way” makes many aspects of the boat customizable.
The Four Winns H290 (a 30-footer, despite the model name) rides on the company's “Stable Vee” hull, which has an aft step in the bottom to reduce drag. Extended running surfaces aft, outboard of the sterndrives, shorten time-to-plane numbers and reduce bow rise slightly. On deck, the H290's has an enclosed head compartment -- but Four Winns adds a separate sleeping cabin, too. It's a small cabin, with only a single berth and crouching headroom, but it'll be a great hideout for kids, or even adults desperate for a nap.
Large hullside windows light both compartments, just like in Euro-style megayachts. Asymmetrical seating in the forward cockpit creates an L-lounge and a 2-seater forward-facing bench with headrests, or filler cushions make a second lounge or a full-beam sun pad. At just 8,500 lbs. (the lightest boat in this quartet), the H290 is responsive to horsepower: Our test boat hit 51.9 mph with twin 300-hp Volvo Pentas. The boat is also available with MerCruiser engines up to 430-hp. All the engine choices have digital controls; joysticks are optional.
Important Details. Bothe the helm seat and the lounge seat are electrically adjustable, something rarely seen in class. The boat comes is a choice of standard gel coat colors, and the head has a standard VacuFlush toilet.