Formula 400 Super SportBy Capt. Bill Pike
Born to Boogie
Formula puts race-bred vitality into its latest family-friendly cruiser.
I’m cool with the fact that most of the boats I test drive these days are a bit ponderous. Although most big contemporary motoryachts take a measured approach to top speed, they typically compensate with a veritable trove of charms, from living areas that seem impossibly elegant and capacious to styling touches that evoke everything from science fiction to the theatrics of bygone eras.
But many years ago, during what now seems like a totally different era, things were different. I was routinely test-driving smaller but much livelier vessels—race-bred screamin’ meemies from builders such as Skater, Super Hawaii, Wellcraft, Fountain, Apache, Cigarette, and Formula. Not only were my behind-the-wheel experiences exhilarating, they were also addictive, a fact I’d almost plumb forgotten until I jumped aboard Formula’s latest stern-drive-powered performance cruiser, the 400 Super Sport.
Yeah, the boat was not exactly a competition racer with a gutted interior, but her aggressive, nose-up profile, double-step hull, and eye-popping Imron graphics certainly proclaimed a fire-breathing lineage. Formula’s been building fast, impeccably crafted monohulls for APBA and other competitions around the world since the days of Don Aronow, after all. And it continues to enthusiastically embrace the race helm today.
I studied the 400’s helm station as I slid easily into her helm seat, one of two baseball-stitched, Prefixx-protected, DriFast-foam-filled beauties, each with a fold-up bolster. The wheel was a racy, adjustable-tilt Dino with attractive mahogany inserts and three symmetrical spokes—perfect for the non-centering steering applications that go with the boat’s several powerplant options. The sticks—electronic single-lever types from Volvo Penta—were comfortably positioned (and bevel-mounted) beneath my right hand, with Bennett tab rockers mounted just forward of them for easy, fingertip access. Drive-trim switches were to the left of the rockers and so near I figured I’d have no trouble intuitively shifting from one to the other while keeping my eyes either on the road ahead or on the two trim gauges, installed high and just to the right of the small, centrally located Ritchie compass.
Dials and gauges were go-fast prioritized, with virtually everything important front and center. Our Raymarine E120W chartplotter—part of an optional $22,340 Raymarine electronics package—was directly over the wheel. Fuel gauges were just above. The depthsounder and autopilot were only slightly to the right of the wheel, and the analog engine gauges (oil pressure, water temperature, etc.) were mounted to the left, along with Volvo Penta’s engine-info panel, the only critical component I’d say deserved a way more centralized, easy-to-keep-tabs-on placement.
At any rate, my ol’ ticker was tickin’ big-time as I sat behind the wheel in the open waters of northern Biscayne Bay, with the throttles in neutral, my butt bolster-stabilized, and my feet splayed with anticipation against a footrest skimmed with optional PlasDeck, a traction-enhancing vinyl material designed to resemble teak decking. Our engines, a relatively tame (at least by comparison with the other gasoline-fired options Formula offers for the boat) pair of 370-hp Volvo Penta D6-370 diesels, burbled cooly as I began throttling up, with the western end of MacArthur Causeway way off in the distance. Sea conditions on the bay were superb—a two-foot chop’s just the thing for airing out a super slippery Formula FasTech running surface.
The ensuing experience was—you guessed it—pure blast-from-the-past nostalgia although the 400 achieved only a “sensible” top-end speed of 46.7 mph, at least by screamin’ meemie standards. And what’s more, she came pretty close to satisfying my resurgent need for speed thanks to the superb way she performed while bopping across the chop between Belle Isle and the Causeway. Running attitudes at speed, for example, were low and efficient. The extra steering leverage that typifies any stern-drive propulsion package, coupled with a responsive Volvo Penta electronic steering system, made turns so tight they juddered my eyeballs sideways. And dealing with the three-spoke Dino with my left hand while I manipulated tab rockers and trim switches with my right (I abjured Volvo’s auto-adjusting Trim Assistant in favor of the manual approach) proved so intuitively easy that I rarely had to glance down, except to occasionally check the plotter’s cartography.
One more piece of pizazz remained in the offing, however. After I’d finished the rousing, open-water portion of our sea trial, I throttled down to slo-mo mode and began checking out the operation of our 400’s optional Volvo Aquamatic Joystick, the first ever on a Formula. The Aquamatic system is designed to produce close-quarters performance characteristics that mimic the capabilities of Volvo’s IPS, but via a set of individually steerable stern drives rather than pods. It adds $34,825 to the 400’s bottom line and, once I’d used it to walk the boat sideways, crab her diagonally, and then spin her around, I came away with two distinct impressions.
First, the system does indeed offer pod-like maneuverability in a stern-drive application. Second, the system’s joystick response seems somewhat slow and rough by comparison with IPS. Gear changes while I maneuvered were noticeably clunky, and the maneuvers that resulted seemed relatively lethargic, most likely because our stern-drive units were much farther aft than a set of pods would have been, thus placing them farther from the optimal locus of motion for lateral thrust.
I concluded my Aquamatic adventures with a tour of the 400’s interior. As a Formula rep kept traffic watch topside, I went below to examine the aft-cabin (with a super-comfy, queen-size Sensus memory-foam mattress), the convertible dinette area forward (with UltraLeather upholstered U-shape lounge and dual-height cherry dining table with fill-in cushions), and, in between, both the head to starboard (with separate shower stall and VacuFlush MSD) and the galley to port (with cooktop, stainless steel refrigerator/freezer, and nifty Krups blender at the ready). The finish throughout was top-notch and the amenity quotient included everything from Sirius/XM radio to an OceanAir Skysol pleated-blind system for the ports.
Let’s face it, though. While cruising comforts certainly abound aboard Formula’s race-bred 400 Super Sport, there’s no denying her real mission—this baby was born to boogie. And boogie she did—I gotta tell ya—all the lovely circuitous way back to her slip behind the Biscayne Bay Marriott.
Formula (800) 736-7685.
This article originally appeared in the July 2010 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.