Leadline — November 2002
A New Line: Events proved that column was right.
Back in July I devoted this column to speculation that Brunswick Corporation was about to reconfigure its Bayliner and Maxum lines and introduce a new line of cruisers called Meridian. The column generated a surprising amount of mail, including a note from one amateur sleuth who did an impressive patent search in support of his theory and a number of owners and admirers of Bayliner motoryachts who are concerned that their favorite boats might disappear.
Subsequent events proved that column was right on a few things. Bayliner motoryachts are indeed no more. As part of Brunswick’s U.S. Marine division, it now concentrates on cost-conscious boats up to the low-30-foot range, leaving larger models to Maxum and the new Meridian, five of which—the 341, 381, and 411 Sedans and the 540 and 560 Pilothouses—were introduced to the press, dealers, and financial types at New York City’s Chelsea Piers in August. I was able to spend about 20 minutes on each there, hardly time enough to grant them a fair evaluation but long enough to form initial impressions.
I can tell you that Meridians have distinctive styling, bearing resemblance to neither the Bayliners they replace nor to Meridian’s sister division’s Sea Rays. The look is sculpted and curvy—up-to-date but in no way radical. I thought all were well proportioned except for the 341, whose bridge seemed a bit big for its hull.
Despite reports that Meridian designers were told to “leave convention behind,” the boats impressed me as fine but hardly revolutionary vessels. Much was made of the proprietary D.O.C. (Docking On Command) joystick maneuvering system—so much that many attendees thought it was standard, which would have really set the line apart. Alas, it’s optional.
The layouts of four of the five Meridians reminded me of the Bayliner models they replace but with nicer materials like cherry woodwork and Karadon countertops. Fit and finish were spotty, not surprising given the logistics of simultaneously bringing five new boats to market. I think it’s reasonable to expect the quality of production models to well exceed that of the prototypes I saw.
Only the 411 impressed me as a really new boat, and I suspect it is what the future really holds for Meridian. That’s why we’ve chosen it as the first Meridian to test. On my brief tour of it, I saw no new technological or design breakthroughs, but rather a solidly designed, thoroughly modern cruiser attractively priced—significantly below a comparable Sea Ray, one dealer told me. Look for more details in George Petrie’s test in this issue.
More Meridians are coming, including the first of a line of aft cabins, the 408. It will be totally new (there were no aft-cabin Bayliners, nor are there any Maxums) and will debut at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. We’ll test the 408 too.
Still unanswered is what will happen to Maxum. The line currently ranges from an 18-foot bowrider to a 46-foot sport yacht, and given the Bayliner-Meridian-Sea Ray spread, I wonder if at least some of its 19 models aren’t redundant, especially those in the Meridian range. U.S. Marine officials say the future of Maxum is a totally separate issue from the introduction of Meridian and point out that the brand, particularly the larger cruisers, is solid and successful.
Meridians will be sold by the largest of the current Sea Ray dealers and some former Bayliner motoryacht dealers. That’s a smart move, as it places a new line—that, like any new line, will inevitably have teething problems—with people who have a proven service record. Given the rabid competition in this size range, top-notch service could prove to be the real edge that makes Meridian a success.
This article originally appeared in the November 2002 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.