- … this boat is probably the most perfect driving machine I’ve ever helmed.
- … if you want a superb driver’s boat with a beamy cockpit and a compact cuddy cabin, it’s a truly amazing piece of work.
- … the GT 229 has become my new yardstick for how the perfect sports boat ought to behave.
Glastron GT 229
Alex Smith steps aboard a 70s-style sports cuddy from a company with a heritage in serious sporting platforms.
As I sit by the waterfront, eating my lunch, just a stone’s throw from Marseilles, it’s difficult not to notice the change in the weather. The sun has been heating the land all morning and the customary afternoon winds are beginning to kick in. As the clock ticks, there’s no doubt that the seas will be getting lumpier, but having heard my peers swapping notes on the assembled boats, there’s every reason to suspect that our test craft will be well able to cope.
Word has it that the GT 229 is far more capable than it looks – and it appears to be quite a pleasant anomaly in other ways too. For instance, although it forms part of Glastron’s GT line, it’s the only model among those nine GT craft that deviates from the bowrider format. In this unique case, what we get instead is a traditional sporting cuddy layout – and its classical Glastron 70s styling is equally idiosyncratic. I can see it from my table, and with its flat, tapering bow, its beamy open cockpit, its impossibly low-slung profile and its swept hull graphics, it’s as retro a boat as you will see on the modern fibreglass cuddy market.
With the boat tied up by the bow in the regular Mediterranean style, stepping on board the GT 229 makes two more things equally apparent: firstly, the flat foredeck is usefully clutter-free; and secondly, the step down into the cockpit is as much a challenge as a user aid. It is set so low, beneath the edge of the dash moulding on the starboard side, that if you’re not relatively young or athletic, you may very well struggle with it. In the UK, of course, where you’re much more likely to board from the swim platform, that’s not such a big deal, but it’s still a feature that could do with a rethink.
In any case, once you’re in the 1970s … sorry, the cockpit … things feel much more user-friendly. Behind the two swivelling bucket seats, a comfy, sheltered, C-shaped bench seat wraps around the entire periphery of the space. It’s a very straightforward and familiar layout, but to help add some versatility to the mix, the full-beam sunbathing area at the transom has a couple of tricks in store. The cushions can be reconfigured to open up a walk-through passageway to starboard, and you can also elevate the central cushion to create a compact bench seat that faces aft over the swim platform. This cup holder-equipped position is easily big enough for two, and it can be fully rigged without troubling the occupants of the permanent forward-facing bench.
Back up at the helm, the dash furniture is very stylish, but in parts it’s also quite poorly executed. For instance, the co-pilot’s glovebox lid is constructed from extraordinarily flimsy plastic, and the retro-looking faux wood panels on either side of the wheel, with their ranks of charming metal toggle switches, feel far too lightweight to last. The access to the cabin is also very tight for a sensibly sized adult, and while that very flat foredeck enables the GT 229 to carry off its 70s look with great panache, it does of course limit your headroom down below. In fairness, however, the bed’s footprint is extremely good, particularly in terms of its width, and there’s also a useful space for a compact Portaloo beneath the cockpit sole. But there’s not enough room to sit down here in comfort, so (as you would expect of a purist sporting cuddy) it really is just a place to sleep for the night or to stow your day’s baggage so you can keep the big cockpit clean and open.
A Drive to Remember
Nestle in behind the wheel and while there’s no storage for small items and no integrated rest for your throttle arm, everything else is exactly as you would have it. There are foot braces moulded into the deck for both the skipper and the co-pilot, the seats are cosseting and easily adjustable, and both protection and visibility feel first-rate.
When you get underway, things feel even better. The boat planes in about 3 seconds, hits well over 40 knots and delivers lovely throttle response throughout. Despite the evident efficiency of the hull, it also offers an easy low-speed plane of 20 knots at about 3000rpm – and if the formulaic symmetry of the internal layout is faintly uninteresting, there’s no doubt that it helps lend this boat an integrity of balance that you can really feel.
In a following sea, the ability to trim and squirt, surf and leap, gives a huge amount of fun. You never feel like the plunging slope of a swell or the rising face of the one ahead is likely to catch you unawares – and it’s the same both across and into the seas. Launch it onto the crests and it immediately gives you the confidence to keep the pace on and stay there. There’s no hint of the head sea lifting our bows, and because we’re sliding, slicing and skipping across the seascape rather than having to ease back and engage with the troughs, it feels extraordinarily soft-riding as well as extremely fast.
All of this sees us upping the ante, bit by bit, to see how she responds, and remarkably, despite seas that witness every other boat in our test fleet easing back to little more than a basic 20-knot plane, we find ourselves at wide-open throttle, with an easy 45 knots on the clock. More to the point, it’s not just me enjoying it. In stark contrast to the passengers on the various other boats with their pained, white-knuckle grimaces, the two guys on board with me have relaxed smiles on their faces – one of them in the deep-set protection of the nav seat and the other stretched out casually as though he’s about to doze off in the middle of the aft bench.
This particular test boat uses a MAG 350 – and while that engine’s no longer available as part of the standard package, MerCruiser’s 6.2-litre 300hp unit ought to provide balance and grunt of a very similar order. You could, of course, save £5,000 by opting for the base 250hp engine, but on a boat of this dynamic calibre, that would be an appalling example of false economy. The fact that, with the 300hp option, the GT 229’s immersive driving experience made me forget (for the first and only time in my career) to compile a chart of detailed performance data tells you everything you need to know …
This boat is so astonishingly good – so quick, so agile, so comfortable, so smooth, so responsive and so exciting – that it’s actually got me reconsidering how I feel about other boats. In particular, it’s compelled me to reconsider my standpoint on the various outboard cuddies that the market likes to describe as ‘sporting’. I’ve gone a little further than that too – trawling back through my stock of more than 600 professional boat tests over the last 15 years, and hard though I’ve tried to find something that can outdo it, the GT 229 has become my new yardstick for how the perfect sports boat ought to behave.
With its GT badge, its forward cuddy, its retro styling and its low-cut profile, this boat was always likely to throw up a few surprises. Certainly, the looks are an acquired taste, the cabin’s tight, and some of the finish feels cheap and flimsy, but this boat is probably the most perfect driving machine I’ve ever helmed. If you want broad versatility of application, cutting-edge aesthetics or the last word in luxury, you won’t find it here. But if you want a superb driver’s boat with a beamy cockpit and a compact cuddy cabin, it’s a truly amazing piece of work.
- Good price
- Great balance
- Wonderful helm response
- Memorable driving experience
- Tight cabin access
- Awkward foredeck step
- No helm storage
- Flimsy trim in parts
Fuel capacity: 151 litres
Freshwater capacity: 45 litres
People capacity: 9
Test engine: MerCruiser MAG 350
With 300hp engine: £54,399