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Prestige 500S

The sporty Prestige 500S brings Gallic charm to North American shores.

November 29, 2011
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Prestige 500S

You can describe the Prestige 500S with four words: Very elegant. Very reasonable.

The luxurious Prestige yachts are built by Groupe Beneteau — the huge French boatbuilding conglomerate whose Beneteau and Jeanneau sailing yachts populate charter fleets worldwide and whose Lagoon catamarans have dominated the cruising catamaran market. Although this cool and stylish yacht is as different from other Groupe Beneteau products as a Rolls-Royce is from a Chevy, the Prestige series still takes advantage of all the industrialization, buying power and building technology of the Groupe Beneteau empire, which keeps the price reasonable and the standards high.

See the complete photo gallery here.

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You can describe the Prestige 500S with four words: Very elegant. Very reasonable.

The luxurious Prestige yachts are built by Groupe Beneteau — the huge French boatbuilding conglomerate whose Beneteau and Jeanneau sailing yachts populate charter fleets worldwide and whose Lagoon catamarans have dominated the cruising catamaran market. Although this cool and stylish yacht is as different from other Groupe Beneteau products as a Rolls-Royce is from a Chevy, the Prestige series still takes advantage of all the industrialization, buying power and building technology of the Groupe Beneteau empire, which keeps the price reasonable and the standards high.

See the complete photo gallery here.

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Really more of a coupe than an express cruiser, the 500S shares the same sweet Michael Peters-designed hull as the 500 Flybridge that was crafted specifically for Volvo Penta IPS pod-drives. The three-strake, hard-chine hull flattens out quickly aft, giving the pods good water flow as well as increasing the stability at rest. The result is a yacht that is comfortable and dry in a chop, fast (at 30 knots) and economical.

My first impression was that the 500S has more big windows than Captain Nemo’s Nautilus, but I was also impressed that the windows in the topsides are subtly recessed so that you won’t be rubbing glass against pilings. The cockpit isn’t particularly large for a 50-footer, but it isn’t wasting space either, and there’s room for a wraparound settee with table. I liked the optional cockpit controls for the engines, which fold out of the starboard house and make handling a cinch for couples. Our test 500 had the optional passerelle (which is mostly useless for Americans). The cockpit and swim platform are planked in teak.

The aft-galley layout is growing in popularity, since it seems to create a natural flow with food and drink going either forward to the salon or aft to the cockpit. It doesn’t make for the most elegant entry into the yacht, especially if you left the breakfast dishes in the sink, but it keeps the cook in the middle of the living areas, both inside and out.

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With the galley set to port, the empty area to starboard forces the creation of a buffet counter, but Prestige has handled this nicely by providing stowage for china and glassware underneath and hinged doors for the electrical panels above the counter.

What is particularly impressive about this galley location is that Prestige designed (and patented) an unusual cockpit door that allows the three sliders to be locked into multiple positions. Two of the sliders can open wide for guests to enter the salon on the starboard side, or you can center all three sliders, which allows food and drink to be carried directly from the galley to the cockpit. A slick idea.

The galley is très chic, with a three-burner Schott glass/ceramic cooktop, a Vitrifrigo stand-up refrigerator and a microwave at knee level under the counter. Prestige keeps the price down by skipping the usual marble countertops, and it earns points for the stainless-steel backsplashes and removable sink and stove covers but loses points for the absence of fiddles on the counters. I’d also like to see an automatic cut-off switch so the cooktop is turned off when the resin covers are in place over it.

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Otherwise, if you have a power loss while the stove is on and then replace the covers, you’ll torch them inadvertently when the power returns.

One step up from the galley/cockpit level is the salon, with seating for six on two facing settees. The settee to port isn’t really U-shape, since the two end seats have armrests, but you can put four to six people (depending on their beam) around the cocktail table that unfolds for dining. Prestige continues to watch costs by using a stitched leatherlike vinyl on the upholstery. It’s very realistic and soft and doesn’t have the maintenance issues of real leather (which is available as an option).

A pop-up TV hinges up from the dashboard, which seems an uneasy design since only one seat gets to view the TV head-on: Everyone else has to sit sideways on the settees to see it. Better to hide the TV behind the settee to starboard for more comfy viewing, but there may not be enough space.

I saw a lot of great design ideas aboard the 500S, but one that really captured my imagination is the 36-square-foot sunroof, which slides open at the touch of a switch. Starting just behind the brim of the windshield, it opens the area above the helm and dining table to fresh air, and a pair of windows on each side of the salon roll down electrically to add some breeze. What a delight it would be to enjoy a pleasant dinner inside, yet with the stars overhead!

The joinery throughout the Prestige 500S is Alpilignum, which is a reconstituted material with multiple veneers of dyed woods. (And I thought only the gods made wood!) It is absolutely flawless, which is the good news and the bad news. Real wood has flaws, and some people might mistake this as some version of wood-grained Formica. On the positive side, if you take a chunk out of the finish on a locker door, the replacement from Prestige will match exactly.

With only one helm station, it’s no surprise that it is comfortable and thoughtfully arranged. The entire dashboard is finished in a rubbery coating that doesn’t reflect into the steeply raked windshield. Our test 500S had a pair of Raymarine E120/Widescreen displays and the Volvo Penta electronic panel, but for old fuddy-duddies like me, there is a pair of analog tachometers just below the line of sight forward. I also found having a rudder angle indicator to be a thoughtful addition, even with pod-drives.

One dashboard item that surprised me was a bow-thruster joystick just behind the expected joystick for the Volvo Penta IPS pod-drives. But I have to say that, while pod drives are the answer to maneuvering in many cases, there are a few times (strong winds, for example) when you’d like to shove just the bow around. Prestige gets credit for a sort of belt-and-suspenders approach that you will appreciate.

The guest quarters are forward and down from the salon, and the steps on which you descend hinge upward on gas lifts to reveal a wired and plumbed location for an optional washer and dryer. A guest or kids cabin to port has twin singles, with stowage bins under the bunks and a surprisingly large hanging locker. The day-head is opposite, with a Vacuflush MSD toilet and Euro-style vessel sink.

The shower was a puzzlement to me at first, until I realized that Lucite panels hinge from the bulkheads to enfold you, origami-like, in a self-draining stall shower that doesn’t soak the entire head. Vastly better than those dreadful shower curtains that want to stick all over you, it also allows for a larger-than-expected shower area.

Forward, the larger guest cabin is very cleverly designed so that what appears to be a pair of single berths scissors together easily to become a queen-size berth, providing flexibility for couples or kids to use the cabin. There is a private entry to the day-head, and, thanks to the large windows in the hull, every cabin (including the head) has a view.

Something I found particularly appealing about the 500S is the split floor plan. Rather than owner and guests all sharing a common foyer to the cabins, the owner’s stateroom has private access from steps opposite the galley, and it is here that you will find one of the real benefits of the IPS drives. Pod-drives make the boat more maneuverable, but they also move the engines much farther aft, which, in this case, allows for a full-beam master suite with a centerline queen berth. Two immense windows provide a great view and, with opening ports, fresh air. The port side has a pair of seats separated by a table with built-in vanity, and the cabin has an oversize hanging locker. To starboard is a counter with stowage below. The en suite head has a full stall shower.

Pod-drives also move the source of noise away from the living areas, and the Prestige 500S is an extremely quiet boat. Even at full throttle, my decibel meter never tagged 80 and conversations were carried on at normal levels.

The tender garage is reached through the hinged transom. It can hold a 10-foot inflatable complete with outboard. A remote-controlled electric winch and keel rollers make launching and retrieving the tender effortless.

Two hatches from the cockpit lead to the port and starboard sides of this divided engine room, and, though space is tight, there is access to all the usual service points and checkpoints. There are two doors from the engine room into the lazarette, where jack drives from the engines terminate at the pods.

On deck, the Prestige clearly draws on the seamanlike qualities of Beneteau and Jeanneau sailboats, with high stainless-steel rails surrounding the deck, grab rails everywhere, a recessed anchor windlass in the foredeck and a warping winch on the port corner of the stern.

I’m not a fan of sun pads, being of an age where I’m now putting my dermatologist’s kids through Harvard. But the foredeck sun pad on the Prestige 500S was alluring. Its backrests tilt up to form chaises, and it has its own Bimini top. At anchor, with a nice breeze, a cold drink and a hot paperback, this could be my favorite place.

Under way, the 500S gets up to a freckle shy of 30 knots, and planing at 2250 rpm, the speed and fuel consumption curves bend nicely to a comfortable and economical 14.6 knots at exactly one nautical mile per gallon. With the usual 10 percent margin, you’ll run about 310 nautical miles on a tank of fuel.

The Prestige 500S is stylish and comfortable, fast without melting your fuel credit card and unquestionably well built. Equally appealing, she’s priced far below many competitors without her features. And that surely warrants an ooh la-la.

Test Conditions: Speeds were measured by GPS off Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with flat seas and light winds, with ½ load of fuel, no water and two people aboard. Fuel consumption was calculated by the electronic engine-monitoring system. Sound levels were measured at the helm.

RPM Knots GPH dB(A)
600 4.0 .6 62
900 5.5 1.2 62
1200 7.1 2.0 64
1500 8.1 5.3 64
1800 8.5 8.2 66
2100 10.2 12.0 68
2400 17.1 19.0 71
2700 20.0 22.4 73
3000 23.1 26.5 74
3250 26.5 33.0 75
3500 29.8 42.5 79

LOA: 49’10”
BEAM: 14’9″
DRAFT: 3’4″
DISPL.: 28,279 lb.
FUEL: 344 gal.
WATER: 168 gal.
ENGINES TESTED: 2 x 435 hp Volvo Penta IPS600 diesels
BASE PRICE: $764,740
PRICE AS TESTED: $830,000
Prestige Yachts, 410-280-2775; www.prestige-yachts.com

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