Sea Ray 420 Sundancer

The 420 Sundancer is a top-notch addition to the Sea Ray line.

Some builders regurgitate the same designs and say a new décor package or a hardtop is worthy of a new model nomenclature. With such boats, there's not much to evaluate beyond what's in the head or how many drawers are in the galley. It's as if you are expected to make a buying decision based solely on the amount of stowage or the inclusion of a VacuFlush MSD.

Having tested a few of these warmed-over designs, I found the new Sea Ray 420 Sundancer a treat. This new express model is more than a tweaking of the 410 Sundancer she replaces. She offers a sleeker look, improved interior space and good handling.

I tested the prototype that arrived in Knoxville, Tennessee, direct from Sea Ray's product development facility in Merritt Island, Florida. Allowing an editor aboard hull number one is bold, but Sea Ray's investments in research and development paid off. Our test boat suffered none of the hull number one symptoms so often found on fresh launches. There were no awkward corners, no bad vibrations, no issues of failing to meet speed goals, no evidence of bad finish.

"What other company would put you on a prototype first? asked Project Manager Mike Fafard.

Actually, more companies that should not, do. But the lack of issues on the prototype 420 speaks to the benefits of a company such as Sea Ray, which develops each model with input from the sales, marketing, engineering and production departments, then creates each boat on a line that allows little variation in quality and standards.

The 420's profile is a variation of the 410's and incorporates the same sleek, rounded lines of the redesigned 550 Sundancer. I'm a sucker for the dark blue hull, which makes this boat pop alongside her paler siblings.

"When the hull was on the line, we were all a little unsure, said Robert Denney, who works at Sea Ray's product research department. "But when the deck was put on and she was launched, it was great.

Some builders forgo offering dark hull colors because they disrupt the line and hide no sins. The 420's hull, however, showed no print-through or porosity around the corners. It was a consistent deep blue no matter where I looked or where the intense Tennessee sun beamed down.

This attention to detail was also evident on the 420's helm deck, which has some complicated corners other builders may avoid because of the extra mold cost and layup issues. The 420 showed no gelcoat flaws.

Belowdecks, the 420 has wider passages than the 410. Sea Ray also removed the upright refrigerator/freezer, designed a generously sized head abaft the galley, and positioned the after cabin's settee/berth so occupants can converse with anyone on the saloon settee.

"One of the main premises was to increase room inside the cabin, Fafard said.

The sense of space caught my attention when I walked below, as did the ports in the 420's hull side that were in the 410's coachroof. This not only accentuates the 420's flowing, aggressive exterior lines, but allows for more cabinets in the overhead area above the ports. The new model also has a fixed skylight overhead in the saloon that can be masked with a shade. The effect was pleasing combined with the interior's soft neutral tones and cherry accents.

Also worth noting are the standard 20-inch television/VCR combo (a flat screen and DVD are optional), and the forward cabin's island berth with innerspring mattress, his-and-her hanging lockers and private head with separate shower. Here, as in the rest of the boat, there was a handrail exactly where I found myself reaching.

Compared with the 410, the 420's V-drive 450 hp Cummins are slightly forward, which moves the center of gravity slightly closer to the boat's midline. Combined with the increased beam, this means very good handling.

During my test on the Tennessee River (I admit, hardly an appropriate testing ground for a 42-foot boat), the 420 popped out of the hole quickly and rose to a plane around 1800 rpm. Taking her to the maximum rpm and then backing down, we maintained a plane to 16 knots and 1600 rpm. This means you can get on top of short, stacked chop without blazing at uncomfortable speeds. Even the large swim platform resisted the urge to stick to the water.

She was tight and responsive when turning within her own wake. We reached a top speed of 32 knots with seven people on board, but no cruising gear. Expect a cruising speed around 25 knots.

Other noteworthy features include a U-shape settee abaft the helm with table and cup holders. My preference on an express boat is to have an L-shape settee, elevated and facing forward to let guests view their surroundings while cruising and to involve the captain in the conversation, but this design should make a nice party setting.

At the helm, all necessary breakers were within reach and the line of sight was good from the helmsman's adjustable bucket seat. I suggest incorporating a center windshield wiper to ensure the same flawless line of sight during foul weather. A double helm seat for guests is outboard of the helm, and there is a wet bar with ice maker to port. The after portion of the deck and settee lift hydraulically to reveal the engineroom, which was neat and tidy with all systems accessible.

Well built and damn good-looking, the 420 Sundancer is a worthy successor to the 410 and a good fit in Sea Ray's line.

And by the way, she has ample stowage and a VacuFlush MSD.

Contact: Sea Ray Boats, (800) SR-BOATS; www.searay.com.