When an opportunity strikes, I say grab it. So I drag raced a diesel-powered Sea Ray 390 Sundancer while testing a sister ship powered by twin 370-hp MerCruiser 8.18 Horizon gasoline.inboards. It proved that if you opt for twin 375-bhp Cummins MerCruiser QSB 5.9 diesels, you won't ever suffer from performance anxiety. Though I have certified test results only from the gas-powered engine, the diesel raced me to a dead heat. Also, both boats came on plane in nearly equal time and achieved comparable top speeds.

Running gunwale to gunwale also allowed me to see the distinctiveness of the 390 Sundancer's dramatically reversed sheerline from the same point of view from which other boaters vill see it on the water. It's eye catching, rising from near the waterline aft and then diving toward the water again forward. It gives the 390 Sundancer a lowprofile helm, which allows for a single-level cockpit without sacrificing visibility forward. What's more, visibility aft isn't obscured by the after edge of the hardtop as it is aboard so many express cruisers when running at the "normal" 3 to 5 degrees of inclination.

ANOTHER DEAD HEAT. Express cruiser choices are abundant in the 390 Sundancer's size. Two that stand out are Cruisers Yachts' 400 Express ($342,229, powered like our test boat) and Rinker's 410 Fiesta Vee ($339,900, also powered like our test boat). The 410 Fiesta Vee is notable for its tremendous beam, 7'2" of cabin headroom, and best-in-class swim platform arrangement. This incorporates dinghy handling, barbecuing, safety, stowage, and even underwater swim lights with facile grace.

Sea Ray 390 Sundancer Performance SpecificationsThe 400 Express uses real wood cabinetry and bulkhead coverings belowdecks. You may also choose between two floor plans. Plus, there are two heads aboard the 400 Express, one of which is split so you get one compartment for the shower and another for the commode and vanity.

At sea, expect the 390 Sundancer's performance to match the Cruisers Yachts and the Rinker. Hit the ignition. The 390 Sundancer takes off powerfully. As it achieves plane, however, there's a fair amount of inclination. But thanks to that reverse sheer, you never lose sight of where you're going. The reason for the bowrise? Check out the wake, which has a specific shape due to the prop tunnels, a result of the reduction in buoyancy they create. But the tunnels contribute to shallower draft-2" less than the Cruisers Yachts and 6" less than the Rinker. The tunnel depth also allows for a flatter shaft angle, which, because a greater proportion of propeller thrust is directed aft instead of down, is more efficient. Bottom line? If you cruise shallow waters, the 390 Sundancer may be the best choice.

Handling underway is nimble: The 390 Sundancer responds almost instantly to input at the wheel, which partially can be attributed to a highly raked stem, something I could see during my drag race. While planing, the hull's wetted surface starts at a point equivalent to the position of the most forward porthole. A shortened waterline length makes for agility-and enhances efficiency by virtue of decreased drag.

INSIDE JOB. Belowdecks, I had expected headroom to suffer because of the 390 Sundancer's sexy sheerline. Boy, was I wrong. Pull open the companionway slider and head down the teak-and-holly steps. Check out that taut, crisp headliner. No, this boat doesn't match the Rinker 410's 7'2" of headroom, but the 390 Sundancer's salon headliner's 6'5" height above the sole is more than adequate, equal to most other boats this size. Take a peek around. You'll find a forward stateroom with an innerspring mattress, an aft conversation pit that opens like a futon to create a double berth, and similar to the Cruisers Yachts and Rinker, separate compartments for both the head and the shower. The Cruisers Yachts is the pnly one of the three with two full heads, though.

I was impressed by the 390 Sundancer's convertible salon settee. Its base opens like a drawer to form a double berth. What's more, its end is a chaise lounge. This is a pleasant convenience because directly abeam is the flatscreen TV, which is mounted above the galley countertop. The galley itself features a two-burner stove ringed by a fiddle to keep pots and pans in place. Few boatbuilders incorporate this sensible feature. There's also a vent fan, a microwave/convection oven, and a separate undercounter refrigerator and freezer. The latter is a "big boat" feature that provides increased food stowage and easier management. I prefer a solid-surface counter, as found aboard the Rinker, to the granite-look gel coat used in the 390 Sundancer's galley. Scratches don't show as much in solid-surface materials, where the color runs all the way through. Still, the 390 Sundancer's is a true cook's galley.

The master stateroom features a pocket door for privacy and separate access to the head. There's a hanging locker, as you'd expect, but also a large cabinet with four deep shelves, which I prefer to a second hanging locker. You often need to stow hats, pants, and shoes, right? Note the extraordinary depth of the locker and cabinet. Because there aren't any steps at the foot of the berth, there's room for more stowage space. You may have to hop up at bedtime, but being able to put everything away is worth it.

However, the latch and handle of the stateroom's pocket door is too small. I had to pinch my fingers as if ·picking up lint to grasp it. In the aft berth, I think the lighting could be improved. The two reading lamps there are well positioned when the area is used as a sofa, but when arrayed as a bed, only one person will have good light, as the reading lamps are installed athwartships at. the aft end of the compartment. Better bring a flashlight.

OPTION-LESS. Of course, an extra light is a relatively inexpensive add-on. Some may balk at that kind of thinking, due to the 390 Sundancer's already lofty price-it lists for thousands more than either the Cruisers Yachts or Rinker. But before you condemn it on that basis, check out the standard equipment lists of all three boats. Central vacuum, a genset, a sunpad for the bow, and other goodies are alternately optional on either of the comparison boats but standard on the 390 Sundancer. So after performing all your test drives and taking copious notes, compare the luxury, performance, and fine print of all three boats before making your decision.

EXTRA POINT: To prevent the stiff, weight-saving balsa coring in the 390 Sundancer's deck from absorbing moisture, Sea Ray molds in inserts of All Aboard, a high-density plastic, in place of fasteners and fittings. It has the added benefit of providing a better bite for screws.

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This review/article originally appeared in Boating Magazine, June 2004 and is written by Kelvin Falvey. For more great boat reviews, visit their website and subscribe at: https://www.boatingmag.com/subscribe-to-boating-magazine

If you're looking for general boating parts, head to West Marine Online and check out their specials. If you are in search of model-specific parts, search your local CAT dealer.