LUCK, PLUCK, OR SERENDIPITY? The largest contributor to the 3500 Sovran’s efficiency is Volvo Penta’s IPS tractor drive system, which, coupled to twin 301-bhp D-4 diesels, provides brisk acceleration and tactile handling. Press the controls forward. The boat hustles, planing with no lag and little hill climbing. Given the 3500 Sovran’s modest deadrise and wide beam, I was pleased but hardly awestruck. IPS made this boat shine during maneuvers. Instead of logy turning and slow response to the wheel, the 3500 Sovran cut smooth turns at speed, even its top end of 37.4 mph. And at the dock, where a 3-knot current was running, the much-heralded IPS joystick allowed me to twirl, sidestep, and pause with the precision of Fred and Ginger dancing the tango. I’m a rightie, so I appreciated the joystick’s position on the port side of the helm. (Aboard most boats, it’s to starboard, near the lever controls.) When I turn around to back in the boat, I find it easier to manipulate a joystick with my favored hand.
Falvey’s Rule states that if speed in mph is greater than fuel consumption in gph, at any given rpm, the cruiser is efficient at that speed. A comparison of performance charts proves it time and again. If you want a 35' express that adheres to the rule throughout its entire cruising range, grab the helm of Tiara’s 3500 Sovran. Few boats its size and type can match this efficiency. Fewer still offer comparable finish, rigging, and construction. None offers a standard hardtop with a solid, three-sided glass enclosure or the accommodation space provided by the 3500 Sovran. These features make the 3500 Sovran the benchmark of its class.
IPS doesn’t get enough credit for the way in which it enhances accommodations. Aboard no boat is this more evident than on the 3500 Sovran. Tiara is acclaimed for straight inboard boats, eschewing stern drives and V-drives. That meant the engine room bulkhead, due to the length of the drive train, was at the companionway steps, allowing for only one stateroom. Step through the 3500 Sovran’s screened companionway for an object lesson in how a propulsion system can affect interior layout and design.
IPS engines are mounted aft, so the 3500 Sovran’s engine room bulkhead is aft as well, providing for an aft cabin, which Tiara refers to as the theater. This name arises as much from the aft cabin’s layout as from what Tiara believes is the 3500 Sovran’s primary mission: partying a crowd, dining four to six, and sleeping the owners for the weekend. This cabin features two opposing sofas, where four can watch the game on the flat-panel TV ($1,860) hung on the aft bulkhead. Since this area is down a step from the main salon, and the companionway stairs don’t impede the entry’s width, it’s comfortable going between here and the salon, head, or galley during a commercial. It’s natural to look over your shoulder from here and speak to someone seated at the dinette or fixing eats in the galley. At the same time, it provides a semi-private area in which to read or work while your mate watches TV or is otherwise occupied elsewhere in the cabin. The backrest removes easily—putting it back is a chore—becoming the filler that converts the theater sofa to a double berth. More guests? The dinette converts to twins. You can sleep six, although aboard a boat this size, that amounts to turning a waterborne cottage into a dorm.
The main salon is flooded with light. Five oversize portlights, two fixed skylights, a D-shaped deck hatch forward, and the light radiating through the acrylic companionway hatch ensure a bright feel. Most builders are creating ways to allow more sun belowdecks. Tiara goes a step further, flowing all that natural light through the boat. Note the translucent insert in the teak shower partition in the head, the generous height and width of the aft cabin entry, and the curved teak hanging lockers that bracket the entrance to the master berth, making for less shadow than flat-sided cabinets, bulkheads, or ring frames. This suffusion of light contributes to the feeling of space wrought by high sidedecks, a wide beam, and topsides displaying much convexity.
A CLASS OF ONE? I had a hard time making comparisons with the 3500 Sovran, primarily because of its wide beam. Although there are plenty of other cruisers with nominally similar LOAs, most either displaced less—displacement’s a great way to compare interior volumes—or carried less beam. They’re smaller boats, despite their length-based model designations. So look at Formula’s 37 Performance Cruiser ($518,550, powered like my test boat). It posts identical performance, in addition to having a larger swim platform and twin bow sunpads. It doesn’t offer the hardtop and solid glass enclosure you get with the 3500 Sovran, so you’ll have to deal with canvas.
You’ll also want to demo Sea Ray’s 340 Sundancer ($304,634 with twin 375-hp MerCruiser 496 MAG DTS Seacore Bravo Three gasoline stern drives). Gas stern drives? Versus diesel tractors? When I tested it, the 340 Sundancer adhered to Falvey’s Rule at speeds between 24 and 36 mph. Economy drops off precipitously after that. But since you’re not buying diesel engines, you save cash up front, effectively getting seasons’ worth of higher fuel burn for free. The 340 Sundancer tops out at 46 mph, and it doesn’t offer joystick docking. Nibral (nickel-bronze-aluminum) IPS drives are better suited to saltwater than aluminum stern drives. Interestingly, IPS for gas engines is just coming out. In fact, it’s one the 3500 Sovran’s power options (twin 375-hp, $334,000). A comparison test would be great. (Tiara? Sea Ray? Formula? Any takers?)
Until then, the 3500 Sovran’s huge and delightful cabin, coupe helm enclosure, efficiency, and joystick docking convenience, all for a middle-of-the-road price, make it my top pick.
Accessories such as the generator controls, filters, and pumps are mounted on a false bulkhead in the engine compartment, making service and installation easier.