BOAT TEST JEANNEAU LEADER 8 AZURE LIMITED EDITION

By: JEFF STRANG, Photography by: JACK MURPHY

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  • Trade-A-Boat

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White topsides, a navy blue hull and snappy decals announce the arrival of the Azure Limited Edition Leader 8. Jeff Strang reports the smallest sportscruiser produced by French giant Jeanneau is greater than its footprint

BOAT TEST JEANNEAU LEADER 8 AZURE LIMITED EDITION
JEANNEAU LEADER 8 AZURE LIMITED EDITION

Strictly speaking it's not a convertible; a term which would imply the vessel is primarily a soft-top, only opened-up occasionally when conditions encourage. It does close-up easily with a system of clears and a fold-back sun-canopy but really this is open boat built to make the most of every glorious blue-sky opportunity.

I came to this conclusion while flipping the Leader 8 through a series spray-throwing turns on a yet another perfect Sydney Harbour afternoon. With one hand feathering the growling Volvo Penta D4 while the other rested lightly on the sporty wheel, it was easy to picture myself returning from a day of waterborne fun and frivolity squeezing in a few final thrills to the delight of my sun-and-salt soaked guests. Best of all I knew the shutdown at the dock would be a straightforward affair involving not much more than a hose-down and five minutes to zip the covers and clears back in place - too easy.

Effectively the smallest sportscruiser-styled boat in the incredibly extensive Jeanneau range (there are at least 24 current models by my count) the Leader 8 is seen as something of an entry-level boat in this class. Personally I don't like the term entry-level as it implies that this is a learner's boat, somewhere to start your boating life but also a place you will quickly move on from once a few sea-miles have slipped under your hull. Perhaps in Europe this is more appropriate but given many Aussies are well versed boating wise by the time they let go of mum's apron strings it doesn't really seem to fit Down Under.

So while the Leader 8 is a perfectly good learner's boat it is also a good match for a wide variety of experienced boat owners, depending on their individual tastes and requirements. In case of point our test boat for the day, the first Leader 8 to grace Australian shores, was brochure-purchased by an individual with 18 years of boat-ownership experience.

For this owner the new Leader 8 represents an upsize from his previous vessel, a Sea Ray 220 Sundeck bowrider. It's a familiar configuration offering overnighting space and room for the grandkids. Like the Sea Ray it also features sparky on-the-water performance in a hardwearing, low-maintenance package at the right price. For this customer a shiny new Leader 8 was a no-brainer, so he went ahead and ordered it - straight off the brochure.



TOUR TIME

The Jeanneau Leader 8 is the smallest of three models in the Leader range, which includes the Leader 10 (tested in Trade-a-Boat Issue 432) and the Leader 9. The larger boats both feature hardtops and sunroofs rather than the 8's open-air approach.

Today's boat was presented with white topsides and a navy blue hull - a look termed the Azure Limited Edition. Leader 8 is boldly emblazoned on the aft quarter and adds to the its sporty appearance. With the red pinstripe this colour combination is my preferred option, as to my eye it breaks-up the high sheerline of the hull better than the all-white alternative.

The flooring throughout is timber laid (this is probably optional) and the vessel's notes tell me the wood is called ayous (Triplochiton scleroxylon), which is considered a more sustainable option than teak as it is cultivated on farms rather than being the product of continued rainforest devastation.

A reassuringly large swimplatform provides the ideal place to negotiate dockside hazards and step aboard like a seasoned sailor. As usual we turned up with way too much gear. Although I was initially concerned we might face a few logistical issues - the camera equipment cluttering opportunities to photograph the interior - I was pleasantly surprised with the way anything vanished below decks into a seemingly Tardis-like chasm.

It would be fair to say that above decks every ounce of space has been maximised. Deep and inviting cushions cover the five-seat U-shaped aft lounger surrounding the compact dining table. These cushions, which incidentally are covered in a hardwearing and UV-resistant fabric called Silvertex in white and blue sapphire, extend to a rear-facing three-quarter length recliner to port and the twin bench seat at the helm. Any space beneath these seats that could be converted to storage has been, and sensibly if that space has been recessed or welled, drains have been added to ensure it doesn't hold water.



READY TO PLAY

Back out on that substantial rear swimplatform Jeanneau has gone to a reasonable effort to ensure the Leader 8 has all the fundamentals required for a decent and fulfilling day on the water. This boat boasts a tender mounting frame, a stainless steel barbecue, a freshwater shower nozzle, a tow point for wakeboarding and waterskiing enthusiasts, and a nice little manual boarding ladder recessed under the platform's teak-covered top.

A swept-back and quite high targa arch adds to both the boat's sporty lines and to its general presence. As usual it's adorned with an antennae array and could happily provide a home for a radar transmitter/receiver should one be desired. Most importantly this arch acts as a fixing point for the Sunbrella sun-awning and cockpit cover, which can be deployed in a number of configurations to provide the optimal amount of shelter for the conditions.

Add in the sunbed on the bow and Jeanneau have done a nice job of eking the maximum potential out of a relatively compact configuration. As a dayboat the Leader 8 would be a very comfortable proposition for a party of five, maybe six at a stretch.



MORE THAN A DAYBOAT

If as a reader you got distracted and didn't read past this point in the story, (I'm writing this on Valentine's Day, so there is a chance you got a better offer), you might think the Leader 8 is a bit of a one-trick pony. A smart-looking, good-value sportscruiser up for most things in the company of friends but keen to be back in the pen come twilight. Well I suggest you think again.

Heading below is a bit of a head spin. As I mentioned earlier there is an almost Tardis-like quality to the internal spaces. It's quite disconcerting really as looking at the boat from the outside you really don't expect there to be so much space in the interior.

It's a trick achieved by ensuring the engine is pushed all the way aft freeing-up space under the cockpit sole. Much like in a larger pod-driven vessel the space where the engines used to be has been converted into a private double cabin complete with a small wardrobe and a low couch. You just don't expect to see this sort of thing in a boat with a hull length less than eight metres.

Outside this cabin is the usual U-shaped couch and table which converts to another double bed, a functional kitchenette, fully moulded toilet compartment and washdown sink. Add in the fact that the saloon lounger and table upstairs also converts to a sunbed and you have sleeping room for five. In reality five is probably too many to overnight on the Leader 8, but two adults and two children would be nice company.



POWER TO IMPRESS

I always like to ask the people we test boats with what their favourite feature is on a product. Matt Willett's answer came without hesitation.

"It's the ease of driving," he said. "With responsive steering and a bowthruster it's a boat a total novice will feel comfortable parking with only an hour or so of practice."

After a few minutes behind the wheel I had to agree. The Leader 8 is probably the most carlike boat I have driven to date. The helm position feels completely familiar and the sporty wheel is finger-touch light. I particularly liked the level of visibility available over the console; something that should also put novices to the randomness of boat traffic more at ease.

The console presentation is uncluttered with single Raymarine e-Series HybridTouch unit central, (there's probably room for two if needed), a range of engine displays across the top, and the accessories spaced appropriately at the bottom. From memory the wheel was height-adjustable and the spec sheet tells me the helm seat has an integrated bolster.

Power delivery comes in two options, either a single 260hp Volvo Penta D4 diesel or single 320hp Volvo Penta 5.7lt petrol inboard, both pushed through a sterndrive unit. My discussions with Matt clearly indicated he favours the diesel option. While acknowledging the higher capital cost of the Volvo diesel ($23K) he points out that the fuel economy, reliability and longevity of the diesel far outweighs the petrol. The petrol engine does give a slightly higher top-end speed - around 1.5kts - over the D4 Volvo, but the latter with its high-performance duo-prop can still pull almost 32kts, which is getting along at a fair clip in anyone's book.

For my 10 cents worth the Volvo D4 is a hell of a good engine and one I have had quite a bit of experience with. I know a couple of builders who actually talk customers out of the slightly bigger-capacity D6 engine in favour of the D4 because the space it frees-up is gold relative to the small drop in performance. In the case of the Leader 8 the D4 is putty in your hand by virtue of Volvo's superb fly-by-wire controller and delivers a precise and smile-inducing ride that is bound to have you travelling further than intended - just for the fun of it.



THE VERDICT

In the Leader 8 the massive Jeanneau boatbuilding company has presented a boat offering few barriers to ownership. It is well put together, easily maintained and easy to handle, but the price is probably its most attractive feature.

If you are wondering how they do it, log on to Google and start researching the company and its incredible economy of scale. Of course the strong Aussie dollar plays a significant part in that picture as well.

The Leader 8 is a good boat and would suit newcomers, downsizers and time-poor water lovers equally well.



[HIGHS]

› Plenty of boat for your buck

› Solid three-piece construction with concealed joins

› Surprisingly large interior and accommodation spaces

› Novice-friendly handling

› Solid performance



[LOWS]

› A bit tight in the saloon area

› Not highly spec'd or trimmed





[TRADE-A-BOAT SAYS… ]

What really impressed me was just how much boat you get for your money. The space below is probably class-leading and while it doesn't come with all the bells, whistles and extra touches of trim we often expect to see these days, it's an open boat designed to be used regularly and exposed to plenty of sun and salt. Anything fancier would just hike the purchase price and the ongoing maintenance costs.





PRICE AS TESTED

$224, 384



PRICED FROM

$199, 000



GENERAL

MATERIAL Fibreglass

TYPE Planing

LENGTH 8.95m (overall); 7.94m (hull)

BEAM 2.99m

DRAFT 0.55m

WEIGHT 2939kg (light ship)



CAPACITIES

FUEL 300lt

WATER 100lt



ENGINE

MAKE/MODEL Volvo Penta D4; 320hp Volvo Penta 5.7 GI DP petrol (optional)

TYPE Four-cylinder turbo-diesel

RATED HP 260

DISPLACEMENT 3.7lt



SUPPLIED BY

Matthew Willett Marine,

d'Albora Marinas, The Spit,

Mosman, NSW, 2088

Phone: (02) 9930 0000: 0488 821 112

Email: boats@mwmarine.com.au

Website: www.mwmarine.com.au



FOR MORE INFORMATION

Visit www.JeanneauAustralia.com




Originally published in Trade-a-Boat #437, March 2013

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