- I am entirely confident that it will do a very serviceable job for most leisure boaters in most conditions.
- It’s rapid, it’s entertaining, it’s good to look at, and it’s safe, secure and sociable to use.
- There’s no doubt that there’s some serious style in evidence on this boat.
Grand Golden Line 650 HGLF
Alex Smith heads for Wills Marine in South Devon to test the mid-range exponent of Grand’s flagship Golden Line.
For the last 15 years, Ukrainian boatbuilders Grand have been attempting to carve out a niche for themselves with distinctive designs, quality handmade builds and affordable prices. Their current fleet includes foldable boats, canoes and boating accessories, as well as professional and recreational RIBs – and while their range inhabits a fiercely competitive sector between 2.5 and 8.5 metres in length, their rapid growth in recent years suggests they are doing something right.
One of the key enablers of the company’s commercial progress has been the simple clarity of its approach. Its marketing materials state: ‘Our primary consideration is to provide a safe environment for our customers’ – and while it’s often wise to take such claims with a pinch of salt, the impact of that mission is immediately evident when you step on board the new boat. After all, while the shallow decks, sparse furniture and practical layouts of most 21ft RIBs tend to make them feel quite exposed, Grand have worked hard here to create a sense that you’re wrapped securely inside the various structures and mouldings of a proper family sports boat …
For instance, up at the bow, there are some elevated steel grab rails perched on top of the bulbous tubes, and while the helm console is narrow, its steeply elevated screen and the lateral rails on the helm seat do a good job of engendering a sense of confidence. And yet this approach is most keenly resolved at the back end, where the stern bench comprises not just a full-beam seat but an unbroken U-shaped moulding that wraps around the cockpit’s entire periphery. Even the backrests, set against a raised fibreglass lip and a pair of steel corner rails, extend forward in tandem with the seating – which makes this entire back end feel like a self-contained dining station, with lovely communal intimacy and far less of that windswept openness you so often experience at the back end of a RIB.
Despite the big-diameter tubes, the modest 2.65m beam and the generosity of the internal mouldings, there’s also plenty of space to move without difficulty or obstruction. The narrow central helm console with its usefully undercut mouldings does a great job of keeping the walkways free on all sides, and there’s still some decent volume inside the console itself, which is accessed through a hinged seat in the front of the unit. However, a peculiarly unkempt maze of wiring from the back of the dash equipment makes the internal console space all but redundant as regards useful storage – and the aft bench is a similar story. While the central section lifts up in its entirety, without the need for cushion removal or extra hands, it would be good to see either the cordoning off of the boat’s functional ephemera (wires, pipes and boxes) or some carefully considered storage containers to compartmentalise the space and improve the storage options.
There’s no doubt that there’s some serious style in evidence on this boat. At the aft end in particular, the sculptural bravado of the towing arch, allied to the neatly arranged swim platforms and the fibreglass steps in the back ends of the collar, does plenty to catch the eye. But the most striking feature is undoubtedly the engine. With its pared-back cleanliness of rigging, its faceted cowling angles and its colour-coded streaks of neon orange, it looks tailor-made for this boat. And because this particular model is the High Output version of Evinrude’s G2 150, you get an ECU tuned for some extra power, plus integrated ‘Dynamic Power Steering’, with three levels of resistance to suit your tastes. It’s an exciting prospect, and when you pin the throttle, the straight-line performance of the 650 is distinctly impressive …
We find ourselves planing from a standstill within just 2 seconds and powering on to a top end of around 43 knots. The pickup is relentlessly urgent throughout, bringing plenty of driving fun and promising good things for those who enjoy their water sports and those who tend to load up with weighty gear. And when you’re pushing hard, the balance of the test boat also feels very sound, handling all that immediate-impact, direct-injection, 2-stroke thrust without the slightest quirk or foible.
However, the 650 is capable of accommodating 200hp – and excellent though the performance of the test boat is, that raises a lovely dilemma. After all, Evinrude’s C200 shares the same block as the HO 150 and therefore exacts no weight penalty at all, so at around £1,200 more, it’s a serious temptation. But by the same token, if you’re looking to maximise the performance envelope with a 200hp outboard, you could go instead for the E200 HO. Again, it exacts no significant weight penalty, and with its larger block (3440 instead of 2743 cc), its bigger display (4.3″ rather than 3.5″), its touch screen interface and its ‘Premium’ steering package, the extra cost of around £700 over the C200 looks like great value.
All very pleasant thoughts indeed – but back in the here and the now, it’s worth noting that the broad forward collar shape of the 650 does seem to catch the wind and act like a wing, giving you a little lift you haven’t necessarily dialled in with the trim switch. The trait is obviously more pronounced into a head sea, but it’s more a point of interest than of concern, because any forward lightness at pace is actively countered by the buoyancy at the aft end of the collar and by the softness of impact at the point of entry. It means that when you do decide to work the trim, there is in fact a gratifying degree of obedience from the bow. You can either force it low or, as is the boat’s natural bent, you can allow it to lift a little to increase your running efficiency, to manage a following sea or simply to bring the point of impact further aft. Whatever the seas require and whatever your natural driving preferences happen to be, this is a RIB that enables you to take control and make accurate tweaks very quickly.
In terms of fit-out, it’s not yet the perfect recreational set-up. The console base needs an angled step to brace your feet; the curved screen gives you a bent perspex horizon, which can be tiresome after a spell at the helm; and the tube tops need some tread plates to improve footing when the collar gets slick and shiny with seawater. But in addition to its laudable dynamic performance and its unusual degree of internal security, the 650 does offer the keen driver plenty of dash space for retrofit electronics, a light and accurate throttle, and excellent directional stability at all speeds. Whether you’re playing at the helm, sipping a drink on the aft bench or lounging up at the bow, it’s a resoundingly easy boat to enjoy, right from day one.
Having witnessed this boat excel among some moderate lumps off the South Devon coast, I am entirely confident that it will do a very serviceable job for most leisure boaters in most conditions. But what the new 650 is really about is not so much rough-water heroics as sporting family fun. It’s rapid, it’s entertaining, it’s good to look at, and it’s safe, secure and sociable to use. And with a bit of money spent on the options list, it brings the kind of versatility that is usually out of reach for those in search of a 21ft RIB. You can dine on it, sunbathe in the bow or the stern, wakeboard and waterski behind it, cruise on it, load it up with 12 people, or simply enjoy a drive that feels far sharper and more accomplished than the average family buyer might tend to expect. Personally, I would still insist on some improvements to the two primary storage spaces, plus some tread plates for the collar top and some tweaks at the helm station – but that is by no means enough to obscure the 650’s ability as a leisure platform. Exchange rates and taxes do make the prices a bit more challenging than they used to be, but even at around the £50,000 mark, the 650 has the merit to justify and reinforce Grand’s burgeoning reputation.
- Secure aft seating
- Good natural balance
- Plenty of poke
- Excellent driving experience
- Broad versatility of application
- Messy console wiring
- Imperfect helm station
- Needs tread plates on the collar top
Notable Standard Features
- GRP step ends
- Twin swim platforms
- Boarding ladder
- Aft ski towing arch
- Stainless steel bow and stern rails
Notable Optional Extras
- Bow and stern sun deck kits
- Removable table
- Overall cover
- Seat and console cover
- Shower with pump and 50-litre tank
- Bimini top
- SeaDek laminate flooring
- Electronic package
- LOA: 6.5m
- Beam: 2.65m
- Boat weight: 750kg
- Fuel capacity: 200 litres
- People capacity: 12
- Max. power: 200hp
Test boat package price: £53,995