If you want to find out how good your new boat will be as a long-range offshore cruiser, there’s one sure-fire way to find out: sail her to New Zealand from Europe.
Scandinavian design gets a major boost from German engineering in this turbocharged BRABUS, reports our Australian correspondent Kevin Green.
In its first foray into the marine sector, German performance specialist BRABUS gave the well-proven Axopar range of boats the Brabus treatment, delivering performance and styling upgrades reminiscent of those bestowed on the BRABUS G-Class Mercedes.
During the last 43 years BRABUS has grown to become the world’s largest independent auto tuner, specialising in Mercedes-Benz and its variants. These include Maybach and AMG, which it turns into supercars before they roll out of their Ruhr Valley factory. Other customers for the BRABUS vroom treatment include Rover and Diamler Smart Cars, plus a special BRABUS division building electric vehicles. BRABUS also constructs its own custom supercars.
So, like Ferrari, Lexus and other car specialists, BRABUS brought a marine division into their group in 2017. The synergies with the Finnish performance brand Axopar are easy to see. Having been introduced to the early Australian Axopar 28 and 37 models in 2017, I was impressed by their understated power and precision. BRABUS must have seen the same.
It helped, of course, that Constantin Buschmann, CEO of BRABUS, adopted his family’s passion for boats after discovering Axopar – he loved their functional yet alluring design. Buschmann formed a partnership with Axopar to create an “elevated new product”, now known as the BRABUS Shadow range, based on Axopar 28 and 37 models. The range is a collaboration between Jarkko Jämsén, head designer of Axopar boats, and the BRABUS design team. The BRABUS Shadow 900 has already received a prestigious 2020 Red Dot Design Award.
“The Shadow name signifies a hyper-quick, hyper-exciting luxury day-boat or tender, a tremendous ‘go-anywhere’ support boat that owners of large yachts and superyachts will love to drive themselves, seeking out beautiful bays, remote islands and coastlines where the larger yacht may choose to follow,” said a company spokesperson.
Built-in exclusivity includes not just the fit-out and personalisation, but also the limited-edition cachet, making them guaranteed crowd pleasers, according to Sydney owner Ted, who loves the attention his boat gets with its loud branding. It gives him an excuse to talk boats and cars with other enthusiasts while buzzing around Sydney Harbour.
Brabus brings plenty to the marine arena, as became apparent when I boarded the first one Eyachts imported into Australia.
“We immediately put our hand up for the first hull when we heard it was available because of the cancelled 2020 Cannes Show,” boss Peter Hrones told me. Of course, business savvy Hrones had earlier also put his hand up for the BRABUS dealership.
“Rather than see this brand go somewhere else, we had to have it because of our long-standing relationship with Axopar,” said Hrones. Eyachts had already proved me wrong with their success selling the Axopar, a boat I loved but thought of as a niche market vessel. But with more than 100 boats already sold in Australia, the numbers speak for themselves.
Style and substance
Before boarding the BRABUS, I looked over an Axopar 37 berthed nearby, just to reacquaint myself with it and directly compare the two. When describing the differences, it’s easy to overdo the clichés: ‘superior levels of refinement’; ‘understated power’. But what we’re really talking about is passion for an iconic brand, backed by superb German engineering. To sum it up: style and substance is what the BRABUS 900 Shadow is about – another cliché, but true.
This must be the ultimate boat for brand loyalists of the hot-car variety. And having lived in Germany for years, fruitlessly trying to outpace German performance cars in my Ford, I can see the attraction. Of course, the BRABUS 900, with attention grabbing BRABUS decals emblazoned on both Mercury 450R outboard cowlings, is hard to miss. The gunmetal-grey hull immediately won my approval – it simply looked cooler and was (literally) easier on the eyes than the neighbouring all-white Axopar 37.
The ‘substance’ of the BRABUS includes a carbon-reinforced hull to accommodate two powerful 450hp racing-spec engines (2 x 400hp for the standard Axopar 37).
Choose your weapon
BRABUS offers three main layout choices – Spyder (open console), Cabin Cross and Sun Top. The review boat is a Cross Cabin, with opening roof and large doors on each side of the cabin. Deck options also include tall storage lockers, an aft cabin or a wet bar.
The review boat has the most popular layout for the Axopar range – a wet bar with three removable seats at the transom, which allow the outboards to be fully elevated. Water access to each side is good while deep hull scuppers, rubber-sealed floor lockers and high bulkheads at the base of each door means any water splashing over the low transom can run out.
Underfoot, the white rubber cockpit sole offers good grip. Useful features include a removable canvas bimini and another for the foredeck. Given the utility nature of the BRABUS, a ski pole arch is ideal and two long, shallow underfloor lockers are perfect for snorkels or a small surfboard/kneeboard. Side lockers clad in stylish carbon provide additional storage.
Also stylish is the Corian-topped wet bar with a Miele electric plate, top-loading 40-litre refrigerator and a sink, all enclosed under a long fibreglass lid and nicely lit by two ambient lights under the cabin overhang.
Tall gunwales and sturdy powder coated guard rails ensure safe passage forward. Other good features include integrated gunwale steps for boarding midships. Surprisingly, fixed cleats are fitted, rather than retractable ones.
The foredeck is dominated by the cabin module with twin gullwing doors. A double seat above the plumb bow and a pulpit cushion gives that ultimate bowrider feel. The anchor is easily deployed on its offset roller, so some owners might fit a bow ladder alongside it – with their shallow forefoot, these boats are easily beached.
The deep anchor locker contains the stainless-steel chain and plinth for the Maxwell windlass, which comes with a multi-function remote control that also controls the Sidepower SE60 bow thruster. So, on your lonesome, you can work at the bow while keeping the boat into the wind.
Upright bulkheads, tall windows and huge side doors give a fantastic airy feel to the BRABUS’ cabin. But shut the doors and pull the sunroof closed and you have a cosy space when blasting offshore or along the coast to that weekend retreat. The electric canvas sunroof still provides enough hard-top space for gantry equipment such as the Simrad broadband radar, lights and even a satellite dome.
At the rear of the saloon, the U-shaped settee and sizeable folding table make for a comfortable lunch-time nook, and I’d agree with BRABUS in describing the finish as ‘Fine Leather’ – the quality and feel of the upholstery is Mercedes level in every respect. That includes the car-style carpet segments that are easily moved around – perhaps too easily?
An iconic BRABUS leather-clad steering wheel graces the carbon fibre dashboard addressing twin bucket seats with bolsters – close your eyes and it feels supercar-like. Yet German pragmatism ensures high levels of functionality as well, including steering wheel controls for trim tabs, bow thruster and house functions. Steering is electronic, which is efficient but lacks some feel.
The Extended Glass Bridge from Simrad has NSS 12-inch displays with two additional 9-inch screens, including Mercury’s Vessel View showing engine data. Mercury’s Joystick Piloting black box controls the gear shift, revs and steering, so it can be used not just for manoeuvring, but also underway at slow speeds – as we demonstrated while threading our way into the Quays Marina.
The Skyhook feature uses GPS to maintain position and heading (the latter via an integrated digital compass) and the Route feature, which follows waypoints set in the Simrad NSS plotter, is also useful offshore. Another Mercury feature is Active Trim, which automatically trims the boat.
Other smarts include Simrad HD radar and AIS, plus VHF. I also like the chunky push-button switches below the glass bridge controlling items like the sturdy single wiper sweeping the toughened glass windscreen. BRABUS bling is abundantly evident, from the mood-lit branded footplate to badges on the carbon fibre panels. No way you’d confuse it with a mere Axopar! Lighting can be changed according to your mood or celebration level.
Despite its day-boat appeal, the cabin is reasonably well suited to weekend retreats. The hull’s shallow draft should help you find somewhere to anchor far from the madding crowd – open both gull wing doors and the small fore hatch to chill alfresco-style or shut the lot up and turn on the air conditioner – it can be powered by the inverter for short periods.
The Shadow 900’s double bed has a high-quality sprung mattress, there’s a Corian sink for simple ablutions (the hot shower is on the transom), plus an electric toilet (80-litre holding tank) hidden beneath the aft bench. A bulkhead for the toilet is optional, but I’d prefer to simply close the cabin door.
Above the toilet is a large mirror, which can be optioned with a 42-inch flat screen television. However, the supplied Fusion Apollo 77 entertainment system got the BRABUS rockin’.
Broken Bay blast
Driving along a bumpy Broken Bay just north of Sydney was a good test for the BRABUS 900. Once on the plane, its sharp hull simply cut through the half-metre chop, cruising nicely at an incredible 40 knots – I’d simply added about 15 degrees of tilt on the Mercury outboards to flatten the bow. Later, as we passed Barenjoey Head, I tried the tabs but that resulted in more drag. I considered them unnecessary, at least for a lightly-loaded boat.
Out on Broken Bay, the chop increased but the slamming did not. Nor was there any groaning from the BRABUS components. With throttles pushed hard down the Simrad GPS registered a lightning-fast 61 knots SOG. That would be truly scary in many hulls, but not the BRABUS, which felt rock steady. Apart from the wind noise and the faint whine of the motors, everything was tranquil.
That was until I put the wheel down to push the hull into a tight turn. Just like my motorcross bikes, the BRABUS relished this new challenge, digging in its chines to drive us around the turn rather than sliding. There was no cavitation despite the conditions and visibility in the turns was excellent, including over the high side when fully banked over, thanks to those large side windows.
Hooning around surrounded by all that stunning scenery was of course criminal, but I fear the BRABUS encouraged my behaviour! Eventually, though, I reigned the beast in to glide into a Pittwater bay to reflect – nosing up into the shallows was easy using the joystick.
You may not get a free supercar with a BRABUS 900 Shadow, but you get just about everything else BRABUS, including oodles of character, performance and panache./>