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Profile: On Board The Bold New Cigarette 52 Thunder Center Console

Given the chance to experience Cigarette Racing Team’s 52 Thunder luxury performance center console, you should jump at it—even if that means taking a five-hour red-eye flight from Northern California, spending about an hour on the brand-new 52-footer off Coral Gables, Fla., the following morning and catching the last flight home from Miami that evening. That’s what I did earlier this week and it was beyond worth the effort and sleep deprivation.

To hell with tired, I’ll sleep when I’m dead. That was just plain fun.

The latest addition to the Cigarette Racing Team luxury center console series, the 52 Thunder fits between the 59 Tirranna and the 42 Auroris models.

Of course, I had added incentive to make the trip. John Tomlinson, my favorite powerboat test-driver and longtime marine industry colleague, joined me on board, as did Cigarette president Erik Christiansen, another longtime friend who I got to know when he was the general manager of Mercury Racing years before he joined the Opa-locka, Fla., go-fast center console and sportboat company. So it’s safe to say I was in great, knowledgeable hands when we departed a private dock in the posh South Florida community headed into the open ocean.

But even without Tomlinson and Christiansen in the mix, I’d have been there. Powered by six Mercury Racing 500R outboard engines, the 52 Thunder center console is the first Cigarette model introduced by the company since the Ruiz family took over the famed sportboat and center console brand in 2021. That alone made the new creation newsworthy.

“This is something we have been working on since we got here,” said Cristina Ruiz, the company’s chief marketing officer. “We are definitely really proud of it.”

A pair of high-performance marine veterans, Cigarette Racing Team’s Erik Christiansen (right) and TNT Custom Marine’s John Tomlinson put the 52 Thunder through its paces.

As well she should be. From performance to features, the 52 Thunder is a delightful boat. It’s also a successful first new model for the company principals, as according to Christiansen the Cigarette already has 32 orders for it.

Not bad for a “tweener” model with at $3.1 million sticker—as hull No. 1 is equipped—but then the 52-footer isn’t your average tweener.

“The Cigarette fleet needed something to fill the gap between the 42 Auroris and the 59 Tirranna,” Cristina Ruiz explained. “Really what we did was take all the best parts of all the Cigarette boats built over time and perfected that ‘middle ground.’ We have people who want them as yacht tenders. We have people who just want to use them to take out their families. The 52 Thunder can fit into a lot of different niches, and that is something we really needed. So we poured all of our energy into research and development and making sure that it is top of the line, best in class and fits with the Cigarette DNA.”

Cigarette marketing team member Kim Sewell demonstrated how the actuated back cushions in the open bow function.

Feature After Feature
Like its 59-foot sister-ship, the 52 Thunder has a 14-foot beam. The two boats also share a few styling cues, notably around the hardtop and overall profile. But where the Tirranna looks and feels more like a luxury sport yacht, the 52 Thunder is an all-purpose, sporty dayboat. And one that’s loaded with amenities.

The 52 Thunder is ever so slightly more “console-forward” than the 59 Tirranna. That enabled the Cigarette design crew to maximize cockpit space aft of the second row of shock-mitigating, multi-position bolsters. When fully opened by an electric actuator, the boat’s SureShade top covered the entire rear section of the cockpit to the aft gunwale. The boat’s rear and forward-facing lounges aft of the bolsters converted to an expansive sunpad.

Thanks to a table that rose from the sole with a push of a button, those lounges also could be used to accommodate six to eight people for al fresco dining. The fully equipped outdoor kitchen between the aft-most lounge and transom included a grill, a stainless-steel, cleverly hidden wastebaskets and storage drawers in a molded console. Rather than squander precious stowage space in the outdoor kitchen area, the builder mounted sliding-draw-style refrigerator/freezers in the base of the aft-facing lounge.

Cigarette made optimal use of space when it came to locating refrigerators and freezers in the 52-footer’s cockpit.

Christiansen joked that he was shooting to use “as many actuator-rams” as he could on the boat, and by his own estimate the 52 Thunder has 30 of them. They include rams for the power-activated wind-dams in each walkway alongside the console, as well as for a pair in the seatbacks for forward-facing passengers in the open-bow.

Cool amenities, to be sure, but Tomlinson’s favorites and mine were the deep, draining lockers in the gigantic swim platform ahead of the outboards. Cigarette left the sides of the water-level platform open for easy boarding and debarking. Swimmers also could re-board the center console on its starboard side via a dive door and a folding swim ladder.

Want to improve your forward view from the driver’s seat of the 52 Thunder? Push a button.

Yet in terms of cool factor, nothing could touch the power-activated section of sole at the driver’s position. Press a button and the driver standing on that section of sole “gets taller.” Set up in a glass-cockpit configuration with three 22-inch Garmin GPS units, the helm station also boasted two Mercury Marine VesselView readouts in an angled section of the top interior—an excellent use of space borrowed from the 42 Auroris. A quick glance up was all it took for the boat’s driver and co-pilot to gather vital VesselView-provided information.

There was power-adjustable seating for four in the shock-mitigating helm station row of bolsters and seating for three in the bolster row behind it. Much of the shock-mitigating hardware—including the shocks themselves—was visible depending on the angle of the viewer. That created a futuristic, even edgy look in keeping with 52-footer’ overall modern and aggressive styling.

“Some people really like that look and others might not,” Christiansen explained. “But we are working on pieces that will hide some of that hardware from view.”

Like the full-berth cabin with an enclosed head locker and shower, the cockpit had its own air-conditioning system powered by a diesel generator. For tunes, the builder supplied a 5,000-watt JL Audio stereo system with 32 speakers, several of which were recessed into upholstered pads or completely hidden. Christiansen said his goal is to hide all speakers in future 52-footers.

“I wasn’t expecting to see so many creature comforts,” Tomlinson said, then shook his head and smiled. “They were everywhere you looked, and everything was really well-thought-out.”

That, too, made perfect sense as Jamie Borg of Florida-based Cutting Edge Interiors handled the 52-footer’s interior layout and upholstery work.

For Tomlinson and Trulio, the 52-footer’s swim platform setup may have been their favorite amenity of the 52 Thunder.

Where Spirited Meets Docile
At 33,000 pounds as tested, Cigarette 52 Thunder No. 1 wasn’t exactly svelte—and that was with its 880-gallon fuel tank 200 gallons shy of full capacity. (The boat’s dry weight is 29,000 pounds.) And yet Tomlinson described the 52-footer as “a blast to drive.”

“It’s a sporty runabout, but it’s a 52-foot sporty runabout,” he said. “If you need to whip a U-turn, you whip a U-turn the same way you would in a runabout—except you’re doing it in a 52-foot boat that is 14 feet wide. The 52 Thunder runs like a nimble, quick center console, but it’s a whole lot of boat.”

Cigarette set up the six supercharged outboards with mixed propeller rotations and 1.6:1 gear ratios. The two outside props turn outward, while the inner four wheels rotate inward.

Our boat topped out at 79 mph with the six outboards—some 3,000 hp worth—turning approximately 6,500 rpm. The telltale on the Garmin GPS showed a top speed of 83 mph, and we certainly didn’t doubt it given our significant fuel level and four-passenger load (Cigarette marketing team member Kim Sewell also joined us to answer questions during our test session.)

The 52 Thunder is a rather nimble boat, especially for its considerable mass.

From a standing start, the 52 Thunder came on plane in seven seconds. It remained on plane at 27 mph with the tabs up and also held a level running attitude at 16 mph with the tabs down. The center console cruised at 60 mph with the outboards turning 5,200 rpm and 50 mph with them turning 4,700 rpm.

“When you’re running at 50 or 60 mph you feel like you’re cruising at 30 mph,” Tomlinson said. “I like that.”

Another cool feature for operators? Mercury Marine’s latest generation of throttle and shifters can start all six engines sequentially with the push of one button. A push of the same button shuts down all six engines simultaneously.

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Said Tomlinson, “I wasn’t expecting to see so many creature comforts.

A bit of a surprise to Christiansen and me, Tomlinson didn’t have much experience with the boat’s Seakeeper gyroscopic stabilization system. But after putting it to the test a few times in the tame 1- to 1-1/2-foot rollers outside, Tomlinson—no stranger to rolling sea conditions as an all-time great offshore racing throttleman—became an instant fan of the Seakeeper product.

Our outing ended much too soon. Christiansen and Tomlinson had to get back to work, and I had a story to write and, though much later, a flight to catch.

“These big center consoles like the 52 Thunder, they are turning into high-performance yachts,” Tomlinson said, then chuckled, just before he dropped me at Miami’s ever-frantic international airport. “Or maybe they are high-performance boats with yacht-style features. You could load up this boat with a dozen people and cruise to the Bahamas at 55 mph, no problem.”

No problem indeed. In fact, I can come back next week.

But I think I’ll need to stay an extra day or so.

In addition to being offered with six Mercury Racing 500R outboards, the 52 Thunder is available with quad V-12 Mercury Marine 600 Verados.

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