When you talk about boats from the big three boat builders, Catalina, Beneteau and Hunter, my experience with Catalina is that they are no better-built and no better sailors than the other two. They have their strengths and they have their weaknesses. The thing about Catalina (at least in the US) they are seen as being the most normal. They are not great boats, but they have no really big faults either. Catalina uses a lot of well-known hardware and details. They tend not to walk down the path less traveled which depending on your perspective is both a strength and a very real disadvantage. They definitely care about how they are perceived. I raised some issues with Catalinas on another BB and Frank Butler, the founder and president of Catalina, called me personally and explained to me why I was wrong in my opinion. (I have actually met both Frank Butler and Warren Luhrs from Hunter and both are people who are trying to do the right thing. They each have a vision of what that right thing is and (and even if their detractors question their definition of what is the right way to go with their boats) they seem to pursue their goals with a lot of personal integrity.) Catalinas are generally roomy and generally sail reasonably well. They don''t have the kind of quirky details that can drive you crazy with the other two companies.
The negatives on the Catalinas are somewhat subjective, but in terms of fit and finish, Catalinas seem to be the worst of the three. (The flip side is that they have finishes that the average guy can maintain.) Their boats have a dated and somewhat unfinshed look to my eye but to many people that can be seen as a traditional charm.
Then there is the cored hull issue. The other two manufacturers only use coring in their decks, counting instead on a system of frames and bulkheads for support. Cored hulls are considerably lighter and stiffer. This means less heeling and less flexing which can fatigue the glass over time. (Obviously this is not a universally held belief and I am sure that there are people out there who would not buy a cored hull on a dare.) Cored hulls are actually more expensive to produce if they are produced with care. If they are not produced with care they are really expensive for the owner to maintain over the long run. In any event, per conversations at the Annapolis Boat Show, Catalina is in the process of switching over to cored hulls on a number of their newest models with a couple models that have already switched over.
Catalina like Hunter uses glued hull to deck joints. As Mr. Butler pointed out to me, Catalina uses a space age adhesive caulk developed for the aerospace industry and it is very tenacious stuff. The bolts are only there for alignment during construction. I think that this is a reasonable hull to deck joint but it is not may favorite as I question its durability over time and the long term impact on the laminate of the high stresses induced by the adhesive''s limited surface area.
The biggest complaint that I hear over and over again from new Catalina owners is the lack of warrantee support. I have had quite a few Catalina owners complain about this issue and although when ever I say this I ask anyone with a good Catalina warrantee experience to please talk about it, I have only had a few people defend Catalina''s record with many more slamming it. Many of the Catalina warrantee nightmare stories that I have encountered are reprehensible and negatively color my view of these boats. In one conversation with a gentleman dumping a virtually new boat, I came to realize that in theory it is possible to get a comparatively new Catalina with some pretty expensive but curable problems that is being dumped after a warrantee battle.
One thing that I did a little while back was to look at a number of 3 to 10 year old Hunters, Beneteaus and Catalinas. The one thing that struck me about the Catalinas was that they consistantly looked more worn out more quickly than the other two manufacturers.
Lastly my advice to anyone buying a commodity boat like the Catalina 40 is to buy used. There are a large number of these boats out there for sale pretty reasonably priced. They have been used enough that any manufacturing flaws should be apparent to a trained surveyor. If the flaws are serious you can bargain the price down or simply walk away. But if you buy a new boat that is a lemon, you are stuck with it.