(This will appear in two parts since the whole post is too long to be accepted)
There is no one universally right answer here. To use my favorite analogy, it is like trying to say that vanilla ice cream is always better than strawberry or vice versa. They have very distinct differences but the differences are more a matter of style, details, and personal preference.
When you talk about the big sellers in the U.S.- Hunter, Catalina, or Beneteau, you can not make a blanket statement that one or the other is better built or worse built than the others. They each have things that they do very well and other areas that they do not so well. My take on each is as follows:
Beneteau has a number of different lines
. The First series is their performance line
and generally seem to be better built and finished than their Oceanis or Beneteau ''number series''. The 311 and 321 are from the Oceanis series. The First 33.7 is a first series boat. All three boats are between 32'' and 32''-8" long. The big differences are in beam and displacement. All things being equal the 321 should be fastest of the three on a reach and the 33.7 should be faster up wind.
My experience with Beneteaus is that they have nice layouts with cleaver little details. Like the other two manufacturers, they tend to be lightly built and place an emphasis on accommodations over performance in this size range. I like Benteau''s hull deck joint best of the three. I also like their fit and finish best as well.
On the negative side, Beneteau does not publish ballast for their boats but from past data on similar models they tend to be a little lightly ballasted. I am not a big fan of Groupe Finot (the designer of the 311 and 321) type boats. Their boats tend to be overly beamy and do not handle a chop or have as comfortable a motion as well as a narrower hull form. Still Finot is a good as anyone in the world in modeling this form and their boats have reasonable performance for what they are. I do like their hull shapes better than the two Hunters in question.
One issue that I have with Beneteau comes from conversations with surveyors. In looking at the design of Beneteaus systems they do not do as good a job as the other two companies at meeting safety standards. This is especially true when it comes to the design of their systems. (For example in examining a Beneteau 38s5''s propane locker I noticed an opening that was not properly sealed and connected that locker to the interior of the boat. That is a very serious no-no. It may have only been a missing finishing detail but a serious one.) They tend to do things in a way that is cheaper to build and perfectly sound until it needs to be fixed. For example the Beneteau that I know most intimately used crimped hose connectors that cannot be reused. Another example is the sprayed varnish
finishes. They look great but cannot be easily touched up once scratched without removing and spraying the whole panel. (This is becoming more common in the industry due to air emissions and speed of finishing the work.)
I really do not like that Beneteau is pushing in mast furling
mainsails. In my mind these are really bad ideas, especially on boats of this size. In mast mains really kill performance and shorten sail life spans. They are not good in light air (loose too much area to the hollow leeches) and not too good in a blow (they work down the luff and power up at just the time when you really need flat sails.)
Beneteaus also tend to use a lot of materials and methods of construction that are not readily available over here. Plumbing connections, through-hulls, deck cleats
and misc. hardware are non-standard in the U.S. market. This is somewhat offset by the Beneteau USA''s (in Marion, S.C.) willingness to be very helpful in getting obscure spare parts very quickly and at surprisingly reasonable prices.