Riviera 445 SUV

By: Jeff Strang, Photography by: Barry Ashenhurst

Riviera 445 SUV Riviera 445 SUV
Riviera 445 SUV Riviera 445 SUV
Riviera 445 SUV Riviera 445 SUV
Riviera 445 SUV Riviera 445 SUV
Riviera 445 SUV Riviera 445 SUV

Built to fill a widening gap between specialist vessels, the new Riviera 445 SUV is billed as a jack-of-all-trades.

Riviera 445 SUV
Riviera 445 SUV

Versatile is a good word to describe the typical Kiwi boater. Take a look in the average family's shed and you'll see what I mean. Behind the lawn mower there's an assortment of bikes, a collection of outdoor furniture, a portable barbecue, golf clubs, a couple wetsuits, and a fishing rod collection to put Starlo to shame. Clearly, the average Kiwi family needs a versatile boat to accompany their versatile lifestyle.

To my mind, Riviera's original 40 and 48 Flybridge boats were probably the best Australian-built production vessels of their era. So successful were these two models that many credit them with forming the foundations on which Riviera built its success story.

The 40 was the family favourite, while the larger and more offshore-capable 48 became the number one pick for charters. Part of the success formula came from the fact the boats were reliable, well-finished and affordable, but it was the vessels' unequalled versatility that defined them.

Niched trends

The quandary is that, since 2005, the trend of many boat builders has been to manufacture more specialised products, such as those tailored to cocktail cruising or at the other end of the spectrum, offshore fishing. To argue whether this is by design, or as the cumulative result of customer requests, is to debate semantics. The result, as Riviera has astutely recognised, is a lack of true family-orientated all-rounders in the market, like the 40 Flybridge that was so successful for the marque in the late '90s.

Although I had long heard rumours that something significant was in the pipeline, my first viewing of the Riviera 445 SUV — Specialised Utility Vessel — was at its world release during the Sydney International Boat Show in August. The warm tones and relaxed styling immediately got my attention. Kind of like a friendly neighbour inviting you over for a barbecue, this demo boat felt welcoming to step aboard. Not all boats are like this, particularly at shows where getting past the front-of-shop Gestapo is a challenge in itself.

A time was set the following week for an extended private cruise on Sydney Harbour with Stephen Milne, Riviera's director of brand and sales.

Glorious Sydney

Knowing I am still somewhat a tourist Down Under, Stephen had arranged an impressive itinerary for our day-cruise on his native Sydney Harbour. First there was a trip to the fish market to pick up lunch followed by an extensive sea-trial out around the heads. To finish off the day, we had a cold glass of Chardonnay to look forward to as the sun set over one of the harbour's many beautiful beaches. Pretty rough gig!

Quick once-over

The Riviera 445 SUV is presented as a contemporary single-level, two-cabin, live-aboard cruiser. In the current market the exterior lines are distinctive — crisp and refreshingly clean. A wide, fully-enclosed cockpit leads through to a spacious saloon with round-table seating to starboard, a galley to port and the helm station forward. The accommodation spaces can be somewhat customised but were presented on the demo specifically to suit a family of five, with a double cabin forward and three single berths in the full-beam cabin amidships. Both cabins are serviced by their own en suites. Staying with the current trend, the 445 is Volvo Penta IPS driven to make the most of the efficiencies, functionality and space optimisation offered by this technology.

Why no flybridge?

It's a fair question, after all. I did bang on about the success of the 40 and 48 Flybridge boats. The simple answer revolves around the customer's desire for family and social interaction. Some owners have suggested flybridge boats often leave party members feeling left out of the action. Many have grumbled about spending all their time on the downstairs station leaving the flybridge redundant and, frankly, a waste of money. The single-level 445 couldn't be better configured to ensure all are involved as much as possible. After all, the family that plays together, stays together, and as you will see both the cockpit and the saloon are good examples of thisphilosophy.

Neptune's playground

Those who like to think outside the square should picture the cockpit of this boat as a well-fenced backyard with unparalleled sea views. In an attempt to accommodate a wide range of activities Riviera's loyal followers have provided feedback on most of the essential elements required by their various favourite pastimes.

Entertainers will find plenty of space for alfresco dining and can enjoy tasty morsels straight from the barbecue centrally located in the transom. There's a beverage fridge and an icemaker within easy reach under a tidy, teak-trimmed benchtop and the galley and serving benches are only another step or two away through the saloon doors.

Divers and fisherman will be pleased to see features like the two oversized self-draining wet-lockers in the cockpit sole and toe-kicks around most of its circumference. Avid bathers and water sports enthusiasts will find water access via the oversized swim-step more than adequate and Riviera has included a stainless steel tender bracket on the back as well. There is adequate storage underfoot too.

Comfort and safety

Regular passengers will understand how valuable it is to have comfortable seating aft and the 445 SUV sports a quality two-seater lounger to starboard under the fully-opening rear window. Not only is this an excellent spot to take in the action ringside but those prone to a little seasickness will find this position one of the most agreeable on the boat. The addition of clears to either side ticked the box, providing extra protection from the elements and windblown spray. Photographer Barry Ashenhurst, who does get green around the gills from time to time, commented about how clean, dry and fume-free he found the ride.

For safety reasons, particularly with small children on board, I personally favour the double-locking transom door featured on the 445 over the stainless steel gated walkthrough option often seen on Portofino-sterned cruising vessels.

Feng shui

Balancing the use of space on any mid-sized vessel is a challenge and given the Riviera 445 SUV has made the most of its opportunities in the cockpit, I was pleased to see the saloon and galley area hadn't paid a heavy price for the generous proportions of the exterior.

A U-shaped five-seater couch surrounds a classic timber three-piece fold-out dining table. Directly opposite this is the galley. While it is true this area is compact, it easily accommodates two chefs. With many fittings that are as good as, if not better than, those you might have at home and the two-burner cooktop and combination microwave/convection, bench space and storage are compromised. Furthermore, few kitchens can rival such a splendid view.

In front of the galley on the portside lies the helm station. One of the first things I noticed was the detailed finish of the bucket-style bench seat for two — very classy and probably too comfortable. Apparently this is just one of several features Riviera commissions locally to add that extra touch of panache to its vessels.

Like the seats, the helm station itself is tastefully enclosed in a stitched leather-like material. The low-profile layout ensures the panoramic view is not impaired by the flashy instrumentation. A combination of top-notch electronics — in this case twin Raymarine e-Series HybridTouch units, although R-Electronics offer a broad choice — and good ergonomics, ensure all the essentials are easily at hand when required. Most importantly the configuration allows the skipper to be actively engaged in the social banter aboard while maintaining a diligent watch underway.

To be honest, the description above does not do justice to the living spaces of the Riviera 445 SUV. It's a classic case of the whole package, with its fresh styling and warm tones, being worth more than the sum of the parts.

Sound of laughter

In a move contrary to recent vogue, Riviera has not located the master cabin in the full-beam space amidships, instead opting for a more traditional double vee-berth for'ard, complete with private en suite. Fear not — it remains comfortable and spacious, tailored to a level worthy of the captain and his queen.

Alternatively the full-beam space has been cleverly configured as a children's cabin, complete with three independent single berths, individual sets of drawers and, of course, the all-important TV. Although this cabin can be optioned differently if single berths aren't your thing, as a family man, I view this presentation as a real coup de grace in a boat of this size. What could be more satisfying and reassuring than listening to the happy laughter of your whole brood gathered safely together after a perfect day enjoying Australia's aquatic playground? But if the happy laughter turns to petty squabbling over which DVD to watch, no bother — just close the door and lock it.

Going places

As the name suggests the Riviera 445 SUV is not a boat destined to spend its life bound to a marina berth, so it was appropriate our day provided an abundance of behind-the-wheel opportunities. Like the marque's other recent Volvo Penta IPS-powered models, the 43 and 53 Flybridge boats, the 445 SUV has a very positive feel to the helm. This is because the whole drive system is configured so that the rudder fins and the propellers work in unison to turn the vessel. Engineers will tell you the system has the added benefit of eliminating the drag induced by a conventional rudder when it is turned sideways across the propeller thrust. The result is an ultra-lightweight helm with a well-balanced snappy feel.

As a slight negative, I find IPS boats lean more in turns than many conventionally propelled hulls, which can affect the helmsman's visibility. However, the benefits of IPS, which include superlative fuel economy and joystick-controlled, low-speed manoeuvring, outweigh this one slight issue.

Our Verdict

The Riviera 445 SUV is one of the best Australian-built production boats I've seen this year. Highlights include the boat's obvious versatility and its fresh approach to internal styling.

I enjoyed the 445's easy feel and went away genuinely enthused about the product. While it has class, it doesn't hang you out to dry on your airs and graces, or lack thereof. It's a boat that unashamedly appeals to any family whose family wagon is an SUV — regardless of whether it's a Porsche or a Prado.

So, would I own one? Affirmative — and that is really saying something for a dedicated flybridge man like myself.

For more information contact Riviera, 50 Waterway Drive, Coomera, QLD, 4209, ph 07 5502 555 or visit riviera.com.au.

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