With 3200 staff based in Plymouth, Princess Yachts is the largest builder of recreational vessels in the UK. It’s also one of the biggest in Europe, building up to 300 boats a year with an average length of 60 feet.
- Classic styling
- Impeccable finish
- Plenty of boogie
- Full beam owner's suite
- Spacious VIP cabin
- Quiet runner
Fashion and function combine in Riviera’s new 545 SUV – essential ingredients in the competitive sports utility market.
An evolution of the popular 525 SUV, the new release continues with its proven hull but now comes with an improved accommodation plan and enough oomph to ensure fun is a factor in this 58-foot IPS-powered hull.
Despite being best known for its towering flybridge models, the Queensland company has been making strong sales in this sportier range, which appeals to both senior sailors seeking a single-level boat and, now, with the full-beam master cabin, six-person families can enjoy it as well. Of course, it has to be good – there’s a raft of foreign competition in this category, not to forget fellow Australian Maritimo’s newly-released X50.
Differentiation is the watchword here, so whereas Maritimo prides itself in traditional shaft-driven propulsion, Riviera was an early adopter of the Volvo IPS pod drive that is child’s play when it comes to manoeuvring and is generally more frugal as well.
The latter is an important factor when combined with the sturdy offshore-ready hull that the 545 SUV boasts. Having built around 1,000 IPS-driven boats, the level of integration with hull shape means these cruisers are slippery and fast, as I found after taking hull #1 offshore from Sydney on a voyage to the beautiful Broken Bay cruising grounds.
Why an SUV?
Nimble handling and a low-profile hull that doesn’t rock around offshore are some of the key traits, so these are intended to be the hot hatchbacks of the boat world. Using the car analogy, some of the key selling points include a big boot (aft cockpit), being quick at the traffic lights (for pulling skiers) and sharp handling for easy parking.
Other niceties are plenty usable deck space to be mothership for the watertoys in sheltered bays, while also having enough horsepower to blast offshore for the weekend. In between they must have liveability at the anchorage, so sufficient comforts to keep the adults happy yet not be overly complicated or high maintenance; busy owners simply want to jump on and blast off.
The three-cabin/two-bathroom 545 SUV has the specifications to accomplish this well, including a base price on par with several competitors, so I thought it best to find out what lay under the bonnet myself. Aesthetics can make or break the deal for many prospective owners in this category but for others – and this is where downsizing Riviera owners come in – it must still look like a Riviera.
The 545 SUV accomplishes this by continuing the curved profile of its Sports Yacht siblings and those undulating hull windows. At nearly 60 feet this is a big boat – vast compared with the 395 SUV sistership. The hull contains the requisite high volume for living below decks as the forepart is raised high above the aft deck and there’s enough flare in the bows to be seaworthy while giving the fore-cabin huge volume. Other key design points that differentiate a Riviera from, say European competitors, is the wise use of bulkheads and overhangs to protect from the harsh southern hemisphere sun.
Water access is another major requirement, as is dockside convenience and the latter proved fine as I stepped aboard from the pontoon at Birkenhead Point in Sydney where the metallic grey hull looked very businesslike in the winter sun.
The wide swim platform can support a bunch of kids fishing and our review boat had the hydraulic version for easy dinghy launching. A transom door on each quarter cleverly opens seaward – it’s like an extended gunwale and our boat had a bait tank here as well.
A large aft cockpit with fibreglass overhang and extension makes this an all-weather area. The placement of the barbecue under it is ideal as it adjoins the aft galley; with a fridge in another locker. Diners have a small table under this awning with bench seating and another bench at the transom, which leaves a spacious teak clad cockpit for a fighting chair or dance floor, depending on your persuasion.
Al fresco diners can easily reach-in through the large opening window to the galley worktop. Another Riviera feature is storage, and the 545 has plenty here including side lockers and underfoot. Other key lockers here are the two aft for gearbox access.
Our boat had the optional Volvo IPS joystick control hidden in a port side recess, something we found ideal when manoeuvring in the tight Pittwater marina – you can look along the topsides as you twist the joystick in your direction of travel.
Walking up two steps and through a sturdy sliding door reveals the saloon with U-shaped galley portside. Another step takes you to the carpeted lounge – clearly demarcated from the composite-floored galley to combat those dripping swimmers.
Here the U-shaped dinette – with another wide bench to starboard – creates a convivial entertaining area, and for cocktail hour a seat converts into a low table so your G&T is secured. The saloon is airy thanks to vertical bulkheads, wide opening side windows and a large sunroof.
Given that SUVs must also be driver’s boats, the 545 again comes up trumps with its stylish steering console. Twin leather Recaro bucket seats house skipper and co-skipper, sensibly shaded by Riviera’s signature stylish visor which ensures the Garmin Glass Bridge instrumentation is daylight viewable.
There are twin 17-inch screens for navigation and another for the Volvo engines. Throttles and the IPS joystick are nearby, as are the Volvo vertical trim tab controls that can be auto or manual. All other systems are managed by the CZone digital bus screen and controls.
Fault-finding is a major advantage with these digital bus systems – any problems show up on the screen and modes are used to quickly set the inside lighting for harbour or offshore. Traditionalists will appreciate the chunky buttons for repetitive controls such as wipers, lights, horn and so on. For entertainment, click a button to elevate and swivel the television or in party mode, pump up the volume of the Fusion hifi that’s piped throughout the 545.
Stepping aft into the galley shows a modest but sufficiently equipped cooking space – reflecting the day use and weekender clientele for this boat. There’s a deep sink, single electric hob and microwave convection oven – the latter two appliances require the 13.5KVA generator or the inverter.
Cooking is best done when stationary as there are no fiddles to prevent spillage or hot pans falling off. On the plus side there’s energy-efficient, double-drawer refrigeration and for the non-perishables, overhead lockers. This is similar to some other marques but what differentiates Riviera is the detailing.
There are sturdy longitudinal handrails, Sunbrella soft furnishings and strong stainless fixings on doors and cupboards. The joinery reflects absolute precision in American oak. Clearly these boats are built to last, to maintain the value of your asset if you ever sell.
Full-beam owner’s suite
A wide central corridor beside the helm leads below to the three cabins. Whereas the 525’s Achilles heel was its lack of a grand suite, the 545 has remedied this. The owner now enjoys a full-beam master cabin with spacious ensuite thanks to the compact IPS gearboxes creating space aft.
But the forepeak VIP cabin is also a force to be reckoned with, thanks to a vast overhead space, portlights and an equally spacious ensuite bathroom. This has dual access so that the third cabin guests can also have ablutions. Despite the two bunks and limited natural light this third cabin has adult-sized mattresses; but arrive first to claim the bottom bunk which has the only window.
Other features down here included separate washer and dryer machines housed in ventilated cabinetry. Returning for a closer look at the owner’s suite, notable points include the sunken floor around the queen-sized island bed, as headroom on entry is limited; but there’s plenty to like.
The chaise longue, for instance, or the tall cedar-lined lockers, while chilling out (thanks to piped aircon) and gazing at the wall-mounted television is comfortably done on the 545. Elongated windows with small opening portholes should minimise air conditioner usage, especially if the large hatch in the bathroom is opened.
Given that fuss-free anchoring is major part of this style of boat, Riviera has ensured that the rode is adequate for all conditions, thanks to a deep locker that avoids chain build-ups and an oversized electric Muir windlass/capstan with manual override to control the 35kg Ultra anchor.
Then it’s time to kick-back on the double sunpad and slip a few coldies into the drink holders. Guests can safely join you by holding onto the tall 316 stainless handrails when moving forward. Equally good is the large cleating midships and all round for when you go alongside the fuel dock.
Hull construction continues in the well-proven, hand-laid laminated technique with solid GRP around the keel and other key underwater areas. Elsewhere, it’s cored laminate on decks and cabin top to maximise insulation. Structure includes watertight collision bulkheads and wide longitudinals, while the outer skin is vinylester to prevent osmosis.
Engine access is via a smallish hatch in the aft cockpit (unlike the 395 sibling, which elevated the entire cockpit floor); so choose a small service mechanic. Given the Riviera-Volvo five-year warranty, this shouldn’t be much of a concern. Climbing down the steps reveals the tops of the Volvo D11s fairly near the ceiling of the engine room, but with enough clearance for even a rusty former yacht engineer like myself to reach most of the service points.
Powerful extractor fans keep this area cool – I can confirm this, having done my visit right at the end of our coastal voyage. The hull is built around these 625hp (or 725hp) supercharged engines with their forward-facing propellers. Traditionalists understandably see this forward-facing design as being vulnerable to debris.
But Riviera has installed over 1,000, so this is a well-proven design and manoeuvring is child’s play. Other hazards for any kind of marine drive is electrolysis corrosion and this is something Volvo has tackled with its QL Active Corrosion Protection System. It helps prevent galvanic corrosion attacking the metal parts of your sterndrive or IPS, complementing the vessel’s sacrificial anodes.
The AGM batteries are sensibly placed above water level, as are switches and other componentry, while the bilges have sufficient depth to cope with a leak should a skin fitting fail. Also slightly elevated is the 13.5kVA Onan generator that sits aft; while a gap in the forward part of the centreline can house a Seakeeper gyro to ward off the dreaded mal de mer.
Sydney sailors enjoy some of Australia’s most beautiful cruising grounds. Getting to the famed Broken Bay (20 miles north of Sydney) involves a blast along the rocky and beach-clad coast where big surf pounds on the reefs, so it’s not a place to dally in an easterly swell. Negotiating Sydney Harbour required the usual diligence from the steerer as a myriad of ferries, cruise boats and jet boats whizzed around us.
This is when I appreciated the good visibility all round and the flat trim of the 545 – the bows were perfectly controlled by the auto tabs. Smooth power delivery from the twin Volvos propelled us to a comfortable cruising speed of 22.7 knots with fuel burn at a reasonable 160 litres per hour, for a useful range of nearly 500 miles.
The sports credentials were also shown on the 545 as I effortlessly broke the 30-knot barrier to reach nearly 34 knots – plenty of oomph for pulling water toys. As we moved offshore across the half-metre swells, there were no complaints from joinery or any other part of the 545 and, with a measured sound level of only 65 decibels, it allowed Riviera representative Stephen Milne and myself to chat easily about the 545’s stylish and functional features.
Interestingly, the vessel’s offshore motion was much easier on the legs than the motion of flybridge models, so we still felt fresh as the yellow strand of Palm Beach hove into view./>