Style & Substance

Beauty and outré design elements tend to win out for Riva’s elegant marque. the Dolceriva is no exception.

Riva’s Dolceriva

Riva’s Dolceriva

You get the sense that when Riva’s designers and engineers are having one of their style-versus-substance arguments over spaghetti alle vongole, management always comes down on the side of style. Riva is a marque with a deserved reputation for excellent engineering, solid performance and great handling, but ask anyone and the first thing they’ll say is that Rivas are just beautiful.

And the new Dolceriva is a gorgeous-looking thing, a stunner from every angle. I was told that its elegant stern was designed to look like a car’s. Which car they didn’t say, but to me it was vaguely reminiscent of the back end of a Citroën SM, that extravagantly technological masterpiece from 1970 powered by a V6 Maserati engine. It was years ahead of its time, but since that time was 50 years ago, it is perhaps an appropriate source of inspiration for a boat brand defined by its classic looks.

And on the Dolceriva, the transom folds down to create a bathing platform. That’s something I bet the Citroën designers didn’t think of.

However close you get, the quality and detailing just get better. The chromed brass gleams. The stainless steel is polished to a mirror sheen. And that brightwork—mahogany coated with layer upon layer of gloss varnish—seems to glow from within. Down in the cabin, two shades of leather, beautifully stitched, provide a tactile contrast with the shining surfaces, along with areas of oak veneer. Dark-toned bulkheads highlight the luxury of a white leather sofa, while white carpets and headliners heighten the sense of space. The detailing is to an extremely high standard, from the little leather-topped lockers by the bed to the mirror above the salon sofa, which slides across to allow diffused daylight into the interior.

The Dolceriva steps into a gap in the range vacated by the 44-foot Rivarama and on paper, at least, seems a similar proposition. However, at nearly 49 feet, the Dolceriva is a significantly bigger boat, which can offer a choice of accommodation layouts. Our test model had the double cabin forward, a large sofa in the lower salon and a small crew cabin running across the engine-room bulkhead—which can (and probably should) be left as a storage area. As an alternative, if you don’t mind a smaller sofa and no crew cabin (or storage area) you can opt for a second twin-berth cabin amidships which would be ideal for kids.

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It is surprising how practical such an ultra-luxurious boat can be. Storage space in particular has been carefully considered, from the tailor-made lockers aft for a couple of Seabobs, to the bespoke fender bin in the bow. Lockers can be found beneath the bed and under the cockpit seating. Even the all-important fridge in the galley has a useful 34 gallons of volume. Style might ultimately be the driving force at the shipyard, but there is no shortage of substance in the Dolceriva.

Which is not to say I wouldn’t change anything. From a seamanship point of view, the foredeck is quite a piece of work: a dazzling ice rink of glass and gloss varnish, with nothing whatsoever to hold on to. There are a pair of handrails, it is true, but they are so low that you would have to be crawling on all fours (which, to be fair, is quite likely) and until you have located them—not easy, given that their exquisite mahogany trim makes a highly effective camouflage—they serve as little more than a trip hazard. There is the option of a guardrail around the gunwale, but it also looks like it would be too low to be of much practical use—although in its defense, if you ever did trip over it you’d probably be on your way over the side anyway.

Powerful as well as pretty, our Dolceriva was fitted with the larger of two engine options, 1,000-horsepower Volvo D13 straight sixes, mounted aft of midships on V-drive transmissions. Riva’s engineers suggest that with a light load of fuel and water, and four crew, the boat should be good for 40 knots. That sounds realistic—in our trial we logged 38.9 knots with pretty heavy tanks and no fewer than 10 people on board.

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Apart from that single digit, the Dolceriva didn’t seem to notice the extra weight. In terms of the driving experience it was everything a boat from this stable is expected to be—cool, accomplished, refined and effortless. Acceleration had a commendable urgency about it as we reached 30 knots in 15 seconds, and we were pretty close to terminal velocity in just 15 more.

I wasn’t too happy with the windshield. It is tinted, which is like driving with sunglasses—fine in bright sunshine, but not otherwise. It’s also a complicated curved molding, with rather wobbly optical qualities, so forward visibility is not great. You wouldn’t be bothered by any of this if you were 6-foot-4 or so, but at 5 feet 11 inches I was standing on tiptoe to see over while driving, because trying to see through simply wasn’t sensible in these busy waters. Riva’s people acknowledge that it needs addressing.

A 15.9-degree deadrise aft, complemented by a reasonably fine entry at the forefoot, ensured a confident ride in the admittedly benign conditions of our sea trial off the Côte d’Azur. The turning circle was a good 1,000 feet—the Ferretti Group technical director on board agreed that this was on the expansive side—but the general handling qualities of the boat are of such a high order that it wasn’t a problem. Trim is effectively taken care of—the Humphree system in automatic mode can cope with pretty much anything, and I have got into the habit of just letting it do its thing. The helm felt responsive and beautifully weighted, while throttle response was instantaneous thanks to the power of the D13s. It performed like a thoroughbred, exactly as a Riva must.

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There is much to like about the Dolceriva. As an example of the boatbuilder’s art, it is a pleasure to be aboard. It is comfortable. It is extremely well-made. It is outrageously opulent—a lustrous jewel gleaming upon a sparkling sea. And it has undeniable presence—a sense of being greater than the sum of its parts. To paraphrase Miss Jean Brodie—or was it Abraham Lincoln?—if you like a yacht to be a lifestyle statement, then boy, has Riva got a lifestyle statement you’re going to like.

I don’t actually know whether Riva’s stylists and engineers spend their lunchtimes arguing with each other. If they do, the evidence of the Dolceriva suggests that they settle their differences amicably enough. It functions on every level—as an object so pretty it’s almost a work of art, as a driving machine that offers a brilliant combination of power and handling, and as a practical, serviceable boat for family trips and weekends.

In the debate between style and substance, it somehow succeeds in setting a steady course straight down the middle. And I’m not going to argue with that.

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Dolceriva Test Report

Dolce Riva test report

Dolceriva Specifications:

LOA: 48'11"
Beam: 14'
Draft: 4'10"
Displ (light): 47,179 lbs.
Fuel: 476 gal.
Water: 82 gal.
Power (as tested): 2/1,000-hp Volvo Penta D13 diesel V-drives

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This article originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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