Renzo Express 4.0

Renzo's speedy Express 4.0 maxes out cockpit and saloon.

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MAX COOL: Swooping lines and a retro bow give the Renzo a sharp and salty look.

The origin of great design is always a fascinating subject. Sometimes it springs out of a single furiously creative individual. Other times it seems like family DNA is the key, and that may explain how Renzo Rivolta came to design such striking yachts. His Italian grandfather morphed a pre-WWII refrigerator business into postwar mopeds and then into Gran Turismo sports cars. His father, Piero, carried on the luxurious Iso-Rivolta sports cars that are now cult classics, before moving to Florida to develop real estate and build yachts. And now grandson and namesake Renzo Rivolta makes stunning boats in Sarasota. If there is a family gene at work here, it must be the blending of speed, beauty and practicality-a tradition ably carried on with the new Renzo Express 4.0.

The Express didn't spring from a blank sheet of paper, although, when you look at the layout, it seems entirely fresh. No, the starting point is the 38-foot hull that he used originally on the Rivolta Jet Coupe, a beautifully detailed yacht that our sister magazine, Motor Boating, called a "pilothouse speedster that takes the classic American lobster boat and runs it through an Italian filter." The same hull, available with either jet drives or props, appeared next on the PT Runner.

From a distance, the Renzo Express has a retro look, from the round ports in the house to the flared bow that clearly draws from the World War II Elco PT boats. But the reality is that everything from the foam-cored topsides and E-glass stringers to the Yanmar 440 hp diesels is cutting-edge technology.

The cockpit arrangement fairly shouts, "Let's party!" by positioning the circular seating area and table directly in the center. Where most builders plant a settee or two off to one side, Renzo recognized that guests don't want to be sloughed off into a corner; they want to be part of the action both under way and at anchor. Turning the circular seating into three segments and hinging the table means the skipper can easily singlehand the Renzo Express-moving easily from the helm to the stern to handle docklines.

When you want to host a dinner party, simply fill in the seating, flip the table from half to full circle, and voilà .

The low console between the sitting area and the cockpit isn't just to prop up the backrest for the seat: It's an alfresco cooking island, the nautical equivalent of a built-in barbecue and food area on the patio. On our test boat, the hinged lid revealed a sink, a Force 10 electric grill and room for an icemaker/refrigerator. The chef can carry on conversations with guests while cooking. The same console can be fitted as a bait-prep station for fishermen or as a wet bar. If it were my choice, I'd hire a sushi chef and let him work on a fresh catch.

Just forward of the circular seating area is the helm to starboard and a companion seat to port. On our test boat, which was provided by Jeff Brown of JK3 in San Diego, the seats were a new Garelick style that combines flip-up bolsters with hinged armrests for very comfortable pedestal seating.

The helm is a simple console of flat planes with a graphite-weave dashboard for a high-tech look, with ample room for electronics. Our test boat had the Yanmar-issue digital displays, which are, frankly, a bit ho-hum.

Before stepping into the cabin, you have to remember that there are trade-offs in life. If you want a big comfy dining area that rivals most homes, plus big helm chairs, plus a cockpit with built-in barbecue station, well, something has to give. In this case, it's in the cabin.

Forward of the bulkhead is the owner's stateroom, which, in fact, is the only stateroom (the settee inside can connect to a berth). It's pleasantly sized with a big centerline berth, built-in nightstands and cedar-lined storage lockers. This is the perfect boat for romance, since you won't have to ever invite folks to stay the night.

On the other hand, the head is truly capacious. There's a Corian counter with a gleaming sink and trendy faucet, an electric Tecna toilet and, best of all, a separate shower area that can be curtained off.

As you step back toward the companionway, look quickly to the port side, or you'll miss the galley. It's tucked out of the way and sized to telephone-booth proportions, but it has all the standards, such as a two-burner cooktop, microwave and AC/DC fridge/freezer. It doesn't have much stowage, but, still, you should enjoy this galley for the important stuff, like making coffee or popping popcorn for munchies or whipping up an aux fines herbes omelette for two.

By the same token, you'll probably only use the inside settee to play cards on a rainy day. The rest of the time, you'll be using that glorious cockpit. Which brings us to the hardtop, which is an option but one that you'd be silly not to order. Not only is it good-looking (with swooping supports), but it also incorporates a pair of hatches and night lighting. Perhaps more important, it can easily be enclosed in several different ways, which turns the cockpit into an all-weather living room with heating or air-conditioning.

An entire section of the cockpit, including one of the settees and the barbecue console, hinges up electrically to reveal the twin Yanmar 6LY3A-ETP diesels (a 4kW Mastervolt genset is in the aft compartment). These are big engines in a small space; access is tight, but manageable.

Under way, the Renzo Express is just sheer fun. Give the Yanmar throttles a nudge and she literally leaps forward, with the engines spooling up fast as the turbos kick in. Spin the wheel, which is light but positive, and she banks into a turn like a fighter. There was no hint of cavitation even with the wheel hard over. Based on my experience aboard a PT Runner with jet power, the feel would be the same if you'd chosen jets.

Our test boat didn't have trim tabs, but I didn't feel they were needed since the Express comes up flat and free of any bow climb that might hinder visibility forward. With her sharp forefoot, she knifes easily into swells with the spray thrown flat to the sides. And, when we returned to a rather tight slip, the optional Side Power bowthruster made life easy. The wide side decks are secure even without lifelines, and the welded stainless steel pulpit provides protection when you're on the bow. A gas-lifted hatch reveals a hidden anchor windlass and the self-draining rode locker as well.

For the 4.0, Renzo has managed to take a breed that tends toward the vanilla-the express cruiser-and do something quite dashing. When pressed about the design criteria, Renzo answers, "Grace with a purpose." Then adds: "Flexibility." Mission accomplished.

Contact: Renzo Yachts, (941) 954-0355; www.renzoyachts.com