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The electric Pininfarina Battista costs a whopping $2 million. Here’s what that gets you

<i>Andi Hedrick</i><br/>
Andi Hedrick

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNN Business

The Pininfarina Battista is an astonishing car. Its base price, $2.2 million, is shocking, but so are its capabilities. With a maximum output of 1,900 horsepower from four electric motors, Automobili Pininfarina claims it can go from zero to 60 miles per hour in under two seconds. It probably took you longer just to read that sentence.

If anyone still needs convincing that electric cars need not be boring appliances, the Battista is a convincing, if costly, argument. It has all the elements of a supercar — power, prestige, and price — but with extra-large servings of each. It’s an eye-catching, wallet-straining, gut-punching all-wheel-drive thrill ride.

I was driving along a narrow, curving blacktop road sprinkled with autumn leaves in a green Battista when a flashback hit me. I’d been on very similar roads not far from there about seven years before when I was driving a 1969 Lamborghini Miura.

The memory was ironic in addition to being kind of amazing. The Miura is widely regarded as the first modern supercar. It had a 12-cylinder engine mounted close behind its two seats instead of under the hood, as in most cars. It was a design that, until the Miura, had largely been consigned to racecars, not sports cars intended for street driving. Now, that structure is common in any number of expensive high-performance cars.

Just as Lamborghini was changing everything back in the 1960s, Pininfarina’s car could also mark the dawn of a new era. The Battista is among the first cars bringing the era of gasoline-powered supercars to what will likely be its eventual end. Electric power promises more acceleration and power without tailpipe emissions and, for better or worse, without the cacophony of a V12. But Lamborghini’s current CEO, Stephan Winkelmann, has said that a proper electric supercar isn’t possible with today’s technology. Plug-in hybrids, sure, but not completely battery-powered ones. Batteries, especially ones that would give a useful amount of range, are just too heavy to make any supercar properly super, the argument goes.

The Pininfarina Battista puts his skepticism to the test, but, I fear, Winkelmann may just be right. At least for now.

The fully electric Battista was designed and assembled by a company spun off from the better-known Pininfarina design firm that crafted bodies for decades’ worth of beautiful Ferraris. The car is named after founder Battista “Pinin” Farina. (His nickname was incorporated into the company’s, and later the family’s, name.) It outpowers even 16-cylinder turbocharged Bugattis. The motors and batteries were developed with Rimac, the Croatian electric supercar company that sold a chunk of itself to Bugatti-parent Volkswagen, and which has now been merged with Bugatti to create Bugatti-Rimac.

The Battista is quite lovely to look at, as it should be since it carries the Pininfarina name. The car I tested, the first of what are planned to be 150 production cars, had green paint sparking with flecks of gold sprayed over its elegantly curved body.

The inside of the car is also quite nice. Buyers can choose any number of colors including, if they want, differently colored driver and passenger seats. In this particular car, the passenger compartment was covered in tan leather matched by a custom set of luggage. As with many new electric models, the Battista’s interior doesn’t have a lot of knobs and switches but, instead, uses touchscreens to control functions like seat and steering wheel adjustments.

A knob on the driver’s side door allowed me to switch among the car’s basic drive modes. There is Calma, the most laid back, which limited horsepower to just 670 — no big deal, I guess, but still enough to take the car to 124 miles an hour — and only the front wheels are powered unless the accelerator pedal is properly smashed. Then, in increasing levels of power and performance, there are Pura, Energica (basically sport mode), and, finally, Furiosa, a track mode in which nearly 1,900 horsepower is available should you find someplace to use all that.

In terms of outright performance, the Battista provides a remarkable experience. It accelerates with shocking brutality. It corners nicely and feels balanced, at least at less than extreme speeds. The steering is quick and responsive and a bit heavy but, oddly, lacking in feel at the same time. I felt bumps and pavement imperfections through the steering, but there wasn’t much tactile sense of what the car was actually doing.

Overall, it’s fun but lacks a certain completeness, a singularity I’ve experience when, in a really great car, all the pieces come together. Driving a really good Lamborghini, Ferrari, or McLaren — blasting down a long, straight piece of road then whipping around a curve like you’re swinging on a pendulum — doesn’t come with a sensation that “I am driving this car and it is fast and powerful.” The sensation is: “I am fast and powerful.” Everything seems centered on you, the driver. The experience in the Battista felt less immediate and organic. I was, distinctly, driving a machine and that machine was quite separate from me.

I might blame the lack of engine sound, but I’ve driven countless electric cars before, including ones like the blisteringly quick all-electric Porsche Taycan Turbo S. Despite having much less horsepower potential than the Battista, I recall the Taycan as being more fun. In fairness, I drove the Taycan longer and on better roads, so this is not a scientific smile-per-mile comparison, but there were a lot of smiles.

The ripping sound of internal combustion V12 engine is great, but electric cars can provide their own kind of excitement thanks to their prompt response to the accelerator pedal. The Battista has that, for sure. Controlling extraneous sound when there’s no engine noise to mask it is a challenge, though. In the Battista, road noises and various random clicks and buzzes from the electric motors filled the cabin. Pininfarina created an artificial whirring noise to make up for the lack of engine sound, but it was often hard to even hear or notice.

Pininfarina also set a high bar for itself by calling the Battista a hyper-GT. GT stands for Grand Touring. A GT car is supposed to have outstanding performance combined with comfort for long drives at high speeds out into the countryside. A GT is generally more laid back than an outright supercar, but it’s a balance that can be hard to achieve. The best example of a true hyper-GT is the Bugatti Chiron, a car powered by copious amounts of premium gasoline. Even the cheapest Bugatti costs about $1 million more than the Battista, but the experience in the Bugatti is vastly nicer.

For that matter, though, even fairly aggressive modern supercars from Lamborghini, Ferrari and McLaren — ones with wings on the back and seats that are mere inches off the road — deliver a more relaxed experience in their cruising-down-the-boulevard modes than the Battista, and at a fraction of the price. In its front-wheel-drve Calma mode, the Battista still felt edgy and rough.

Part of the challenge, Automobili Pininfarina CEO Per Svantesson explained to me later, is all that weight. The Battista’s big battery packs weigh a lot, so keeping the car’s overall heft down to something reasonable meant leaving out things like much of the sound-deadening insulation. Also, controlling that much weight when, even in its most low-key mode, this car can potentially go very fast, meant the rather harsh suspension I complained about was necessary.

In the end, perhaps Lamborghini’s Winkelmann is right. Battery packs can deliver speed and ridiculous amounts of power but not the total experience. Back in the days of Lamborghini’s earliest supercars in the 1960s and ’70s, cars like the Miura, speed and power were all that could be expected. The Miura was exciting, but no pleasure cruise. But things have improved since then, and the driving experience in even the most aggressive cars has gotten vastly better.

Perhaps electric supercars are just having their Miura moment. It’s early yet, but things will doubtlessly improve.

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