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First ride – Pininfarina Battista

From:Greg Kable 2021-02-03 20:00:01

Up until now, it’s all been about the numbers with the Pininfarina Battista – and, as anyone who has kept tabs on the electric-powered two-seater since its world premiere at the 2019 Geneva motor will know, they’re rather special: 1,400kW, 2,300Nm of torque and a kerb weight under 2,200kg.

No existing combustion engine road car, not even the magnificent Bugatti Chiron Super Sport, comes close to matching the on-paper credentials of the spectacular new four-wheel-drive hypercar  - the first product from Pininfarina’s newly created road car division, Automobili Pininfarina, no less.

Then there’s the promised performance: 0-100km/h in less than 2.0sec, 0-200km/h in less than 6.0sec, 0-300km/h in less than 12.0sec and a top speed “around 350km/h”.

It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted, then . . .

This was highlighted when we got the chance to sit next to Pininfarina’s test driver, former Formula One and Formula E front runner Nick Heidfeld, in what is being billed as possibly the world’s fastest accelerating road car for a handful of laps at the Nardo Technical Centre in southern Italy last week.

It is in damp but drying conditions that our initial run around the vast test facility’s 6.2km handling circuit begins, and immediately it is clear the Battista is every bit as breathtaking, if not more so, than the car upon which it is largely based, the Rimac C_Two.

The two electric hypercars have been developed in parallel, though the Battista receives its own independently programmed electronics and individually tuned suspension among other key changes over the C_Two, endowing it with what Pininfarina claims are its own characteristic performance and dynamics properties.  

Heading down the pit lane, it’s the dull and unappealing sound of the Battista’s race car grade dimensioned tyres rolling across the track surface that forms initial impressions. The lack of aural drama is, of course, part and parcel of any electric car. But it is especially telling in something as visually extroverted as this. In any combustion engine equivalent, you’d be subjected to a whole cacophony of sounds . . . loud, forceful and memorable sounds. You miss that here.

“It is quiet, yes. But that is part of the appeal,” says Heidfeld turning across to see that I’m strapped in safely. “It is cutting edge drivetrain technology. But you are not imposing yourself on anyone else and that’s a good thing.”

Once we’ve joined the circuit and are up to speed, though, the whistle of the Battista’s four electric motors under load and during periods of regenerative braking do give it some sort of aural attraction. Later on, I’m told Automobili Pininfarina is working on a sound generator in an attempt to give it a more satisfying soundtrack.

Obviously, we can’t get an intimate understanding of what the Battista feels like to drive from the lowly position of the heavily bolstered passenger set, but there’s enough here to tell us that it will go down as one of the true pioneers of the electric hypercar. 

At the heart of the new car are four electric motors, each powering an individual wheel and offering the choice between five different driving modes.  The plan is to provide advanced torque vectoring qualities to each axle, though the prototype we’re in does not yet have this function applied. Still, its drive out of corners is nothing short of extraordinary, help no doubt by the tractive qualities brought by its ability to channel drive to each wheel – all part of efforts to ensure the Battista delivers the sort of traction it’ll need to deploy its mammoth reserves.

We can’t say we experienced the full 1400kW; the prototype we’re riding in is restricted to a mere 1000kW or so due to the damp conditions.

Nevertheless, the delivery of power is instant. There’s no delay. There’s huge and forceful forward propulsion very time Heidfeld plants his right foot in s straight line.  Unlike many electric cars conceived for a high top speed, Pininfarina has foregone a two-speed gearbox for a single-speed unit in the interests of smoothness. 

"We're able to do this because the electric motors rev to around 17,000rpm," says Heidfeld.

The way the Battista gathers speed is extraordinarily seamless, as if it is connected to a giant elastic band that has been stretched back and let go with each and every determined surge of acceleration. Before we’ve even had time to settle into the deep clutches of the passenger seat, the digital speedometer is already indicating upwards of 250km/h.

Steering wheel paddles provide the driver with a choice between two different levels of energy regeneration, though Heidfeld, who has more experience racing Formula E race cars than just about anyone else on the planet, says the coast mode is always the best option for performance driving.

With damp patches in many of the cambered corners , the diminutive German brakes early and feels his way around the more challenging parts of the Nardo handling circuit for the first couple of laps before letting it off the leash each time we reach the main straight.

A total of nine Battista prototypes have been constructed for various development purposes, with “four or five” described as being fully road going. The rest have been used for structural test and crash certification.  Buyers can choose between a standard aero package and a more track orientated set-up that is claimed to provide added downforce and stability. Whatever they choose, though, they’ll be digging deep into their pockets; the standard car will set you back at least 2.5 million Euros.

Given its performance claims, the relentless acceleration and formidable traction is expected. But it is the sheer brutality of it that really hits home. Half-way down the long straight on the third lap, Heidfeld winds the drive mode a controller a further notch and unleashes each and every one of the Battista prototype’s restricted reserves, giving it all in the run down to the first corner. It’s then, as my head thumps into the headrest and my body is pressed back into the passenger seat, that I realise he’s only been in playing with me on the first couple of laps by leaving the prototype in one of the more subtle driving modes.

But clearly, the switch into what Heidfeld describes as the most dynamic of the Battista’s driving modes, the aptly named Furioza, liberates a whole new layer of performance.  Even at just 1000kW –some 400kW shy of what the definitive production car is planned to receive, it is spine-chillingly quick, due in no uncertain part to its veritable mountain of torque.      

“There’s a lot about the driving experience that reminds me of a Formula E race car,” he says afterwards. “But, you know, the crazy thing is the acceleration is even more brutal. For a road car it is off the scale of anything I’ve driven.”

While it shares much with the Rimac C_Two, there are key changes to the Battista, including the mapping controlling the throttle, which Pininfarina describes as being very much independently developed.

This is a ferociously rapid car. Even among the new breed of battery touting hypercars it sets new standards of performance. Its straight-line acceleration –seemingly illimitable on a wide-open throttle - is of the sort that scrambles your senses.

Equally as mind-blowing is the Battista’s stopping ability. Its bespoke Brembo brake system hauls it down from big speeds with all the confidence of a much lighter car. Although there are plans for the sizeable rear spoiler to provide air brake qualities, it wasn’t triggered on the prototype we rode it.

What’s really surprising, though, is the agility. The laws of physics suggest a car of this weight, even with a 600kg mass of battery mounted around the centre of its platform to keep the centre of gravity low, shouldn’t be able to attack corners in the way the prototype does.

Although it shares much with the Rimac C_Two, the chassis of the Battista is described as being purely bespoke. “The pick-up points are the same, but we’ve done a lot of work tuning the suspension, especially the spring rates and damping characteristics, to our calibrations. We want to give it a unique driving character. The front end kinematics have been altered.”

The turn-in is whip-crack sharp, Heidfeld merely rolling his wrists to align the nose with the apex. You can sense the stiffness of its carbon fibre monocoque. There’s virtually no roll, just a flat and neutral stance as substantial lateral forces build. The speed carried through the initial part of each of the Nardo handling tracks 16 corners once a dry line appears is quite astonishing.

In these semi-damp conditions, though, it is the grip that limits the handling, the front end eventually pushing on when purchase is breached.  It’s only a fleet interlude, though; a modulation of power and some quick action at the steering wheel is all the Battista needs to once settle mid-corner before its phenomenal power is deployed at the exit.

The aim of the latest round of tests for the Battista is to narrow down the tyre choice. At the moment, Pininfarina has settled on two from Michelin: Pilot Sport 4 and Cup 2R S, both of which we experience during the day, with a profile of 265/35 R20 front and 325/30 R21 rear.

On the warm-down lap, the 43-year-old German shares some further perspective on the set-up: “We’ve focused on fundamentals to make it nice to drive. We don’t want a car that is intimidating. Anyone can drive this car. It feels as much at home on the road as it does on the race track.”

It is truly impressive, and while we’ll have to wait before we can deliver our own verdict and judge whether Pininfarina’s claim that its 120kWh lithium-ion battery provides a range of up to 500km, we’ve learned enough to know that the Battista will certainly be something special when the first of a planned 150 examples rolls off the company’s production line in Turin, Italy, and is delivered to the first lucky customer later this year.

Editor:Greg Kable