When I exited the 1,900-hp Pininfarina Battista — a feat which is surprisingly easy to accomplish, despite the railroad-tie-sized sills, thanks to the large roof cutouts that swing open with the dihedral scissor doors — Paolo Dellacha, the new Italian automaker’s chief product and technology officer, asked me what I thought. Dellacha had been sitting in the passenger seat the whole time as I piloted the $2.2 million hypercar for hours through the twisted canyons of Malibu and the stop-and-go traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway. He had been mostly silent for the duration, but I could tell that he’d spied my ennui.
“It’s a lot,” I said, vaguely.
I didn’t just mean the outrageous power and acceleration, which comes on with escalating brutality — from catapult to intercontinental ballistic missile, depending on which of the driving modes you choose. (The lightest setting is, evocatively, Calma; the most intense, Furiosa.) Or the exceedingly quick steering ratio, which had me clumsily misjudging and correcting. Or the quartet of screens: A nauseating, washout-prone one in place of the rear-view mirror, a small iPhone-sized one front-and-center for speed, and two larger ones flanking that, both half-obscured by the drainpipe-thick, somewhat hexagonal steering wheel. Not ideal, as the screen on the left is used to adjust seat, mirrors and lights, and the one on the right provides navigatory instructions. (Lucky for me, on the Pacific Coast Highway, much of the hidden portion of the map was the ocean.)
I didn’t even mean the disconcerting sound effects the car made: the tom-tom-like noise of the turn signals, the mewling electronic lope it susurrated at “idle,” the squeaks and rattles transmitting through the carbon fiber structure (co-developed, like the powertrain, with Croatian hyper-EV-maker Rimac). And I wasn’t talking about the misaligned dash panels, the supple leather of which rippled like a breeze coming off the ocean.
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I meant the entire hypercar enterprise, in this era of Peak Car.
I felt much the same way after my most recent drive of a Bugatti Chiron, a Super Sport model, which I was blessed to pilot around the mountains and vineyards of Molsheim, near the company’s headquarters. Yes, the acceleration in these vehicles is stupendous and astounding. Yes, the engineering is next-level, and features concepts and componentry that may — if you believe in trickle-down — one day find their way into more ordinary cars. Yes, they provide jobs and invent problems to solve for engineers like Dellacha: What noise should a $2.2-million electric car make at “idle”?
Yes, these vehicles provide a means to test the limits of the human body and mind under unprecedented circumstances of speed and acceleration.Yes, they’re gorgeous, or at least purposeful. Yes, they compel adolescent and adult fantasies. And, yes, cars like this act as an extinguishing siphon for the burning pockets of our globe’s ever-expanding cohort of vile billionaires, even if just for a fleeting moment, before their value doubles and they are sold to different vile billionaires.
But, for me, these cars don’t bring joy. And joy is one of the key metrics for whether or not I like, or love, a car.
Maybe I was on the wrong roads. Maybe the Battista requires a track, or an autobahn, or a closed NASA runway. Maybe I’m the wrong driver; I often posit that I’m better behind the keyboard than behind the wheel. But other recent supercars gave me a sense of satisfaction and engagement that was missing from my experience with the Battista. Six-figure cars as diverse as the McLaren 765LT Spider, Ferrari SF90 Stradale, or Lamborghini Aventador S Roadster, piloted on these same iconic California roads, have given me fresh inspiration, new notions of my own capabilities, an awe for their depth or flexibility, an appreciation for their precision and means of communication, and that alchemical product of the human limbic system that makes us giggle uncontrollably while mashing the throttle.
I was impressed with the Battista’s lovely shape; the interesting quality of many of its materials; the mesmeric paint, which shifts from green to gold like a birch forest on the cusp of fall. And I was amazed by the audacity of the Battista, the way it’s meant to shift public notions of what an electric car can be — specifically, outrageously quick. But like Blockbuster announcing a streaming service in 2018, it feels a bit tardy. And as electrification takes hold and moves forward, it seems evident that acceleration will cease to be a major differentiator. It will be about behavior, engagement, and especially, delight. I hate to be that bitch, but the Battista felt somehow blunt, even bland.
Lest you think this is a criticism of electric cars, rest assured that it is not. I embrace and welcome the move to electrification. I’ve found joy and delight in the Mercedes-EQS, Jaguar I-Pace, Jeep Wrangler 4xe, and Hyundai Ioniq5 among many others.
As a new automaker with a storied history, Pininfarina needed to make a big statement with the first car it built from the ground up. It accomplished that. Seven-Figure Electric Supercar Accelerates Faster Than Anything On Four Wheels is a headline. But staying power requires building long-term affection. Pininfarina has hinted at other forthcoming vehicles that will roast in the glowing halo of the Battista: an SUV, a grand tourer, a roadster. I’m hoping that, with the volume turned down a bit, these next vehicles — six-figure, electric luxury cars that seem poised to compete with the likes of Porsche and Aston Martin — will see the brand’s rich equities in design and human-machine interface take precedence, and allow more life to filter in.