Reader Question: Fake Engine Noise?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Clarke asks: I’ve recently heard that some brands are pumping fake engine noise into the car in order to make it sound sportier to the driver. Have you heard of this? Thanks!

My reply: I can go one better – I’ve experienced this!

A number of new cars use electronic “enhancement”  – sound piped through the car’s audio system – to make a smaller engine sound bigger – or stronger. Lexus, for example, uses the tech as part of the F Sport package offered with several of its models such as the RX crossover. BMW, too – to make the inappropriately tiny 2.0 liter engine in the current 5 Series sedan sound less like an inappropriately tiny 2.0 liter engine (the mid-sized 5 Series used to come standard with an appropriately sized six – but Uncle’s fuel economy fatwas have forced BMW – and others – to downsize their engines, just as happened back in the late ’70s and into the ’80s).

Sound tuning has been a part of new car designing for decades – via mechanical means such as the use of different mufflers/exhaust configurations or by making changes to the air intake system, as by a resonator or open-element air cleaner. These methods also usually resulted in some sturm to go with the drang – i.e.,  an increase in power as well as the sound of more power.

But the enhancement we’re talking about  isn’t tangible. It is a purely auditory – and illusory. Like watching someone eat a steak as opposed to eating one.

I expect more of this since it will be necessary to make electric cars sound like . . . something. Or at least, sound different as one electric motor sounds the same as another electric motor – motors being all the same basically, basically.

It’s possible that you’ll be able to pick your soundtrack – just as many new cars have selectable ambient interior mood lighting. Most new cars have digital music storage capacity; you can pipe your music from a phone or iPod through the car’s audio system. It would probably be easy to embed various “tracks” the driver could select from. 1969 SS 396, for instance. Or maybe McLaren F1?

Of course, it’d all be fake and so kind of sad.

But that’s what EVs are all about, eh? The sucking out of all experience – and joy. Sit back and enjoy the autopsy-room quiet of the (brief) ride.

And enjoy your wait.

. . .

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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