Plasticise the Automotive Experience

With many a sporty car, the noise is even more important for the experience than pure performance. If it sounds fast and brutal, the brain seems to amplify the car’s actual speed.

Carmakers know this full well, and in recent years many have spent considerable resources on engineering their vehicle’s sound performance. Valves in the exhaust system that open up above a certain rpm-threshold are an often employed technology. Audi has even hired sound engineers to ‘compose’ the sound of its e-tron EV concept and hybrid vehicles. It’s not just for the driver’s experience of speed, but also serves the safety of other road users and pedestrians, as an otherwise completely silent car could ‘take’ them by surprise.

Much as I appreciate that effort, I’m having a hard time with efforts by Maserati and BMW recently, on cars that are still combustion powered. For its new Kubang SUV, Maserati is working on a system that will reinforce the car’s actual engine noise with artificial sound from the audio system. In particular they aim to apply the technique to the diesel-powered version of the sporty mastodon. BMW came up with a similar system for the new M5, which carries two cylinders fewer than its V10 predecessor.

I’m not liking it. It’s fake. It adds to the trend of increasing plasticisation of the automotive experience that I feel is there. It’s the impression that cars no longer have identity but are a product of marketing. It’s the fact that Golf = A3 = Leon and that the only thing different is the styling, the logo on the front and the price. It bugs me that cars aren’t developed and designed anymore, they are put together from a bunch of shelf components. Like Lego. Like McDonalds.

Engine sound through speakers has the same effect. It takes away a car’s soul, instead of adding to it.

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