For most auto enthusiasts, the throaty growl is synonymous with a finely tuned, high performance engine. But that reassuring sound emanating from beneath the hoods of many of the top-selling models in the U.S. is actually the result of special sound amplifying pipes, or digital sound synthesizers; not the actual engine itself.
Japan has already mandated that hybrids and all-electric-vehicles produce artificial engine sounds as a way to warn pedestrians, cyclists and other motorists of their presence. U.S. safety regulators are expected to follow suit later this year or in early 2016. But automakers have also begun beefing up the sounds of today’s quieter conventional gas and diesel engines.
The 2015 Ford Mustang is equipped with an EcoBoost engine that delivers superior fuel efficiency, and a powerful purr thanks to the vehicle’s “Active Noise Control.” The system basically transmits the vintage sound of a gas guzzling V-8 engine through the cars speakers. Automakers argue that consumers are getting the best of both worlds – increased fuel economy combined with the aural experience they expect from a classic muscle car. But some purists argue it’s nothing more than deception aimed at boosting automakers’ bottom lines.
“It’s a mind-trick. It’s something it’s not. And no one wants to be deceived,” says former Denver Mustang Club president Mike Rhynard.
Ford isn’t the only automaker employing synthesized engine sounds. Volkswagen’s “Soundaktor” technology uses a special speaker to simulate the sound of a muscle car engine in its Beetle Turbo and GTI models, and Lexus amplifies the engine noise in its LFA supercar. Like Ford, BMW plays amplified engine sounds through the sound systems of some of its models, while Porsche uses sound amplifying tubes to deliver engine noises into the passenger cabin.
Proponents of amplified and synthesized engine noise argue that it is necessary to cover up irritating road and wind noises. Automakers argue that consumers are only concerned about fake engine noises precisely because they know they’re not authentic.
Kelly Blue Book senior analyst Karl Brauer says automakers should level with consumers. “If you’re going to do that stuff,” says Brauer, “do that stuff. Own it. Tell customers: If you want a V-8 rumble, you’ve got to buy a V-8 that costs more, gets worse gas mileage and hurts the Earth.”
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