That’s right, you heard me. When it comes to a car’s engine noise and exhaust note, as well as the all-encompassing thrill and feel of driving something that claims to offer ‘sporty’ performance, I expect the driving experience to be rough, loud and dirty.
But sometimes a car that promises a lot on paper can leave you feeling unsatisfied. Similarly, a zippy city car that shouldn’t scream and shout can surprise you. Given the variation and my own personal expectations, I have to ask - are car manufacturers going overboard when it comes to refinement?
There’s a justified expectation particularly on luxury marques to offer high power with minimal cabin noise and a supple ride. The leaps and bounds that have been made when it comes to noise reduction technology and engine refinement are certainly impressive, but I’d also hate to see them lose their edge.
One that hasn’t lost the ability to take your breath away is the Aston Martin Vanquish Volante. Pop it in sports mode with the top down and you can ‘feel’ the sound when you put your foot down. Of course you pay through the nose for a car like that, but the experience is exhilarating and that’s what I’m talking about. Jaguar, BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Porsche, Subaru, Mini, Holden, Volvo - the list goes on and on, and all have their own signature sound.
At the cheaper end, the Fiat Abarth is a lot of fun to drive because it sounds like it should go faster than it’s actually capable of. It’s rough and engages the driver, you’ll feel every road imperfection and you’ll jolt through every manual gear change, and it’ll pound your eardrums.
The sound of some iconic sports cars has been toned down over the years, most notably for me the Subaru WRX and STI. While the new generation maintains its distinctive sound, my memory of the original is still so clear. It’s missing something – it’s doesn’t sound quite as rough, loud or dirty and that’s what I loved about it.
As one of my fellow CA journos put it, muted V8s are the enemy. After growing up idolising Ford and Holden V8s, the new Commodore SS is too quiet and too refined. If you have ever had the pleasure of getting up close and personal with an original Holden Monaro from the 1960s or 1970s, you’ll know that the muscle cars of the early 21st century are markedly muted by comparison.
Yes, technology has advanced but we need to hold onto that original ‘grunt’. In my opinion, in some vehicles the connection between the driver and the car has become strained. The Lexus LS, Mercedes-Benz CLS500 and BMW 550i all feel distantly quiet.
When it comes to hot-hatches, they’re supposed to make a ‘look at me’ statement. The Peugeot 208 GTi, though it performs well, lacks that rough and loud energy of something like the Renault Megane RS265.
Don’t even get me started on diesel engines. Though I appreciate the lengths engineers have gone to in order to make them more environmentally friendly and economic, I miss the dirty sound.
Back in the day, growing up in the country, you could hear the paddock basher Toyota LandCruiser, Nissan Patrol or Mitsubishi Pajero coming a mile away. On the flip side though, I think the Kia Sportage diesel has maintained enough of the classic diesel sound.
The ‘piece de resistance’ that backs my claim though, is the recent move by manufacturers to create synthetic exhaust notes, or use audio to enhance the sound in the cabin. The BMW M5 has Active Sound – because the cabin is now so quite inside, audio is played through the sound system to give you the performance experience you'd otherwise be missing.
But BMW isn’t the only one resorting to audio technology to give the driver the option of hearing the external sound. Lexus, Ford, Volkswagen and Porsche have all had to enhance the experience in the cabin.
Some may enjoy having the option to reduce the infiltration or customise the volume to their liking, I prefer the real deal.
At least it can be a bit of fun thanks to systems like Renault’s R-Sound Effect system (watch the video here) as found in the Renault Clio GT Premium. It takes the cake. You can switch between six different sounds including a V6 race car or a twin-turbo Nissan GT-R.
If this is the way things are going, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it, I’d at least prefer something unrealistic (not an enhanced 'real' audio experience) playing through my speakers. Or I’ll drive with the windows down – even in winter.