What should an electric vehicle sound like? Below a certain speed, they’re required by law to emit some sort of noise, if only to give pedestrians a fighting chance of getting out of the way. Beyond that, there are no hard and fast rules. And since the technology is relatively new, at least at the mass-market level, there are really no established conventions, either.
In most cases automakers have given their EVs a relatively inoffensive, vaguely spacey warble or whir. The aftermarket is (as always) a bit more ambitious: Witness this Tesla Model 3 with an “exhaust” system—read: speakers on the exterior of the car—programmed to sound like a Lamborghini’s glorious naturally aspirated V12. If you want to cut through the intro, skip ahead to the five-minute mark in the video to hear it in action.
In this particular case, the app-controlled system has been developed by Milltek, which makes a range of performance exhaust systems for internal combustion powered cars. Systems like this are the logical next step for the company—and there’s no reason that they’ll be limited to mimicry. Want to experience the glamorous vision of the future presented by The Jetsons? Sorry, not going to happen. But if it’s any consolation, you’ll soon be able to make your EV at least sound like one of the show’s flying cars.
Truthfully, we really don’t know what paths automotive modification will take in an electrified age; it’s possible that, especially if/when basic blank-slate EV “skateboards” hit the market, we could see some really wild creations start to
roar silently cruise out of garages and backyard sheds. But at this relatively early stage, it doesn’t seem like there are too many ways to tinker with a typical EV. Pop the hood of a new Porsche Taycan and … do what, exactly? Aside from wheels, suspension and appearance, soundtrack experimentation is one of the few mods within reach of the average EV owner.
It’s also not a totally new concept. Automakers have been engineering the sounds of their vehicles’ exhausts for ages; there’s always been a level of artifice on this front. In more recent years, that’s evolved into piping exhaust sounds into ever-more-insulated cabins via resonator tubes and amplifiers—or simply playing engine noise over the stereo system in concert with the real-life revs happening ahead of the firewall. Aftermarket products like the SoundRacer claim they can make your wheezy econobox sound like anything from a Saab two-stroke to a V10-powered Lexus LFA.
Of course, this is going a step further, creating engine noises where there is no engine at all. Whether you think this is a fun novelty or waste of time and effort depends on what exactly you’re hoping to get out of your automotive experience. Do you want a car that has an actual V12 or one that merely sounds like it has a V12?
To me, this is a very meaningful distinction. I don’t understand how you’d get any real satisfaction from faking it; I’d rather experience an EV’s futuristic quietness for what it is, rather that fooling my ears into thinking it’s something it isn’t.
But—and I am going to sound like a geezer here—it’s conceivable that a generation that grew up driving totally digital versions of their dream cars in Gran Turismo and Forza sees it differently. It could well be that, if your introduction to the world of automotive enthusiasm was a force-feedback wheel, the line between simulation and reality is a good deal blurrier.
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