Vauxhall VXR8 Exhaust 2008 665x297

Cum on feel the (fake) noize

Last week I declared that muscle cars might be facing an early death. Having something as iconic as a Ford Mustang fitted with a four-cylinder engine, no matter how many turbochargers are bolted on, simply won’t do.CHAL Banner

For some reason the public consciousness has drifted away from good value performance cars, with the hot hatch now making a return. Instead of big engines making lots of noise there are now cars such as the new Renault Clio Renaultsport, a car that can’t decide if it is a family runabout or a weekend track toy.

It is good, but there are strange compromises. Beautifully soft leather adorns the seats, keeping you so comfortable when driving, but up front is an engine that needs to be worked to within an inch of its life to feel exciting. The suspension has been tweaked to make the ride more supple, more relaxing, while an automatic gearbox allows you to worry about one less thing, but then Renault has added shift lights accompanied with a loud beep when you get to the red line.

Then there is one of the strangest inventions I’ve yet seen in a car. Or, more specifically, heard. It all started with the Toyota GT86 and McLaren MP4-12C, surprisingly enough. Both cars were exciting, fun to drive and engaging but lacked one vital thing.


Toyota GT86 TRD 2013 Rear RightSo both Toyota and McLaren went about adding drama to the cabin. Toyota’s idea was to install a piece of tubing from the manifold to somewhere near the passenger footwell. It sounds like there’s a garden hose there, but it does effectively transmit sound from the engine bay to the interior of the car.

However, it always end up sounding like it is coming from the passenger footwell, and that’s not where you generally find an engine.

McLaren, with a larger budget (or at least a larger walleted clientele) created fundamentally the same thing, except they managed to keep the sound coming from behind the driver, turning up the muted tones from One Direction to Led Zeppelin.

Even Lexus has joined in, installing a flappy bit in the exhaust of their 5.0-litre V8 IS-F that opens under power to make them rumble more loudly.

Which brings me to Renault. The sporty Renault Clio is seemingly also lacking in engine noise, the cabin too finely soundproofed to allow the turbo whine or four cylinder scream to make it through at sufficient volume.

That is all well and good for those going shopping, but the Renaultsport badge attracts a lot of enthusiasts, drivers who want that noise, that feedback. They want to hear the revs rise in order to change gear at the right time and not change simply because they wanted to stop an annoying beep.

Fortunately Renault has a solution. They’re faking it.

Installed is the R-Sound Effect system, which plays artificial engine noises through the car’s speakers as you drive. It’s able to replicate the noises of a range of ‘iconic’ engines, tuning the sound to the speed and acceleration of the car.

Volkswagen Golf GTi Cabriolet 2012 Right Rear

They’re not the first to do this, either. Volkswagen’s Golf GTi used to have a sound pipe, much like the Toyota GT86, but the current model saw this being replaced by the Soundaktor. This used a Krispy Kreme doughnut sized speaker of sorts to add extra, lower frequency noise to the cabin.

Even the mighty BMW M5, with its twin-turbo V8, plays an engine soundtrack through the cars audio system to make you believe that you’re driving something big and powerful. Although as a BMW M5 is big and powerful, I’m not sure what the benefit is.

It is easy to see why manufacturers are doing this. One theory suggests that it has a very obvious financial benefit, as there is no need for a soundpipe, there is no need to find extra room in the engine bay to route the pipe, nor is there any need for cutting holes in bulkheads.

It also allows the manufacturers to tune the audio to the specific car, creating the driving impressions they require or even covering up other noises they would rather you didn’t hear.

Of course there is an even more obvious reason than that.

We simply like big engines. We really all want muscle cars, but society won’t let us have them, so we do the next best thing and fake it.

I press the throttle on my car and things get loud, vibrations get out of hand, and car alarms nearby go off. That won’t be an option on my next car as society has declared I’m a menace. Instead I must think about CO2 figures and polar bears.

But at least when I am driving my Chevrolet Volt, it’ll still rumble like a big V8.

[button link=”” rel=”nofollow” color=”orange”]This article was first published at on 18 March 2013.[/button]

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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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