24 Jun 2014

Which Cars Make The Best (And Worst) Sounds

I don't know about you but one of the most important factors when considering a car is the noise it makes.

Engine power can be invigorating and exciting but that pleasure is blunted if not accompanied by a similarly exciting soundtrack.  In cars of old engine sound was just a by-product of the many tiny explosions under the bonnet but nowadays it has to be engineered in.

As cars become more efficient sound is deadened unless actively promoted by the people designing it, which is usually dictated by that company's philosophy.

The sound a car makes comes from two sources - the engine itself and the exhaust.  Engine sound can be spine chillingly good or it can be woeful.  Similarly exhausts can emit a mellifluous note equal to the best music, or they can sound like a wet fart.  Or they can make almost no noise at all.

Sports cars is where we find most decent soundtracks.  Jaguar in particular has decided that its fast cars should not only look fast, they should sound it too.  The F-Type V6S is an angry, snarling thing whose gear change blips could excite even vegetarians.  The F-Type V8 is so sonorous you use twice as much fuel as necessary just so it'll bang, crackle and explode to order.

Modern, efficient hatchbacks make very little noise, usually because they are promoted as slick, modern, reliable, economical, clean and efficient.  A lusty roar from 2 inch tailpipes is not in keeping with the image.

Even when a manufacturer builds a hot hatch variant the noise is often disappointing.  The Renaultsport Clio 200 is a marvellous car but its inline-4 1.6 litre turbocharged engine makes hardly a sound, and neither does its exhaust.  Renault knows this so has fitted an array of sound effects to the stereo system.  Check out the video I made of it here.

Renault's R-Sound system is a bit of a cheeky wink to BMW's Milli Vanilli style Active Sound System which pipes fake engine noise through the stereo. BMW tried to keep the system hush hush so buyers actually thought the car made a more lusty noise than it does.  VW does the same with its Soundaktor in the Golf GTI.

For a proper, raucous engine sound and exhaust note we have to look hard to find decent examples.  A few years ago it wasn't difficult - my own 2004 Audi TT 3.2 V6 makes the most wonderful sounds.  The engine issues a tremendous metallic wail at the higher reaches of the rev range and the exhaust's boom at low revs and snarl at high revs is fantastic.

Most cars with an inline-4 engine sound rubbish but the Fiesta ST and Audi S1 make a decent fist of it whilst Mercedes' A45 AMG makes industrial, brutal noises at full chat.  The Astra VXR, great car that it is, is about as aurally emotive as a food blender.

Amongst the Germans the old 6.2 V8 in some Mercedes AMG models was wondrous but the 5.5 twin-turbo is slightly less so.  BMWs can make a good inline-6 noise if they try hard and with Audi it comes down to whether the engineers developing a particular model had got out of bed on the right side or not.

Porsche stands apart from its German brethren by using flat-6 engines which sound marvellous.  They even engineer in some crackles and pops.  The Boxster S I tested sounded brilliant and you could make it sing like Brian Blessed with a throat full of spittle if you so desired.

Of all the cars I've tested the one that came closest to Jaguar is the Maserati GranTurismo Sport.  Good lord that thing sounds fantastic with its Ferrari-built 4.7 litre V8.

All the above cars are petrol powered.  With the exception of the Range Rover SDV8 every single diesel engine sounds rubbish.  Some sound positively dreadful whilst others are merely crap.  The SDV8 is a fantastic engine, powerful, economical and surprisingly good to listen to.

If you don't care about the sound your car makes then 95% of the market will accommodate you.  If you do then you have to fork out a few extra quid and make your choice carefully.

But it'll be worth it.

By Matt Hubbard