In this age of Photoshop where we can seemingly trust less and less at face value, is it too much to ask that the purr of our car’s engine be authentic? Apparently so as a couple of automakers are outfitting their cars with speakers and prerecorded tracks that only make you think you have an impressive sounding engine.
Part of the problem sparking the deception is that the roar of the engine is becoming increasingly harder to hear; thanks in part to government regulations, noise muffling turbochargers, and heavily insulated cabins. Yet, no government noise limitation or muffler is going to stop a real car enthusiast from wanting to hear the wail of his engine — it’s part of the driving experience!
Of course, auto manufacturers recognize the demand for sweet sounding cars and are trying to accommodate by enhancing engine noises with a variety of devices. For example, when under full throttle, a valve on the Chevrolet Corvette opens up to bypass the muffler, and both the Porsche Cayman and Ford Mustang have “noise pipes” that push sound into the cabin. While these modifications might seem iffy to a purist, they’re nothing compared to the engine soundtracks that are played in the Volkswagen GTI and BMW M5.
In the case of the 2011 GTI, the sound pipe found in earlier versions was replaced with a “Soundaktor” — a small speaker installed on the firewall to create more noise. Similarly, the BMW M5 plays engine sounds through the car’s audio system.
Perhaps heightening the negative perception of such add-ons was the manufacturers’ failure to adequately advertise the feature (especially Volkswagen). Thus, when purchasers found out, they subsequently felt lied to, considered themselves victims of false advertising, and hit the message boards to voice their outrage.
In the automakers defense, they claim sound generators have certain advantages over sound pipes as they don’t require cutting a hole into the firewall, don’t crowd the engine bay, and mask unwanted noises.
It remains to be seen whether engine soundtracks in cars will become the norm, but, one thing’s for sure, you can’t be positive the rumble, growl, or howl of the engine you’re hearing is the real deal… best read the fine print.