Recently, while praising the growly note produced by the VW GLI, I made an off-handed remark concerning the multitude of axle-backs I’ve bolted onto my WRX over the years. Unlike most of the hyperbole that is my métier, such statement was actually based in reality.
I really did swap out back-boxes like Jack cycles through guitars, desiring both an uncorking of the rumble produced by a flat-four with unequal-length headers, yet without the yobbish blatting of some angled oil-barrel. A straight STi swap? Nope, all the metallic unpleasantness of chomping tinfoil. The Borla Hush? Stealthy in looks only, but drones like Ben Stein playing the didgeridoo.
If you’re interested, I ended up with a 2.5” single-tip Maddad Whisper, a fine, US-made piece of engineering which I paid through the nose for. Worth every penny though: just enough bass at idle to flip my on-switch, crest 4K in the rev department and suddenly Nicky Grist is calling out the pace notes.
And here’s the thing, of all the facets of the motorcar that are constantly being refined and improved and modernized, it’s the sound I’ll miss the most.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the rest of my car isn’t as tuneful as the exhaust. There are more groans, squeaks and rattles than – well, than something that wouldn’t be possible if not for the invention of Viagra. And the wind-noise, ye gods! You’d get less buffeting rounding Cape Horn in a two-decker Napoleonic frigate.
But it’s all part of the experience: while the visceral tug of lateral or accelerative/decelerative g-forces are what generate a physical connectedness with a car, it’s the sound of the thing that really sparks the emotional connection. The feel, if you’ll allow some pretty puffy-shirted poetic license, of your horse breathing under you.
I felt a great sadness to learn of the new M5’s Active Sound Design, whereby the stereo will contribute simulated engine noise to the tomb-like silence of the cabin. I read this technical tidbit with the sort of dismay one might experience upon hearing that Mark Knopfler had embraced auto-tune.
There is no doubt that the twin-turbo V8 is the new king of the hill when it comes to motivating whichever flavour of teutonic boulevard-strafer you might prefer. But since when does an M5 need the aural equivalent of a foil-wrapped zucchini for added stage presence?
And then there’s the latest Merc’ Hammer. Yes it now has enough torque to strangle a humpback-whale, but at what cost? Even at idle, the old 6.2L engine burbles like the borborygmi of Cthulhu, and when prodded with a violent downshift barks like a stabbed Allosaur.
I feel a great disturbance coming, as though a million cylinders have cried out in anger and are being silenced by five catalytic converters, three resonators, two mufflers and a pair of electrically controlled baffles. Is the future a place where rock n’ roll is truly dead and all we’ll hear is the pious hum of a range-extended EV?
Probably not, at least not too soon. I’ve just finished up with a MINI Cooper S Coupe, and while it’s truly a wretched-looking little car, its tendency to parp with such cheerily enthusiastic flatulence on lift-throttle applications couldn’t help but charm. And then there’s the GLI which, as mentioned, is note-perfect.
Be it the psssst of a excess turbo pressure being vented to atmo, or the *clack* of shutting the door on a 993, or the frenzied howl of Vtec kicking in, yo, what’s your favourite auto-related audio?