By on May 9, 2016


In the 1960s, automakers wanted to put a tiger in your tank, but now Ford Motor Company wants a howler monkey under your dash.

The automaker was concerned that drivers used to “shifting by ear” aren’t getting the gas mileage their efficient, small-displacement engines were designed for, so it patented an acoustic device that mimics a bigger powerplant, Autoblog reports.

Small turbo engines reach peak torque at low rpm’s, but that isn’t when drivers of manual transmission models were shifting, Ford found. Lack of sensory input is to blame — most drivers’ eyes are on the road, not the tachometer.

As a result, real world gas mileage suffers. The solution? Create the impression of more cylinders pumping away under the hood.

Ford’s patent would generate the noise of cylinders firing, and inject that noise into the vehicle cabin in the gaps between the firing of the vehicle’s own cylinders.

“This has the effect of creating a virtual engine noise to virtually increase the number of cylinders in an internal combustion engine,” the patent states.

Like supercar kit body dropped on a Fiero, the effect would be an outright lie, but the only people to hear it would be inside the vehicle. It would be less obnoxious than installing a coffee can exhaust tip on every new subcompact Ford.

When Ford talks about small-displacement engines, it means those with less than four cylinders, like the 1.0-liter EcoBoost three-cylinder found in the Fiesta and Focus.

Because the shifting issue only concerns row-your-own models, which are increasingly unpopular in North America, the invention — if installed at the factory — wouldn’t be experienced by many domestic drivers. At least, not initially.

Power-to-displacement levels are rising, so there could come a time when your F-150 has to mimic the sound of a V8 due to its lawnmower-sized motor.

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42 Comments on “Motor Mixtape: Drivers Aren’t Shifting, so Ford Wants to Pump Up the (Engine) Volume...”

  • avatar

    Why?? Just…why? I’ve driven manual transmission cars all of my life and after a certain “breaking in” point, never had to worry about looking at the tach, or listening to the engine, to determine when to shift. When the day comes that all cars are self-driving, will manufacturers still pump in fake sounds so we still think we are in control? Maybe each car will have it’s own “Exhaust Experience” menu, where you can select from a synthesized bank of exhaust notes from across the spectrum of engine/exhaust notes throughout automotive history…

    • 0 avatar

      Probably so Ford can dodge any potential lawsuits for crappy mileage. People seldom shift with absolute economy on thier mind ( if they did the term pumping losses would crop up a bit more ) and instead shift based on some preconceived notion ( peak rpm, best seat of the pants feel, when it “sounds right”, et al ).

      I know I’m happiest when my car is running around 2000 rpm give or take a few hundred rpm. It’s great since the blower is starting to run into the meaty part of the torque curve ( around 500 ft/lbs ) but it has an appreciable effect on mileage since the blower is in bypass well below that rpm and throttle position enabling better mileage.

      As a blown engine these little mills despite direct injection and various other tricks to allow them to run leaner still fatten up the air/fuel ratio as boost climbs negatively impacting economy.

      Anyways, manufacturers used to use a shift light on the dash to train drivers. Ford already uses a low buck LED based HUD in some models, why not that. It could illuminate in the drivers FOV and if Ford wanted to make it nifty they could have a economy mode and a performance mode and so on without all of the false engine note stuff.

  • avatar

    Artificial NVH to stop drivers from revving the engine? What’s next: artificial instability to stop them from driving too fast?

    • 0 avatar

      Sounds like something from “As seen on TV” store

    • 0 avatar

      Didn’t Cadillac try vibrating seats to tell you when you were close to handling limits?

      There was a Popular Mechanics (IIRC) article years ago about the relationship between safety & attitudes. They found that the more safety features you add, the more cavalier drivers were, which in turned caused less improvement in safety than should have been observed. Researchers concluded that leaving the feeling of danger or discomfort would motivate drivers to scale back.

  • avatar

    Manuals are dead.

    You’re dealing with a bunch of turkeys DRIVING AROUND IN 3rd because their little, pitiful engine is gutless as the gears climb.

    All their lame, weak, pathetic engines want to climb to the highest gear the automatic will allow for max fuel efficiency- only now, left in the hands of nüübs, it can’t.

    Pre-recorded Exhaust notes?

    Is this what we’ve come to?

    • 0 avatar

      The day I can’t manage to find a gear without the help of a machine is the day I stop caring about driving.
      As for the too small engines and fake sound crap, I kinda agree though.

      In the words of some idiot who doesn’t understand the point of gun safety laws or just how old the constitition is : “I’ll give you my manual transmission when you pry it from my cold, dead hands”

      • 0 avatar
        Matt Foley

        You’re trying to turn an article about people’s ineptitude at using manual transmissions into an opportunity for a pro-gun-control rant?

        OK, I’ll play the non-sequitur political rant game. How’s this:

        Every lily-livered pantywaist who wants to overturn the Second Amendment has no testicles. None whatsoever. Just an empty, shriveled scrotum, like a neutered puppy.

        Hey, this is fun!

    • 0 avatar

      Naw, there will always be a segment that likes to row it’s own besides anot M/T is one of the best damn anti-theft devices out there!

      Personally I like the engagement you get with a manual transmission and the various tricks you need to pull off in order to maximize performance ( heel-toe, speed shifting, peddling and so on ). Definitely a device for people who appreciate the journey and not the destination as it provided a more satisfying sense of accomplishment when you bang off some great times at the strip or road course.

      Auto boxes of any sort are great for the pure thrill of speed but it wears off after a bit since there is no real effort involved when ithe comes to nailing a good time ( at least from the shifting standpoint ).

    • 0 avatar

      Sigh. So much to disagree with and yet you are entirely right about the sound of the artificial engine notes.

      My gti had one, the “soundaktor.” I’m no purist, if it sounds good that’s fine, but after about 2 weeks I started being able to differentiate between engine and speaker. About 3 or 4 days after making that distinction it turned into a buzz on top of my engine note. I turned it off (which required borrowing a vagcom cable). The car sounds thousands of dollars more expensive now, quiet while cruising and the sounds the turbo makes are no longer distorted by a buzzing from the vibrating firewall.

      Moral of the story is, if you want your engine to sound different redesign your intake box, incorporate a resonance tube, or change out your muffler ford. DO NOT use a speaker to make it sound like the engine is being thrashed at casual revs. That’s going to be worse than vw’s current, less ambitious, system. I guarantee it. We all know what turbos sound like by now, it’s not the 90’s, we’re not revolted by a new sound.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree with everything you wrote after “Manuals are dead.”

  • avatar

    I hope that is something that can be shut off at the owner’s discretion.

    • 0 avatar

      Just about everything is if you’re willing to dig deep enough. We even shut off the keys-in-ignition chime on the ’08 F-350 by venturing into a rat’s nest of wiring in the steering column.

      • 0 avatar

        I just spent an hour looking to see if there’s a way to change those gorpy, prissy warning tones in the newer Fords to something resembling the chime from a ’91 Tempo.

        For BLIS and collision warning, I agree with those sounds. But that three-toned whatchamacalit for the key is just STOOPID!

        As for the subject of this post, any piped-in or synthesized engine noise isn’t going to fool my hearing that could put a 20-y/o German Shepherd’s to shame! I’m sure anyone capable of rowing their own gears can learn proper shift points, despite what this article posits. IIRC, the Managing Editor of this very site just purchased one of these very vehicles; Mark, are you having problems shifting? (My guess is “no.”)

  • avatar

    “We sell the sizzle, not the steak.”

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Manuals are for enthusiasts and cheapskates. Apparently there are far more cheapskates.

  • avatar

    FREEDOM of Shift! “Stick” it to the MAN!!

    Car manufacturers want manual drivers to hurry up and die. And Breed more BTSRs. As long as they still make manuals, you have to buy them.

  • avatar
    Lack Thereof

    Better solution: Project the upshift light onto the windshield.

    • 0 avatar

      My dash has the Tach, large and front and center, with a smaller speedo to the side. Within the Tach dial there is a numerical speed and a shift indicator. Within two days, I decided to ignore that arrow.

      I get the idea, but I think that very quickly, I would completely ignore a shift light/arrow on my windshield.

  • avatar

    I understand the logic behind the argument, I just don’t like the application. I drive a manual now, but it’s a large six. I’ve never driven a small displacement like Ford is referencing.

    Above all….please all for the driver’s ability to switch this off.

  • avatar

    On all the cars I put ‘fart-cans’ on in my youth, I experienced improved fuel economy, 100% only because I drove them more ‘correctly’ and tried harder to make them less noisy during every day driving.
    And If I remember correctly, most aftermarket cone-filter setups that usually draw in more hot air from the engine compartment ,actually improve fuel economy because the engine management tends to lean them out when the air is less dense.
    So in the end your typical Civic ricer may actually save gas, or at least cancel out the negative effects of the aerodynamic modifications ;)

    • 0 avatar

      Only if the filter is unshielded and picking up in the engine bay. They still return positive dyno results, but it falls off fast after multiple runs. For my 2.5 I have an intake (summer use only) that picks up down below the fog lights. For the 2.0t there are closed air boxes that have better filters and more flow through that avoid this issue (racingline and ecs). So, not all aftermarket intakes are created equally.

      Edit. I left out that my 2.5 was running hot from the factory intake wise. The filter is on top of the engine with holes drilled in the tubes underneath to let maximum hot air in. This is why 2.5’s have such massive results from bolt on tuning.

  • avatar

    If I needed such an acoustic reminder, I would prefer a warning beep followed by a double beep for shift time. Could be used for training one to learn the shift points and then disabled with a button push in my ford sink.

    (Reminds me of my 1980 Ford Fiesta, when I would get it all wound up on the interstate, sometimes, I’d accidentally shift out of 4th looking to upshift. LoL)

  • avatar

    I had a vacuum gauge in my old Chevy. It also had a colored scaled for economy and power. Race cars use progressive lights that turn red at the shift point. Drag racers just have a big shift light. All those would be preferable then some faked sound.

  • avatar

    It’s not totally crazy. I’d say my 2016 Mazda3s 6MT could use more engine noise. I learned to drive in a Toyota Tercel without a tachometer, so I learned to shift by noise. I don’t depend on the noise, but it helps.

    The Mazda3 keeps the engine noise a little too low, especially relative to the road noise. I’ll probably change out the exhaust. While I’m at it, a more open exhaust lets you get more out of an ECU tune…

  • avatar

    Haha.. didn’t GM have an arrow and accompanying “SHIFT” instrumentation in some of their late 80s and early 90’s manual models? I remember seeing it in an S10.. Thought it was the stupidest thing.

    I can see it now.. the little amber arrow lights up and starts to turn an orange toward a red color. After a long enough time the gearbox shifts for you with an announcement “the proper gear was selected, please see your owner’s manual for operating instructions”

    Of course this would not work in a true manual but if they are considering all of this sound enhancement crap, why bother?

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      Yes, my 99 S-10 5 speed manual has the up shift arrow that lights up to tell you when to shift which I do not pay attention to because if you up shift when it tells you to your engine lags. I prefer to shift by the sound of the motor. VW was one of the first to have an up shift arrow. My wife’s 77 Accord 5 speed manual hatchback had an tachometer which I did use. An tachometer is more useful on a manual transmission than an automatic. I don’t need or want piped in engine noise. Silence is golden.

      • 0 avatar

        My ’90 Escort GT had an “upshift” light, which I soon learned to ignore, since the little 1.9 (with no turbo) didn’t have the torque to pull a bicycle at the recommended “eco-shift” points.

    • 0 avatar

      The Chevy Cobalt XFE (the most forgotten economy car ever) had that too.

      • 0 avatar

        Great deep cut, Drzhivago138! If you can call something less than a decade old a deep cut, which I think you can in this case.

        I couldn’t resist skimming through the comments. It sounds like those who owned them like them.

        In my mind, some GM engineer began his career with the Olds Turnpike Cruiser and finished it with the Cobalt XFE.

        Has Ford dropped the SFE package for the Focus? I love that that included steelies with aerodynamic wheelcovers.

        • 0 avatar

          Actually, I learned it from Regular Car Reviews. Warning: although they never use explicit language, most of “reviews” are obscene in some way, and that humor is not for everyone.


  • avatar

    Silence is golden. Tesla owners aren’t complaining.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, because all those manual trans Teslas…

    • 0 avatar

      And teslas weigh considerably more than you’re looking for if you are in the market for an engaging drive. Impressive and fast, but not engaging, just like all the other cars in that class (which are also quiet, if not to that extent.

  • avatar

    People are just getting stupider aren’t they?

  • avatar

    I can’t believe people would want to “hear engine sounds”, especially artificial ones. We have come a long ways to create quiet engines. I am pretty thankful for that in both ways–as a driver and as someone that wants a good night’s rest in my home.

    And for manufacturers to think of such a thing? That would be similar to having a lawn mower or a vacuum cleaner equipped with a speaker to make the consumer think that it is “working powerfully”. That’s next–mark my words. The average Joe Consumer will be convinced that it is working hard and strong.

    About the only engine I don’t mind hearing would be the 5.9L Cummins in the Dodge Ram, especially the old 12-valve. Of course, I don’t like the loud and obnoxious exhausts that are intentionally modified on these trucks by idiots that should have just stuck with their tin-can Honda Civic.

  • avatar

    When EVs finally hit the mainstream, the whole concept of shifting–even automatic shifting–will be dead.

    Seriously, the only reason multispeed transmissions exist is the inadequacy of the engine, especially torque at low (or zero) rpm.

  • avatar

    My 2016 F150 king ranch with the 3.5 Ecoboost already has fake V8 engine noise in the cab, and it’s not a manual. It is not overly intrusive, but I don’t like it. I would much rather have a quiet cab. I really can’t understand why Ford introduced this “feature”.

    • 0 avatar

      As I mentioned above vw does this too. It is fixable on those cars, but that’s a discreet speaker that can be unplugged or disabled with diagnostic tools.

      Let’s be honest, it’s our fault. Everyone railed brutally against the advent of turbocharging and the loss of naturally aspirated engine notes and throttle response/lag. As a direct result we received small lag-minimized turbos and artificial engine notes. We were wrong, at least on the noise side of things.

  • avatar

    My ’85 944 has an upshift light. It seems ridiculous in such an anti-eco, sporting car. I dislike it, as it occasionally catches my eye, and I panic, thinking “OMG! One of the red warning lights just came on!”

    I’ll probably figure out a way to defeat it someday. Meh.

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