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Friday 2nd March 2012


PH BLOG: NOISE MATTERS

Ears still ringing from Garlick's TVR, Dan's been pondering the merits of noisy cars


Noisy cars are great, and they don't come much noisier than Garlick's TVR, which I was honoured to be offered a go with yesterday. Indeed, I recall saying as much as we were driving along but all I got was the typical TVR passenger's response of "sorry, what was that?"

Sounds faster than it is but Dan's happy
Sounds faster than it is but Dan's happy
I'm not proposing changing the PH slogan to 'Noise Matters' but, in a sense, it's perhaps the more relevant measure of a car these days. It goes back to my earlier witterings about flow - namely the way a car makes you feel is actually way more important than whether it's 0.1 seconds faster to 62mph than your mate's or can top 200mph.

It's another way of interacting with your car of course, a means of conversation almost. Another reason why manual gearboxes are so much more engaging of course - the noise the car is making is your choice, not that of the black boxes. It's not all about volume either, though that clearly helps. Cars don't have emotions of course, not beyond the ones we project upon them, but given that the ability to enjoy the physical responses of a fast car are so limited the sound it makes is perhaps the more relevant way of enjoying 'character'.

30 years ago this car inspired this blog!
30 years ago this car inspired this blog!
And here comes the inevitable MX-5/Eunos bit. Look, I managed to hold off until the third paragraph, give me some credit! Anyway, yes, my little Eunos makes quite a lot of noise, which I love. Doesn't go very fast but it sounds like it does and interaction between gratuitous throttle blipping, pointlessly double-declutched downshifts, ear splitting redline upshifts and the size of my grin are all directly related. I can probably trace this back to when I was a toddler and riding in the back of my grandfather's Alfasud. I can still remember my impressionable mind processing the flat-four bark as he accelerated and thinking "Mum and dad's car doesn't make a noise like that ... I like that noise ... I don't know why I like that noise but I like that noise" and three decades on here I am making a living out of doing pretty much the same. Perhaps a bit more eloquently. Well, a bit. Anyway, it's all Alfa Romeo's fault.

Synthesised noise not popular with PHers
Synthesised noise not popular with PHers
It was interesting to read the responses to my recent Tell Me I'm Wrong missive on the BMW M5 - the fiercest debate in the discussion afterwards focused on the rights and wrongs (mainly the latter, it would seem) of BMW's synthesised engine noise through the speakers thing. You know what? If you didn't know it was false you wouldn't care because it actually works. But I fully understand the scepticism and would favour 'proper' engine noise over pretend stuff any time. The musical comparison would be do you want your horn section consisting of three big blokes jiving in glittery jackets or bloke hitting a button on a keyboard? Easy win to the former I'd say.

It's not just BMW of course; publicly or not carmakers recognise how important an emotional pull engine noise is and have been indulging in all sorts of trickery to get more of the good stuff to us without annoying the legislators. And as the influence of the latter means fewer and fewer of the kind of screaming, high-revving normally aspirated engines we all enjoy there's going to have to be some inventiveness on the part of the manufacturers. Some are getting it right - I recall a long chat with the AMG engineers on the CLS63 launch about how hard they'd worked on making the turbo 5.5-litre V8 sound as good as it goes - and others aren't, the flatulent rasp of our Golf GTI Edition 35 fleet car and the closely related SEAT Leon Cupra Ramong them.

Subaru promises the return of the burble
Subaru promises the return of the burble
And returning to another theme we've been talking about a lot recently I think here's how Subaru can stamp some of its character on the BRZ to make it stand out from the GT 86. Please Subaru, look behind the sofa, go begging to your mum and dad - whatever it takes - but please find a few pennies to rub together and develop your own exhaust headers or intake manifold to give the BRZ a signature sound. It's promised as much from the cool looking Super GT racer already. These things matter and, to this day, remains the reason I'd always take an Impreza over an Evo. Head says an Evo is probably the faster and more hardcore car. Heart says I want the burble.

I'm not saying the BRZ needs to try and replicate that but a modern, fizzing, naturally aspirated aural signature would be the kind of thing that would swing the deal Subaru's way to the likes of us.

Dan

Author: Dan Trent