Matthew BeedhamEditor, SHIFT by TNW
Matthew is the editor of SHIFT. He likes electric cars, and other things with wheels, wings, or hulls. Matthew is the editor of SHIFT. He likes electric cars, and other things with wheels, wings, or hulls.
Electric vehicles are fast and stealthy. With no combustion engine or exhaust noise, they have the ability to sneak up on pedestrians without much of a warning. This is bad enough for the average road user, but for the visually impaired, it represents an even bigger danger.
Thankfully, legislation that requires EVs to make an audible pedestrian warning has been passed in a number of important EV markets, like the US, and Europe.
The sound a car makes can embody and amplify what type of car it is. True to form, aggressive sports cars bark and snarl, while luxurious vehicles can be quiet and refined. With electric vehicles making virtually no noise, manufacturers have the opportunity to design what noise their cars make from the ground up.
But which is the best? SHIFT put it to the floor of the TNW editorial office to find out.
Porsche Taycan Turbo S
The Porsche Taycan was a unanimous winner among car people and non-car people alike. Somehow, the German automaker has managed to embody the essence of control, speed, and power into a sound.
Even though the noise is designed to alert other road users of the car’s no doubt swift arrival, Porsche has developed a sound that evolves from a low hum to a Phaser-like euphony of electrons. TNW’s managing editor Abhimanyu Ghoshal was “digging the Porsche stuff,” because “it sounds like speed.”
Audi e-tron sounds like Tron
None of the TNW staffers really batted an eyelid toward the Audi e-tron, most likely because its sounds just work, which make it worthy of an uneventful second place.
If you were to describe what the Audi e-tron sounds like, you’d say it sounds, well electric. Truly inspiring. When stationary the e-tron emits a synthetic whir that builds as the vehicle begins moving. It’s exactly as you would expect, and no doubt was designed to be as inoffensive to as many people as possible.
The Renault Zoe sucks
TNW’s publisher Anouk Vleugels, aka my boss, gave some wonderful feedback on the Renault Zoe, although it’s not that positive. According to Anouk’s well-trained ear, the Zoe sounds like a vacuum cleaner. Well that sucks.
As much as I respect Anouk’s eternally well-informed opinions, I’m not sure I agree entirely. The Zoe holds a special place in my heart, because it was the first EV that drove by me in public that made me stand back and go: “Wow, that sounds like a goddam spaceship.” It’s a sound that immediately conjures images of the future and whizzing around in flying cars like the Jetsons. It’s exciting.
I’d be perfectly happy if all EVs sounded like this. Although, if I’m to meet Anouk halfway, let’s just agree that it sounds like the confused love child of a Stanley Kubrick-inspired spaceship and a home cleaning device.
The Chevy volt is meh
Despite being a popular EV in the US, the Chevy Volt’s pedestrian warning noise did absolutely nothing for us. One of my colleagues, who shall remain nameless, said it was “worse than the Renault.”
The more I listened to it, the less inspiring I found it. But it also struck me, I’ve heard this sound before — in a spa!
Picture it now: you’ve just placed your belongings into a locker, and slid into your robe as you sashay across the threshold that separates the front, publicly imbued section of the spa, into the private and secretive part where our stress and tensions dissolve as soon as we hear that sound.
The Chevy Volt is that enigmatic yet mysterious hum that all spas play to distract us from the chaos of the outside world and provide us an aural cushion on which to rest our weary souls.
Kill it with fire
The unanimous loser though, is this Amazon delivery truck that’s made by EV startup Rivian.
Now, Abhimanyu is certainly not a violent man, but he vowed to “shoot that Rivian van if it ever drives past” him.
Put simply, the Rivian’s pedestrian warning sound is too noticeable, and it attracts the ear too much — it’s disconcerting.
It actually makes me feel nauseous. Somehow, as the van drives forwards, it sounds like everything is happening in reverse. It’s as if a robot has recorded a devil’s interval, on a cheap 8-track, and been a bit overzealous with the tape delay. That’s sound engineer speak for, “It sounds unsettling and crap.”
I still want a V8
Maybe you’ve made the switch to electric vehicles for the good of the planet and to reduce your personal carbon footprint, but you’re missing the sound and character of good ol’ petrol engines. Well fear not!
There are aftermarket customization options which can bring the old school character of a gasoline car to your electrified ride. Check out the video below which demonstrates one such system.
It uses a collection of external speakers, routed through pretend exhaust hardware, to project a combustion engine sound out of an electric car. An accompanying app gives the owner almost limitless control over the synthetic exhaust note, you can make it sound like a V8, a V12, and add overrun to get that rally car crack and pop as you lift off the accelerator.
If customizable options like this become commonplace on EVs, the roads might not change to a totally futuristic sound just yet. But overall, it certainly seems that the soundtrack of our streets is becoming a futuristic cacophony of disorienting digital whale song.
SHIFT is brought to you by Polestar. It’s time to accelerate the shift to sustainable mobility. That is why Polestar combines electric driving with cutting-edge design and thrilling performance. Find out how.
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