GREEN SPECIAL: Layers of sound in the latest EVs
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The absence of powertrain noise is one of the many things that sets the Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) driving experience apart from that of an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) car. Many drivers love it.
But it’s also a potential downside for enthusiasts, who feel that noise adds a lot of character and emotion to a car. That’s why the world’s top BEV makers are investing heavily in creating the right aural experience for their plug-in models.
BMW has been working on this idea since 2009, when its acoustic engineers began working on artificial sound for the MINI E test fleet with a focus on safety. Their work was later incorporated into the BMW i3, and of course low-speed audible warnings are now required by law for BEVs and PHEVs in many markets.
But digital sounds for driving pleasure take things to the next level. BMW has established a partnership with Academy Award-winning composer Hans Zimmer, to create sounds for future models under a special brand: BMW IconicSounds Electric. Zimmer first worked with BMW sound designer Renzo Vitale to create the soundtrack for the 2019 BMW Vision M Next concept car.
Zimmer’s work is now very close to production with the forthcoming i4, iX3 and iX models. The two X-model SUVs are due to go on sale in New Zealand this year, while the i4 will arrive in the first half of 2022.
Zimmer worked with BMW creative director sound Renzo Vitale from the outset of i4 development, including the Concept version revealed in 2020.
Like the selectable drive modes, the sound takes its cues from the driver’s preferences. Only in Eco Pro mode is the acoustic feedback reduced to nothing. In Comfort it’s “immersive and pleasant”, but deepens as speed increases. In Sport the sound is “dominant and powerful”, with changes registered in milliseconds and applied to the soundtrack.
But there’s yet another layer of sound for the M50 version of the i4 – the first ever BEV to wear BMW’s M badge.
“So for the electrically driven BMW M models we have developed a driving sound which accentuates their emotional driving experience particularly vividly and ensures their performance can be felt with even greater intensity,” says Zimmer.
In the M50, the differentiation between Comfort and Sport is stronger.
“When you press the pedal of an M car, you suddenly get goosebumps all over your body,” says Vitale. “We translated this feeling into a drive sound that expresses a fusion of superior power and flowing energy.”
IconicSounds Electric is expected to be an option in the standard i4, but will be standard in the iX. However, the sound package can be imported retrospectively via Remote Software Upgrade. The new spectrum includes one ready-to-drive sound and one stop sound, plus a driving sound which will be made available in relevant versions of BMW models and M cars with an electrified drive system.