‘Too quiet’, you’ll often hear ‘petrolheads’ mutter when talk turns to electric vehicles. It’s usually immediately followed by ‘soulless’ and/or ‘no fun’. The accusations are not entirely unfounded.
After all cars with traditional internal combustion engines inevitable come with noise, whether it’s just a bit of rattle and vibration or the reverie of a shrill exhaust note charging the adrenaline and heightening the thrill of the open road. By contrast, electric cars usually whisper along, save but for the rumble of tyres, some vague wind noise and the occasional whine from the drivetrain.
They’ll also bemoan the lack of clunking and grinding from clutches engaging and gears shifting. Electric cars usually just have one ratio and constant torque delivery, so their performance is seamless. Even brake pads and discs become largely redundant as regenerative slowing through the motor, usually takes over the task of stopping.
Is there a case for claiming electric cars have no ‘soul’? This attribute is a bit more nebulous, as it encapsulates an indefinable quality, that je ne sais quoi, which imparts charisma and personality to an automobile.
Proponents of the traditional combustion engine argue that electric cars are bland, lacklustre, and plain dull. Some EV manufacturers appear to have taken this criticism on board and are responding. But can they satisfy the naysayers? Can EVs actually emulate the appeal of their gasoline-powered counterparts? It would seem so.
Wired for Sound
The lack of sound is a relatively easy one to address, depending more on acceptance rather than technology. Even some combustion-engined sports cars and hot-hatches actually pipe sound through their speakers to enhance the driving experience. And it’s perfectly possible to simulate the sound of a roarty four-cylinder or rumbly V8.
However, manufacturers are more inclined to create something unique to accompany the electrified experience rather than canned engine noise. For its luxury sports-saloon, the Taycan, Porsche spent months, including a three-week stint at the Nardo Technical Centre in Italy, as well as countless hours in a soundproof laboratory at the Porsche Development Centre in Weissah, crafting a very specific sound. The company called it the "Porsche Electric Sport Sound," touting it as a ground-breaking auditory experience.
Porsche is not alone in this endeavour. Numerous EV manufacturers are crafting custom sounds to provide a distinctive auditory experience. BMW, for example, enlisted the talents of Oscar-winning movie composer Hans Zimmer to create the M IconicSoundsElectric, featured in the its electric ‘M’ models, which blends a mixture of "superior power and flowing energy". It’s quite orchestral actually.
Need for Speed
Keen drivers like speed. And boy can EV’s deliver. Performance is one area EVs score extremely highly. Torque is instant and unrelenting, the efficiency of the battery energy translated to momentum, simply can’t be matched by a traditional car. When manufacturers first starting developing electric cars, they found they had to strengthen driveshafts and axles to stop them snapping under duress, or dial down the motors!
Today we have luxury saloons and family SUVs boasting electric power that will seem them embarrass the so-called supercars of yesteryear with rest-to-60mph acceleration times of easily under five seconds, and often close to three seconds. Hold on to your hat and tie down the dog!
Unsurprisingly several electric supercars have emerged, demonstrably rivalling V8 or V12 engined counterparts. Hypercars like the Rimac C_Two, Pininfarina Battista, and Lotus Evija can achieve mind-boggling sub-two-second 0-100kmph acceleration times. They even look like traditional supercars.
A bit beyond your budget? No worries, further down the spectrum, sports car enthusiasts have reason to rejoice. MG, renowned for its classic roadsters, is returning to its roots with the upcoming Cyberster, a low-slung two-seat convertible sports car. Caterham, another iconic British sports car manufacturer focused on providing a raw and pure driving has also unveiled its first EV, the Project V sports coupe. Meanwhile, Tesla is working on the next-generation Roadster, slated for release in 2024, rumoured to feature ‘rocket thrusters’.
Motorised Muscle Cars
Few automobiles exude as much charisma as American muscle cars, with their distinctive V8 growls. Iconic names like Charger, Camaro, and Mustang evoke powerful imagery. But is it fair to attach these legendary monikers to electric vehicles?
Ford believes so, as demonstrated by the successful introduction of the Mustang Mach-E—an EV that defies traditional Mustang conventions by morphing into a large family SUV while proudly sporting the pony badge on its rump.
For a more authentic muscle car experience, the Dodge Charger Daytona SRT EV concept takes inspiration from classic '60s styling. With its 800-volt architecture, it promises electric muscle in abundance. The key to its appeal? A simulated muscle car sound system, complete with an "amplifying chamber" that belts out a robust 126 decibels of throaty growl. Yee haw!
Genesis, Hyundai's luxury car subsidiary, has introduced a ‘Virtual Gearshift’ feature in its latest GV60 family crossover, which serves to simulated a paddle-shift gearchanges (remember EVs don’t actually have a traditional multi-ratio gearbox). Paddles behind the steering in an EV, are usually reserved for regenerative braking adjustments, essentially to increase or reduce the amount of regen braking.
Select the virtual gearshift on the Genesis and they instead mimic gear shifts. Accompanied by synthetic ‘engine noise’, this virtual experience convincingly captures the essence of traditional driving sensations.
Toyota takes the concept even further, patenting a faux manual transmission for electric cars, purely for driver entertainment. This simulated shifter replicates the sensation of a traditional floor-mounted gear change, complete with the option of a clutch pedal which is a genuinely redundant device in an EV otherwise.
Classic Cars Recharged
Finally, we come to the ultimate in EV pretence. There is already a burgeoning industry is dedicated to converting classic cars to run on batteries and electric motors! Yes, that’s right retrofitting a classic is a thing. These conversions typically involve replacing the engine and fuel tank with an electric motor and battery pack while leaving everything else intact.
While you won't hear the roar of an engine (though some do offer simulated engine noise through the speakers), and you'll be free from the usual exhaust fumes, you'll still experience the drivetrain's vibrations, suspension's creaks, steering's engagement, and, in some cases, even the ability to change gears. It's as close to an authentic automotive experience as one can get with an EV. Several companies are now offering this with conversions starting from about £30,000.
EVs are evolving to offer the sensations, sounds, and soul that enthusiasts cherish in traditional cars. Whether through meticulously crafted soundscapes, blistering acceleration, or innovative simulations, some modern electric cars can indeed provide an engaging driving experience that bridges the gap between the past and the future of motoring.