Easily one of the most controversial additions to cars in the past 10 years is the introduction of artificial powertrain sounds. And that’s entirely understandable. On internal combustion cars, it seems so needless, because the natural noises could be amplified instead of creating a digital facsimile. Worse, the fake sounds usually sound fake and unpleasant. In most internal combustion cars with such augmentation, I try to turn it off. And you would think that would be the case with electric cars, since they’re pretty close to silent.
And yet, I actually rather like the sounds in EVs. Let me explain.
While I dislike sounds that attempt to recreate natural ones, I don’t mind them if they’re trying to be something else entirely. Those internal combustion sounds live in a sort of uncanny valley where they’re so close to reality, the areas where they miss stand out and make them unpleasant. Many EVs, on the other hand, go with a completely artificial and imagined soundscape. Perhaps most successful are the latest BMW electric cars, such as iX, that feature sounds created by film composer Hans Zimmer. They have a futuristic, but growly noise that avoids being grating.
Additionally, the relative silence of electric cars takes away a helpful sensation for gauging what the car is doing. There’s no aural feedback for your acceleration and deceleration like you get with an internal combustion car. It can make it harder to determine how fast you’re going or whether you’re decelerating enough. Another instance where sound is so helpful in internal-combustion cars is with shifting. When I’m driving a car with a manual transmission, I mainly shift by ear, unless I’m trying to shift at redline every time. Sound is a genuinely useful piece of feedback, and artificial noises can help with that.
Our long-term Kia EV6 hits these key points for me. First, the sounds are connected to your throttle and acceleration, so they add that helpful feedback. Second, they’re all unique and aren’t based in reality. And yes, I’m using “they” because Kia gives you three options to pick from.
My favorite so far is “Stylish,” which is a slightly high-pitched whir or whistle that sounds high-tech and adjacent to motor whine. I also like that the frequencies tend to fade into the background of light wind and road noise at cruising speed, so it doesn’t get annoying at cruising speeds.
The second sound available is “Dynamic,” and it’s my least favorite….