BMW was one of the first brands to introduce artificial engine/exhaust sound into the cabin. Using speakers to play an artificial version of the car’s own engine noise, every modern BMW adds at least a little bit of engine noise to the cabin. This is due to the fact that customers expect quiet cabins but quiet cabins reduce the amount of engine noise you can hear. So if you want to have your cake and eat it, too, you need to use some fake engine noise. However, BMW has gracefully added a new feature to its performance cars and it makes a world of a difference — adjustable engine noise.
In most new performance BMWs, there are different setting for the fake engine noise. There are four settings; Sporty, Balanced, Reduced and one additional setting that changes the engine sound based on driving mode. So for the latter, if you’re in Sport mode, it’s sportier, that sort of thing.
While testing the new BMW M235i Gran Coupe, I used this feature for the first time the other day. Upon doing so, I realized how it is and why every new Bimmer needs it. It’s a revelation.
If you thumb through the “General Settings” sub-menu of BMW’s new iDrive screen, you’ll stumble upon a section simply called “Engine Noise”. In there, you’ll find the aforementioned settings and they do as advertised. In the case of the BMW M235i, my suggestion is to switch it to “Reduced” mode.
There isn’t a way to turn the fake engine noise off entirely but Reduced mode is about as close as it gets to being off. In this mode, the M235i is so much more tolerable.
The 2.0 liter turbocharged engine of the M235i Gran Coupe makes 302 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque, so it’s no slouch. In fact, it’s genuinely fast. The downside of the engine is that it sounds like someone cranked up the bass to eleven and farted into a microphone. It’s just boomy, obnoxious, generic four-cylinder engine noise.
Admittedly, it sounds decent from the outside and there are some pops and bangs on throttle lift. However, it’s overly boomy and artificial on the inside, with the engine noise set to “Sporty”. Cruising at highway speed can be genuinely uncomfortable, thanks to the constant bassy drone in your ears. Balanced isn’t much better.
Switch it to Reduced, though, and almost all of that fakery goes away, leaving you with the comfort of a quiet cabin. Of course, you can still hear the engine and exhaust but only when you actually give it some revs because, ya know, that’s how engines work. So it’s much more realistic and, for me at least, far more enjoyable.
Another benefit of the Reduced engine noise mode is the fact that you can actually hear the pops and bangs from the exhaust. With the interior engine noise set to Sporty, I actually didn’t even know the exhaust did that as much as it does because I couldn’t hear it over the overabundance of bass piped through the speakers. With the engine switched off, I can actually hear the sorts of sounds the little four-pot makes. Of course, it still doesn’t sound brilliant, like BMW’s B58 for instance, but at least what I’m hearing is actually the engine.
Personally, I’m actually not one to overly criticize artificial engine sound in modern car cabins. I understand why it exists and, for the most part, it’s usually not too intrusive. It’s too much in the M235i but that’s a bit of an outlier. However, whether interior audible fakery bothers you or not, the best solution is always choice. Give drivers the choice of whether or not to use the fake engine sound. Choice is always the answer. BMW’s new iDrive gives its performance car owners that choice and it’s a revelation.