Since electric vehicles started becoming mainstream, car manufacturers have been trying to figure out ways to inject a bit of audible excitement into their driving experiences. Some brands use artificial electric motor noise, some create entirely new sounds, and some even try and copy science fiction, all to create a more emotional experience while driving an otherwise silent electric vehicle. It’s now BMW’s turn, with the BMW IconicSounds Electric.
Together with award-winning composer Hans Zimmer, BMW has created the IconicSounds Electric to turn what is usually the relatively uneventful experience of driving an EV into something a bit more emotional. Connected to the My Modes, which change things like ambient lighting, screen settings, and now sound settings; the BMW IconicSounds Electric will change from a more luxurious sound to a more exciting sound, depending on which mode you choose. This new audible technology will be available in both the BMW i4 and iX in 2022; first half of 2022 for the i4 and second half for the iX.
For instance, with the car in the Comfort My Mode (it’s called “Personal” in the iX), the BMW IconicSounds Electric provides a calmer, more relaxed noise. Sport mode creates a more exciting noise, designed to convey the response of the electric motors. Lastly, the Efficient My Mode lacks IconicSounds altogether, as it wants the driver to be reminded of the silent efficiency of electric powertrains. Of course, if the driver wants, the IconicSounds can be turned off completely, regardless of My Mode selection.
There are two new My Modes for the BMW i4 and iX, each with their own IconicSounds… sound; Expressive and Relax. The former uses higher-pitched tones, including violins, to create a more interesting and abstract experience. That noise is combined with neon lighting, from both the curved screen and the ambient lighting. The combination creates an entire mood change in the cabin that’s unique to both of BMW’s electric cars. While the latter mode, Relax, provides softer, more hushed, and more harmonious sounds and lights, to create gentle environment that should help relieve stress.
Not only do these sounds add backing tracks to the driving experience but they also respond to the driver’s inputs. So stabs of the accelerator will create and appropriate noise, giving the driver audible feedback that the car is responding to their inputs. Acceleration noise has also been tuned to the gradient of the accelerator pedal. So the more throttle input you add, the more sound you get, giving it a very organic, engine-like effect. This effect is said to be increased in BMW M models, such as the i4 M50 and iX M60, which will also get their own unique noises.
“When the driver interacts with the pedal, it’s more than just a mechanical contact point – it’s a performative element,” said Hans Zimmer. “Accelerating is turned into an experience that takes the driver through a whole series of gradually changing sound textures.”
Some purist enthusiasts will find all of this nonsensical but I personally like it. The idea of adding fun, space-age sounds to EVs makes them more enjoyable to use, especially when the sounds are cool. Plus, most cars have fake engine sound piped into the cabin through the speakers anyway. At least with the BMW IconicSounds, it’s honest about what it is.