When I test drove the BMW i4 M50, equipped with the Hans Zimmer-designed IconicSounds option, it quickly became my favorite thing about the car. When you drive a modern gas-powered BMW sports car, the fake engine noise is laughable. But that’s because it’s blatantly dishonest, it’s trying to trick customers into thinking their car sounds great, even when it sounds like a hairdryer. However, with IconicSounds in electric cars, BMW is actually advertising the unique synthetic soundtrack. Not only is it honest but it sounds awesome. So awesome, in fact, that I think BMW should make it audible from outside of the car.
The fake engine/exhaust noises you get from gas-powered Bimmers is eye roll-inducing. It’s very obviously fake to its passengers because it sounds like it’s coming from everywhere in the cabin and it never matches what the outside of the car really sounds like. So when you hear it from the inside, and then hear the exhaust note outside, there’s a noticeable, disappointing difference.
However, the inside of the BMW i4 M50 sounds like the inside of a TIE Fighter from Star Wars and it’s awesome. It’s hilarious, childish, completely over-the-top, and it’s my favorite thing about the car. You can almost visualize Hans Zimmer’s tongue firmly planted in his cheek as your i4 M50 makes aggressive sci-fi noises while accelerating. It’s so silly that it’s joyous. So why not spread that joy to passersby? Why not let little kids—who are obsessed with Star Wars and superhero moves—hear those noises when the car passes by?
During my week with the i4 M50, I drove my four year old son around quite a bit and he loved the noises. He’d encourage me to drive faster and harder just so he could hear them more, and he’d giggle like a fool each and every time I stabbed the accelerator. In a way, it was like when I was a kid and I’d hear the roar of a small-block V8 or the wail of an M3’s inline-six. But here’s the difference: I never got to ride in those cars as a kid. I wasn’t fortunate enough to have a car journalist parent, so I had to hear those cars as they passed by and they always brought me great joy. Kids today, and in the future, will never know that joy because the only noise EVs make is their low-speed hum to alert people before they get run over.
If kids were to see a cool looking electric car (admittedly, neither of BMW’s EV offerings are cool enough looking to warrant a second glance) and it drove by making space ship noises, they’d love it. You’d actually get a younger generation interested in EVs. It’d also get rid of the need for the aforementioned low speed hum that currently exists. Visually impaired people aren’t going to miss the sound of a space ship driving through a parking lot.
BMW deserves much of the criticism it gets today, for making odd looking cars and removing most of the life from all of its non-CS sports cars. However, one of the things it’s absolutely nailed is the IconicSounds feature and it’s one that shouldn’t be exclusive to the passengers inside the car.