We rated the most effective (and worst) EV pedestrian warning sounds

Electric vehicles are fast and stealthy. Without a combustion engine or exhaust noise, they can sneak up on pedestrians without warning. This is bad enough for the average road user, but an even greater danger for the visually impaired.

Fortunately, a number of major electric vehicle markets such as the US and Europe have passed legislation requiring electric vehicles to provide audible pedestrian warnings.

The sound a car makes can embody and amplify what type of car it is. Aggressive sports cars bark and growl true to shape, while luxury vehicles can be quiet and refined. Because electric vehicles are virtually silent, manufacturers have the ability to design what sounds their cars make from scratch.

But which is the best? SHIFT put it on the TNW editorial floor to find out.

Porsche Taycan Turbo S.

The Porsche Taycan was a unanimous winner among car and non-car people. Somehow, the German automaker has managed to embody the essence of control, speed and power in one sound.

Although the noise is intended to alert other road users to the undoubtedly rapid arrival of the car, Porsche has developed a noise that evolves from a low hum to a phaser-like euphony of electrons. TNW’s editor-in-chief Abhimanyu Ghoshal “dug the Porsche stuff” because “it sounds like speed”.

Audi e-tron sounds like Tron

None of the TNW employees really turned an eyelid in the direction of the Audi e-tron, most likely because its noises just work and make it worthy of an uneventful second place.

If you were to describe what the Audi e-tron sounds like, you would say that it sounds good electric. Really inspiring. When stationary, the E-Tron emits a synthetic whirring sound that builds up when the vehicle starts moving. It’s exactly what you’d expect, and no doubt it was designed to be as harmless as possible for as many people as possible.

The Renault Zoe sucks

TNW’s publisher Anouk Vleugels, aka my boss, gave wonderful feedback on the Renault Zoe, although it’s not that positive. According to Anouk’s well-trained ear, the Zoe sounds like a vacuum cleaner. Well that sucks.

As much as I respect Anouk’s eternally well-informed opinions, I’m not sure I fully agree with them. The Zoe holds a special place in my heart because it was the first EV that passed me in public that made me step back and say, “Wow, that sounds like a goddamn spaceship.” It’s a sound that instantly conjures up images of the future and dashes around in flying cars like the Jetsons. It is exciting.

I would be very happy if all electric vehicles sounded like this. If I want to meet Anouk halfway, we just agree that it sounds like the confused love child of a Stanley Kubrick-inspired spaceship and household cleaning appliance.

The Chevy Volt is more

Although the Chevy Volt is a popular electric vehicle in the U.S., the Chevy Volt’s pedestrian warning sound did absolutely nothing for us. One of my colleagues, who is to remain nameless, said it was “worse than the Renault”.

The more I heard it, the less inspiring I found it to be. But it also impressed me, I’ve heard this sound before – in a spa!

Now imagine: you just put your belongings in a locker and slipped into your robe as you flew over the threshold that separates the front, publicly penetrated part of the spa into the private and secret part, which is our stress and tension dissipate as soon as we hear this sound.

The Chevy Volt is the enigmatic but mysterious buzz that all spas play to distract us from the chaos of the outside world and provide us with an acoustic cushion on which to let our tired souls rest.

Kill it with fire

However, the unanimous loser is this Amazon delivery truck made by EV startup Rivian.

Well, Abhimanyu is certainly not a violent man, but he vowed to “shoot that Rivian van if it ever drives past him”.

Simply put, the Rivian’s pedestrian warning sound is too clear and too ear-drawing – it’s unsettling.

It actually makes me sick. Somehow it sounds like everything is going backwards when the van is moving forward. It’s like a robot recorded a devil’s interval on a cheap 8 track and got a little overzealous with the tape lag. This is the sound engineer they speak for: “It sounds unsettling and crappy.”

I still want a V8

You may have switched to electric vehicles for the good of the planet and to reduce your personal carbon footprint, but you miss the sound and character of good old gasoline engines. Now do not be afraid!

There are aftermarket customization options that can bring the old-school character of a gasoline car to your electrified ride. Check out the following video that shows such a system.

It uses a collection of external speakers fed through sham exhaust fittings to project an internal combustion engine sound from an electric car. An accompanying app gives the owner almost unlimited control over the synthetic exhaust note. You can make them sound like a V8 or V12 and add an overflow to make the rally car crack and pop when you lift the gas pedal.

When such customizable options become commonplace in electric vehicles, the streets may not sound like a completely futuristic sound yet. But overall, the soundtrack of our streets seems to become a futuristic cacophony that disorientates the digital whale song.

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Published on January 13, 2021 – 13:52 UTC

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