The best sounds that cars make

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18 mclaren gt
Seeing, feeling and hearing: all are equally important in making driving a car an experience to savour. It’s not just roaring engines and whistling turbochargers that make our spines tingle, though.

However, a key part of that cocktail is changing, because electrification isn’t just changing how cars are powered but also how they sound. The merits of that can be argued, but the importance of noise to the motoring experience can’t. So we’ve been thinking of our favourite car noises. But you won’t find a screaming V10, rumbling V8 or mighty flat six here: we’ve left individual engines to one side to contemplate the other great noises cars that make…

Start-up in a lightweight

It’s an easy one, this: the engine start-up sound when you’re sitting in any lightweight, open-roofed British sports car. I’m thinking Caterhams, Radicals, Ariels, Westfields and the like. The noise is the starting gun for a drive that will stir your soul and really make you feel alive. Cars like this are as immersive as they get and involve more of your senses in a drive than anything else. Mark Tisshaw

Cooldown crackling

Lamborghini Huracan EVO RWD 7

If I were asked to choose one specific sound from one specific car, my answer would unapologetically be the full spectrum of Lamborghini’s current 5.2-litre V10 engine, absorbed at nosebleed-inducing length by holding the throttle wide open from 2000rpm to the redline, ideally while heading through the most perfectly spherical tunnel you can find. But in general terms, it has to be the syncopated crackling of thermal contraction after a hard drive. If you can hear that, you’re probably somewhere quite peaceful – somewhere that exists in contrast to the excitement that has just unfolded. It immediately puts me in a reflective, philosophical, car-loving mood. Richard Lane

A smooth gearchange

Before you write in to complain that “every gearchange is smooth; it’s called synchromesh”, I present to you my 1950s Willys Jeep, which has a three-speed non-synchro ’box and a foot-long gear lever. Accurate it is not. It’s smooth on the way up, but going from third to second without a hideous graunching noise takes some doing. As for second to first, I just cheat by stopping and starting again. It requires double-declutching, the co-ordination of a top athlete and lots of anticipation. But when third becomes second in a seamless snick, with no gnashing of cogs, it’s one of the most satisfying noises you will hear in any car. Piers Ward

Silent anticipation

2020 Ford Performance Focus ST 4

You might think this a bit odd but, for me, the most exciting sound is, well, no sound at all. It’s that anticipatory silence you experience in the moments before you drive something special for the first time; as you contemplate all the sounds, smells, sights and physical sensations you’re on the verge of experiencing. This silence is undoubtedly at its loudest when the car in front of you is something exotic: a mid-engined Italian, for instance. But you can still hear it when you look at something as humble as a Ford Fiesta ST, or perhaps even the charming old beater that you know inside out but that still appeals to your inner petrolhead on the most primal level. Keep an ear out. Simon Davis


It’s hardly an indication of good mechanical health but, for character and comedic value, little beats a backfire. You hardly ever hear one these days, because modern cars don’t suffer the timing and fuelling issues that plague temperamental older motors, so it has come to serve as the soundtrack of the neglected but ever-faithful banger. I’ve never managed to encourage a cohesive relationship between the distributor and carburettor of my ancient Volkswagen Beetle, so coughs and splutters are par for the course, but one of my fondest driving memories is leaving school one fine summer afternoon, backing off the throttle as I approached the maths block and making my poor old form tutor jump two feet into the air. It was almost worth the detention. Felix Page

Indicator clicking

Clicking? Ticking? Click-clack? The electronic noise made when you indicate doesn’t seem to have one accepted name, which seems odd, given the frequency with which we hear it. But perhaps that’s why: indicator clicks are the pleasing rhythm. An underappreciated one, too. You would miss it if it were gone. And there’s another twist: these clicks have hidden depths. Car audio designers (yes, they exist) have spent years tuning them to perfection, sculpting that noise using carefully curated audio elements. The clicking in a Volvo? Crafted from snapping twigs. Yes, really. James Attwood

The Taycan synthesiser

I’m a fan of the Electric Sport Sound available in the Taycan Turbo S. While other manufacturers seem fixated on giving EVs sci-fi-esque whooshes and hums, Porsche’s digital engine note is the most convincing alternative to an exhaust yet. It blends low-end rumble with higher pitches in a way that perfectly reflects the heroic acceleration. I doubt it will ever stir emotions in the same way as a flat six, but with EVs set to be our future, this at least gives me hope that audible enjoyment won’t fall by the wayside along with engines. Tom Morgan

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