The sound profile of a car is among its most identifiable characteristics. Whether it’s the induction sound of the engine or the exhaust note, the sounds our cars make are an integral part of the driving experience, and there’s usually a direct relationship between how you’re driving, and how the car sounds. There’s no substitute for a BMW S65 V8 passing by at full tilt, but in the electrified future it seems we’re all accelerating towards, BMW is developing something that might be even better—according to Academy Award winner Hans Zimmer.
BMW is working with Hans Zimmer to develop the sound profile of upcoming BMW models including the iX, i4, and plug-in hybrids. Zimmer is collaborating with Italian pianist, composer, sound designer, acoustic engineer, and artist Renzo Vitale, who is also the creative director of sound at the BMW Group. The goal is to provide BMW’s electrified vehicles with the same kind of aural personality the brand’s cars always came standard with, and it’s to be achieved with BMW IconicSounds Electric.
The news doesn’t come as a particular surprise, considering that BMW worked with Zimmer to create the sound profile of the BMW Vision M Next of 2019, and the Concept i4 the following year.
“Every BMW has its own character, which is reflected in the sound it makes,” explains film music creator Zimmer. “So for the electrically driven BMW M models we have developed a driving sound which accentuates their emotional driving experience particularly vividly and ensures their performance can be felt with even greater intensity.”
BMW IconicSounds Electric is standard on the iX, but optional on the i4. The type of sound a driver hears is dependent not only on how the vehicle is being driven, but also on which mode has been selected. Comfort mode immerses occupants in a pleasant atmosphere, but this changes when the accelerator pedal is pushed, revealing a direct relationship between the car and its driver. As speed and load increase, so too does the depth of the sound, growing in intensity and fervor not unlike the crescendo of an engine roaring down a straight at wide-open throttle.
Things are further enhanced in sport mode, with a more dominant and powerful set of sounds used to provide constant commentary on driving dynamics. According to BMW, the system reacts without delay to acceleration, load changes, or recuperation with an appropriate auditory accompaniment. In eco pro mode, the system is switched off, with only the hush of the electric drivetrain giving context to what’s happening.
A separate portfolio of sounds has been developed specifically for the M Performance version of the i4, which differentiates comfort and sport modes with a more dramatic divide. While the sounds aren’t as smooth or harmonious according to BMW, they’re more sonorous, and work to rouse the emotions. Dynamic acceleration initiates a particularly rich “intensification” of the sound’s development, growing in intensity as the vehicle gathers speed.
“When you press the pedal of an M car, you suddenly get goosebumps all over your body,” says sound designer Renzo Vitale. “We translated this feeling into a drive sound that expresses a fusion of superior power and flowing energy.”
The soundtrack Zimmer has developed in conjunction with BMW and Vitale is slated to be available in the i4 and iX over the course of 2022. Applicable vehicles produced prior to the introduction of BMW IconicSounds Electric can be retroactively updated via BMW’s remote software update capability.—Alex Tock
[Photos and video courtesy of BMW AG.]