Even though I’m a die-hard Japanese car fan at heart, I’ve always garnered much respect and fondness for German cars, especially BMW and its M-series of vehicles. I don’t think I’m wrong when I say they are at the top of most people’s want lists. The M-cars are the epitome of automotive performance engineering, and if you’ve ever driven one you quickly realize they offer the perfect blend of performance, civility, comfort and luxury.
BMW fanatics will argue that newer versions of M-series automobiles have lost some of their soul, that the essence of the M-badge has been tainted with electronic gadgetry that certainly makes the cars faster than ever — but less fun to drive. Ultimately, that’s a matter of opinion, but I recently read an article that made me seriously question whether the pursuit of perfection has gone too far.
The new BMW M5 is undoubtedly an incredible machine; it does 0–60 mph in 3.7 seconds, pulls nearly 1.0G during braking and can reach a top speed of 190 mph. All of this is achieved while providing superb luxury that will impress any top-level executive on his daily work commute. But here’s the kicker for me: the M5 employs a system called Active Sound Design inside its cabin that accurately synthesizes the engine’s sounds through the car’s audio system. We’re not talking about some cheap audio track here — the system takes its cues from the driving situation by using engine speed and load data from the ECU and re-creates an extremely accurate soundtrack of the twin-turbo V-8, then disperses it strategically through the cabin. It gets even better, though. Engage Sport or Sport+ mode and the sound is enhanced with perfect timing to the exhaust, induction and engine noises. Not only is the M5 the ultimate driving machine, but it’s now the ultimate-sounding machine.
We’re giving up the pure, raw, unadulterated nature of what most of us love about a performance car and handing it over to a computer to reproduce for us.
I have to give credit to the BMW engineers because this is an amazing piece of technology, but I can’t help but feel it’s a step backward in the evolution of an automobile. Something about it is so wrong — we’re giving up the pure, raw, unadulterated nature of what most of us love about a performance car and handing it over to a computer to reproduce for us.
Who’s to say the soundtrack wasn’t altered to produce a crisper, meaner sound than the engine actually emits? No one will know for sure.
I think we’ve reached — and passed — what I consider to be the peak of “driver’s” cars, and we’re on a dangerous path to where automobiles will soon be autonomous. That’s why this technology and many others like blind-spot control, self parking, intelligent cruise control and harmonic canceling engine mounts make life much easier for the mass populous to drive cars, but they bring little to stir the soul and ignite the fire that fuels the passion for car guys like us.
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