BMW teamed up with Academy Award-winning composer and curator Hans Zimmer to create sounds for the Vision M Concept, a head-turning design study with 600 electrified horsepower presented in 2019. Hollywood theatrics blended surprisingly well with Munich’s performance cars, so the collaboration will spread to production vehicles.
Zimmer will create the driving sound for the i4 sedan (including the M-branded model) and the iX crossover, a pair of EVs introduced in 2021 and 2020, respectively, and expected to reach showrooms in the coming months. It sounds — pardon the pun — like Zimmer’s sound will be heard by the passengers, not by pedestrians.
Many EVs emit an artificial sound, but making one worthy of BMW’s high-octane M brand is a daunting challenge. When we drove the 2021 M5 Competition, we wrote it’s fitted with “an extra-loud exhaust system that you’ll fall in love with as quickly as your neighbors will begin to hate you.” Sound is a big part of the experience of driving a sports car, and replacing it is easier said than done. Zimmer chose to approach the problem from a different angle.
He said he wanted to “give [M drivers] something which is more of an experience than they ever had with their petrol engines, and make it even more exciting and more joyful to drive.” Renzo Vitale, the creative director of sound at BMW Group, explained the project’s initial aim was to translate into sound “the feeling of an explosion related to sound.” He noted the end result expresses “force, a fusion between strengths, and a fusion energy.”
You can hear Zimmer’s Bimmer noise at about 1:39 in the video embedded above. To us, it sounds like an engine in the sense that the tone gradually changes as the rotational speed increases, but it’s more robotic and less mechanical than a straight-six or a V8. It’s a more futuristic soundtrack; enthusiasts will decide whether that’s good or bad.
Most of BMW’s peers and rivals are looking for an alternative to the exhaust note as they add more hybrid and electric vehicles to their range. Maserati previewed the sound its second-generation GranTurismo and GranCabrio will make; it’s higher-pitched than BMW’s. Mercedes-Benz will allow users to select from a range of pre-recorded sounds, and it’s not too far-fetched to imagine the aftermarket will step in to give motorists more options. Changing your car’s sound could become as simple as changing your ringtone; download it, set it, and you’re good to go.
On the other hand, hybrid pioneer Toyota argued zero local emissions doesn’t necessarily mean zero noise when it published footage of a hydrogen-burning Corolla testing on a race track ahead of its competition debut in May 2021. It sounds just like a gasoline-powered hot hatch, and test driver Hiroaki Ishiura said it feels a lot like one, too.