Can an enhanced driving experience still be authentic?

By J.G. Pasterjak
Dec 9, 2023 | Hyundai, ev, Column, Ioniq 5, electric cars, Ioniq 5 N | Posted in Columns | From the Oct. 2023 issue | Never miss an article

Photograph Courtesy Hyundai

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about Hyundai’s recently unveiled Ioniq 5 N. Yeah, it’s generating lots of chatter over Hyundai’s claims that it’s a truly track-capable EV, with full-session capabilities and quick charging for multiple shots at those apexes during that track day. 

[Hyundai debuts Ioniq 5 N at Goodwood]

Until more of them are out in the wild, we won’t be able to verify those claims or whether a 2-plus-ton EV truly makes for a good track toy. But those really aren’t the aspects of the Ioniq 5 N that are filling our email inbox and lighting up comment sections.

For that, we have the sounds of the 5 N to thank.

For a refresher, the Ioniq 5 N, as part of a strategy to improve the in-car experience, can produce a simulated combustion-engine soundtrack, timed to the acceleration and deceleration of the car as well as throttle application and lift. People–as they tend to do–are losing their motherslappin’ minds.

Many of the comments, dripping in the sort of outrage usually reserved for war crimes or egg prices, employ some variation of the sentiment, “Fake noise is stupid. I will never accept fake noise in my performance car, and they will have to launch me into the sun before I will allow the affrontery to sully my ears.”

Okay, cool.

But come on, man. Let’s take a step back off the soapboxes and reevaluate a little bit before we declare that an enhanced experience can’t be “authentic,” whatever that means. For everyone who says vinyl is infinitely superior to CDs, there’s a guy just waiting to bust out his wax cylinders and prove everyone wrong, at least until his claim at ultimate realness is challenged by someone with an original de Martinville phonautograph. 

Sound is a huge part of the way we experience the world, and our brains are wired to react to certain sounds, regardless of whether the waveform defining that sound was produced by synthesis or first-order generation. 

I had a chat with my buddy Matthew Setzer–a dude who literally makes a living as a musician designing sounds to stir the soul–whether he thought our reaction to sounds was hard-wired into our DNA or based on our lived experience. His position was basically, “I think a lot of our reaction to sound comes from an ingrained survival instinct. The sound of a predator, for example, or a powerful storm is going to tend to make most creatures, us included, react in a similar way.”

[2022 Mitsubishi Outlander review | Or that time I got to work the cryo cannon at a Flux Pavilion rave]

But is a screaming V8 as universal as a proximal thunderclap or a roaring leopard? Setzer is a car guy; he gets it. But I asked him, “Okay, fine, but what if I played the sound of an X-piped LS7 for that tribe on that island where they’ve never had contact with outside civilization? Would they still think it sounded cool?”

Do they sell a lot of Hyundais on that island?” was his response.

As well as being a sick burn, that answer points out that even if our response to awesome sounds isn’t hard-wired into our DNA, it’s fully baked into our cultural DNA

And, as Setzer puts it, “a waveform is a waveform. Sure, you can fine-tune with hardware and software and create tiny, important variations, but our ears and our brains are pretty much going to perceive identical waveforms in identical ways. And that dopamine hit you get from a cool engine note doesn’t come from a different dopamine bin if the sound is produced in a different way. Besides, even an ‘analog’ engine note is ‘tuned’ through exhaust shape and length. So it’s not ‘pure’ in that it’s been heavily curated as well.”

Still, I get it, there is some feeling that we’re being emotionally manipulated by a soundtrack and for some reason that’s bad. But I’d counter with the fact that soundtracks add a huge emotional component to any experience. Watch Brody, Quint and Hooper chase those two yellow barrels in the Orca with John Williams’ score driving the action, then watch it again with “Yakety Sax.” I guarantee it’s a different experience.

Look, all I’m saying here is maybe the Matrix steak actually is delicious, since as far as our brains are concerned it’s a real steak. At any rate, these “fake” sounds could be an important part in helping us bond with a new generation of EVs that produce incredible numbers but can also seem–even by their designers’ admissions–a bit sterile and distanced from the driver. If a cool soundtrack brings us another step closer to that emotional connection, I say strike up the band.

But please let me keep the X-piped LS for days when the fake soundtrack is stuck on a firmware update and just sounds like farts.

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z31maniac MegaDork
8/11/23 9:07 a.m.

Absolutely it can. 

Power-assisted brakes, power-assisted steering, etc, aren't those all artifical enhancements? But I also embrace DCT's, ABS, etc. I know I'm not Hammy or Alonso or Senna.

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
8/11/23 9:19 a.m.

I'm completely on board with EVs, and I'd even buy one today if I was more confident in the charging infrastructure.

I just hope, like J.G. said, that I can have some kind of ICE car for fun weekend drives or track days.

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
8/11/23 9:25 a.m.
z31maniac said:

Absolutely it can. 

Power-assisted brakes, power-assisted steering, etc, aren't those all artifical enhancements? But I also embrace DCT's, ABS, etc. I know I'm not Hammy or Alonso or Senna.

I am reminded of the Douglas Adams quote where everything that existed before you were a certain age was just how the world worked, everything introduced after a certain age was something ruining the world.


I'm in your camp.  I'm endlessly amused by the idea that an automatic transmission, or ABS, or some weird artificial sound effect, dissociates one from the driving experience, but feel-numbing power steering or power brakes are A-OK.  Of course it isn't an all-or-nothing affair, but the hills people choose to die on are kind of interesting.


I like to call ABS, stability control, automatic transmissions, etc. "technology banned in Formula One".  It's all about the spin!  And speaking of which, if someone is going to do an artifical V8 soundtrack, make mine a DFV.

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
8/11/23 9:35 a.m.

In reply to Pete. (l33t FS) :

Oh I like that idea. I'd love to be able to download all sorts of different engine sounds.

Why stop at cars? If you can make my Ioniq 5 N sound like a P-51 Mustang, sign me up.

gearheadE30 Dork
8/11/23 9:37 a.m.

You'll never win me over on an automatic being more fun. *eyes the 4HP22 in the corner distatefully* But I'm sure glad they're trying, and I'd love nothing more than for them to prove me wrong. 

gearheadE30 Dork
8/11/23 9:43 a.m.

The google wormhole into specs and whatnot led me to the N Vision 74, which somehow I'd never seen. I think the 5 N is pretty good looking, but if they make it look like this, and let me program it to feel and sound like I want it to sound....I'd definitely check it out. Yeah, make it sound like it has a feisty 07K in it with a good flappy paddle gearbox, and I bet it could coax a smile out of me. 

Berck Reader
8/11/23 9:56 a.m.

I'll throw some fuel on the fire with this Tesla exhaust system.  That one is even more interesting to me because it's aimed at those outside the car... I'm not even sure it's about having an authentic experience, it's about producing one for others?

I'm not sure asking whether it's an "authentic driving experience" is the meaningful question.  If you're having a fake driving experience it's not authentic--but if it's the driving experience you want, are you allowed to enjoy it?  I mean, that's up to you, not me.

For some of us, simply the knowledge that it's fake makes the experience less enjoyable.  I disabled the fake engine noise on my Focus RS because the obvious fakery of it detracts my driving experience.  Yet, if the noise were real, I'd enjoy it.

I think this is actually a totally separate discussion from driver assist technologies.  There's nothing un-authentic about automatic transmissions, ABS and power brakes.  One of the things I love about my Formula Vee is that it has none of those things.  It's got 4 wheels (that you can see from the cockpit!), a (terrible) manual steering box, (near-useless) unassisted brakes, and ridiculous Beetle swing-arm suspension.  It provides a fantastic driving experience; it's raw and poorly engineered and I love it.  But there's certainly nothing unauthentic about driving my Miata on the track with it's (by comparison) space-age suspension technology that insulates me from the track surface and makes me feel numb by comparison.  I have no idea what it's like to drive, say, a modern 911 on the track, and I'm not really interested, but whatever that experience is, it's still authentic.

But what if you start piping fake noises into a track car?  And maybe it has a purpose--  Maybe you think the tire feedback isn't good enough, so you pipe in some fake tire screaching.  Maybe the fake engine noise from your EV allows you to better modulate the "throttle" on corner exit?  Maybe you put the seat on hydraulics so that it gives you the sensation of the brakes locking up before they actually do so that you can better modulate the brakes?

You can see a path there that starts to seem more like sim racing in a real car on the track--and that's a less authentic experience for sure.  I'm not saying it's bad or de facto less enjoyable, but it's not authentic and it's not the experience I'm looking for.

Duke MegaDork
8/11/23 10:31 a.m.
z31maniac said:


Power-assisted brakes, power-assisted steering, etc, aren't those all artifical enhancements? But I also embrace DCT's, ABS, etc. I know I'm not Hammy or Alonso or Senna.

No, those are methods of controlling the vehicle.  I don't have any problem with automatic transmissions.  Whether controls are power-assisted or not is irrelevant.  They provide whatever mechanical feedback they provide, and that is authentic.

But anything that adds artificially-generated feedback is NOT authentic.  And not enjoyable to me.


Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
8/11/23 10:38 a.m.

In reply to Duke :

Without devolving into a Morpheus-Matrix, Plato's Cave chin scratch of a discussion, I have driven fairly crude video games/sim setups (Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed, Logitech Formula Force GP wheel) that had better steering feel and feedback than some rack-mounted electric power steering setups.


Tom1200 PowerDork
8/11/23 10:51 a.m.

Authentic or not it I find it completely pretentious.

It's like Jack in the Box changing it's name to Jacque En Le Boîte and having burgers named Le Grande Vache

The manufacturer is telling us they think we are so fragile that our minds will implode if we drive a car without an exhaust note.

If people like it or find it fun, that's fine but it doesn't make it any less pretentious.



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