Before we dig in and let our views on this highly controversial subject fly we need to take a trip in the not-so way back machine. The year is 2009, and we are at Road Atlanta for the X6 ///M launch. The inter webs were full of hate towards this vehicle for taking ///M to turbo charging, SAVs and all wheel drive. These were a lot of things a lot of people wanted to hate but they also didn ‘t want to learn or look deeper into what M was doing with this and the X5 for the future of performance and the brand.
Taking the X6 ///M on the track, putting it through its paces and being amazed at how well it drove at 10/10ths there was little for journalists to bemoan except the huge weight, the soundtrack that came out of the exhaust and the limited sound that entered the cabin. The X6 M introduced many of us to cylinder deactivation on shifts but that combined with the cross bank manifold and strange firing order of the S63 created less than a harmonious sound. Many including us referred to it less than affectionately as a burp or even worse, a flatuant.
So not only did an ///M have to perform on the track but it needed to be luxurious for day to day driving; quiet and smooth while also still sounding like and performing like a race car when the driver demanded it. You can now see the dilemma, how can a brand be so many things at once? The engineers spent the next few years trying to solve that while developing the most sophisticated, efficient and fastest M5 ever.
In late 2010 I recall my first aural encounter with the F10M on the ‘Ring thanks to some spy video. First thing I noticed was there were no more burps, just a deep wail and it sounded good. As time rolled on I heard more and more of the exhaust from the outside of the car. Our latest experience was at Leguna Seca where we were lucky enough to grab some video. Call me impressed, they did a great job tuning it to be a baritone in a symphony.
Having driven the 550i a good deal, I was aware that the F10 is extremely quiet on the inside, a little too quiet so I wondered how the M team would be able to get the sound into the cabin and not break any laws for sound on the outside. Then came my recent experience at Ascari with the F10M.
Sitting trackside the boom of the exhaust was great, no hiccups, burps or whatever just pure sound from a turbo V8. It sounded good, not the great staccato of the M3 but it sounded like a proper M car. There is no use of cylinder deactivation in the S63tü, the engineers use the Valvetronic system to retard things just enough to lessen the load on shifts so the drive train gets a little less monster to deal with. This helps the sound immensely. When I and a few other journalists asked to have the car put up on a lift to check out the under side (coming soon!) there were only mufflers in the rear. There were no intermediate cans and the catalytic converter is high up in the engine. That creates a smoother flowing system with less restriction but that also means there is nothing to resonate under the passenger compartment. An ideal solution good for quiet.
Driving through a tunnel or windows down, the exhaust music is good and at a good volume for most. Once the windows are up you ‘d be hard pressed to know you were driving a performance machine unless high in the RPM range and under load. I ‘d say that most enthusiasts would complain the car is too quiet in this regard and is why the engineers looked at what they could do to pipe in sound. The Indianapolis Colts of the NFL have been accused by visiting teams of piping in extra crowd noise at key points in the game, they do it to win and please their fans- M is doing something similar to please the limited group that likes car exhausts.
Sadly, there are not many people left that like the sound of an internal combustion engine, let alone one that revs high and is free breathing. I hate to say it but we are the minority. Most people are used to the Lexus/Toyota way of life, cars are appliances and they should be quiet. The fact of the matter is that this car really has no place to put another resonator or to move the cat thanks to the base 5 Series design, the buyers of these cars tend to want luxury first and performance second. But M still believes that performance comes first and they can always build in the luxury just sometimes it is more difficult.
The point of all this is, that with Active Sound Design, M has not taken the aural experience of the exhaust away. They are just piping it into the speakers so it is more audible inside more or less when the car is in “Sport ” or “Sport Plus “. I have no issue with this as they are not altering anything, they are not making a car with a lousy exhaust sound better (like other brands). They are just bringing the outside in. The other alternative is to make the outside louder and that was just not an option because of EU regs as well as the car would garner more attention and that is not its purpose.
At the end of the day it sounds great and without the press release or journalists discussing it, most would never even know what was going on. It just sounds like an exhaust and the cars real exhaust note- I am a fan. I ‘d go as far to say that I wish they had this on the M3 so I wouldn ‘t need to drive with the windows down in sub-zero temps just to hear the full glory!