Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Sound(s) of Silence

Silence. That’s got to be one of the most appealing virtues of an EV for many of us early adopters. I didn’t really experience it during the test drive; I was too busy yapping away with the guy in the passenger seat wearing a tie. I’m a has-been amateur racer, he moonlights as a stunt car driver. We had a lot to talk about. So I didn’t really notice just how quiet an EV can be until after the papers were signed and I was well on the way home.

Tire rumble. Wind noise. That’s it. That’s all I really noticed. At first it felt surreal; like being in a dream, because in dreams, there always seems to be something a little bit wrong. Something missing or out of place. Did I really buy a Focus Electric? Let's see... I wasn’t naked, nor was I driving over a cliff. And I still hadn’t heard an alarm clock in the distance, progressively getting louder and louder until it sounded like it was on a nightstand next to my side of the bed. Must be the real thing.

Just for kicks, I turned off the climate control system fan. I then noticed the soft, high-pitched whir of the motor/drivetrain. Hard to hear at a constant speed, much more pronounced when accelerating or off the pedal. Autocar described it best in a first-drive review of the euro-built Focus Electric:

“At some speeds there’s also a faint but pleasing whistle from the engine bay that, in quality if not volume, is akin to a Cold War jet fighter taxiing.”

I love reading articles and reviews from across the pond. They really know how to write over there.

Close to home, I rolled my window down and started noticing other sounds, while driving at about 20mph, that I don’t ever recall hearing while driving my ICE cars through the neighborhood.  Kids playing off in the distance. Leaves rustling in a gentle breeze. A couple talking while on their daily stroll. The soft squeak of tire tread blocks rubbing against the wide, smooth, white paint stripe as I slowly pull away from a stop sign. A crinkling sound as I drive over gravel – just several small stones, not a large patch – that gathered on the pavement at the corner of my street. I was simply amazed.

After 12000 miles, the Focus Electric is still as silent as it was eight months ago, but the novelty has worn off for the most part, except under heavy acceleration. I’m still not used to the utter silence while rocketing from 30mph to 70+mph; I’m so used to hearing hundreds of confined explosions per second increasing in volume and frequency that the lack of that corresponding noise makes it seem like I'm accelerating even harder than I really am. It’s the exact opposite effect of those hollowed-out coffee can mufflers and tailpipes that kids put on old automatic-transmissioned Civics and Integras; those things sound like they should be at warp speed when taking off from a stop light, yet I pass them as if they are standing still.

Unlike many early adopters, I do occasionally miss the romantic sound of a properly tuned internal combustion engine. Sometimes I drive the truck on short errands, just to hear the rumble and roar of a modern Dodge Hemi. And I do enjoy driving my Focus Electric's ICE backup... Mercedes did a great job giving their supercharged 4-cylinder C230 Kompressor Sport Sedan a noticeable lope at idle and beautiful song at full throttle. Or at any throttle, for that matter.

Nostalgia aside, for the day-in and day-out routine, the most gratifying sound for me is now that of a pure electric vehicle.  My own personal Cold War jet fighter.

No comments: