"Listen to the sounds from the speakers in Dynamic,” says Audi sound engineer Stephan Gsell as he switches the Ingolstadt brand’s first electric sports saloon into its most aggressive drive mode and pins the throttle to the floor.
To be honest, it’s hard to keep your focus on the synthesised ‘engine note’ as your innards are thrust into the seatback with the kind of relentless ferocity only a seriously potent EV can deliver.
But that’s what this taster of the new E-tron GT’s moving capabilities is all about. Although the pandemic hasn’t interfered greatly with the car’s development, it has upset any plans for a glitzy unveiling after next month’s Los Angeles motor show was cancelled for obvious reasons.
Instead, we’ll be drip fed experiences of the car and this is the first - a passenger ride of what is (bar some tuning and calibration) the finished item. Albeit one lightly disguised behind a funky camouflage. Strangely, we’re not even able to fully show you the camouflaged car in all its glory. There'll be a separate unveiling of that at the end of the month. Rules are rules.
Clearly, though, if Audi is dragging a bunch of journalists to Germany to listen to some speaker sounds, it’s an important part of the E-tron GT’s development. Gsell himself, as part of a small team of musicians and engineers, has been experimenting with augmented EV soundtracks for the best part of half a decade.
A lot of this is driven by regulations that state an EV must emit some form of noise in lower-speed ranges to ensure it isn’t a menace to pedestrians. These are pretty strict in Europe, with every electric car required to have a front speaker outputting sound between 3mph and 12mph, and a rear speaker for reversing. In the US, it’s even stricter: EVs must even emit sounds when they’re stationary and turned on. But few car makers want some anodyne beep or hum, it seems.
Along with his colleague and musician Rudi Halbmeir, Gsell explained the abstract thought processes behind composing the sound profile of the E-tron GT. They even demonstrated the ‘eureka’ moment Halbmeir had with the sounds emitted from a 3m-long piece of hollow metal tubing held in front of a desk fan (yes,really). “The big challenge was not to overshoot because, thinking about science fiction movies and the like, we could have done something more extraordinary. But we held it back because this is a sound somebody has to live with every day. It’s about balance.”
The team even went to the trouble of designing its own composing software and the finished sounds are combinations of 32 different audio tracks. And no, the E-tron GT’s noise isn’t the same as the platform-sharing Porsche Taycan’s. Both were developed by separate teams who didn’t copy each other’s homework.
All this means the E-tron GT could be one of the most aurally active EVs on the market. At a standstill, even Euro-spec cars emit a harmonised low-frequency hum not dissimilar to that of an idling straight six. From the rear speaker, there's a quiet high-frequency whine that’s more reminiscent of one of those ultrasonic devices used to keep cats off lawns.