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Exclusive: F56 MINI Cooper S Uses Active Sound to Enhance Engine Noise

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A few years ago I rode shotgun in a R55 Clubman and then a BMW 630d with a BMW engineer as he demonstrated something they called “Active Sound”. In the 630d the idea was to make it sound like a 650i. It worked… almost flawlessly.

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In the MINI we sampled what they call the “sound machine”. It’s a system that could change (on the fly) the engine note to any one of four settings. The system is tied to the engine speed and accurately reproduced engine notes as they are happened.

Fast forward to 2014 and we now have MINI using Active Sound to subtly enhance the in-cabin engine noise on the Cooper S. The option is only available on the Cooper S with the driving modes option – standard in North America. Let’s look at what the system is and how it works.

The system uses a small speaker in the left rear of the car that is tied to the engine revs. The system gives the car a slightly throatier sound up and down the rev range without going noticed. So subtle in fact is the system that when I drove the car a few months back I came away with the opinion that MINI had either decided not to have Active Sound in the Cooper S or the system wasn’t turned on. I’m now told it was and it’s just that subtle. However it’s worth noting that the system only is on in sport mode.

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The system works in every mode but is slightly more noticeable in Sport. And it’s probably worth noting that the system can be defeated by pulling a simple fuse.

BMW isn’t the only automaker dabbling in faux engine noise. Audi’s latest V8 goes from eight cylinders to four under light load. Great for efficiency but no one buying a 100K A8 wants to hear the putter of a four under the hood (even on the highway). So Audi has introduced an Active Sound system of their own that eliminates engine noise when it four cylinder mode and replace it with the purr of all eight cylinders.

So Active Sound is here to stay. In fact in the coming years we expect it to show up on all Cooper S models.

Written By: Gabe

  • Ben

    Interesting! Do you know if this device can be installed on the previous generations?

    • Erik06MCS

      This is gotta be a big no as undoubtedly this little noise box is tied in with the can-bus with programming incorporated into the body control module.

  • coyttl

    Why in the heck would I want this? When I drive, I want to hear the ENGINE, as it gives a good clue to not only how I’m doing as a driver, but how healthy the engine is. Not too mention adding on to the office of the MINI…

    • BimmerFile_Michael

      You can’t hear the engine in most modern cars- they are designed too solidly and isolate the cabin from the engine for safety reasons.

  • http://twitter.com/matthewwanderer Matthew

    The Cooper looks better and better.

    • Tim H

      really…based on bmw wanting to give the S driver a bit more engine audibiity…good enough, i’m looking forward to my S. I hope they do a pepsi “sound” test with this at mini events. “Hear the difference”. LOL. most won’t. Most probably wouldn’t have noticed if it weren’t reported on.

    • robble

      I have driven both the Cooper and The Cooper S quite a bit. Yes, the Cooper is very impressive. It’s 0-60 is dang near the same as the S was in 2003. However, the Cooper S is dang near as fast as a 2013 JCW. I didn’t know about the noise generator until today. I can say though that in sport mode the engine plus sound generator (as I now know) sounds VERY good while in the drivers seat.

      • Ben

        So the 189 hp S is as fast as the ’13 JCW @ 208 hp? How is that? I’ve seen several posts about the S being as fast and so forth as the latest JCW’s…….I have a ‘ fJCW R55…..and I just don’t see it. My wife’s ’12 R56S is @181 hp……and no where near as fast as the fJCW! Just asking since you have already driven both the new cooper and cooper S.

        • r.burns

          R56 S = R53 JCW F56 S = R56 JCW

          (F56 136hp = R53 163hp)

        • Ben

          I don’t get the = to? The F56 S is 189 hp? And that equals a R56 JCW @ 208 hp?

        • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

          In my review I said it feels as fast due to having the torque. It very well could be feel is the key word to me.

        • robble

          Don’t look at just the HP #’s. Torque is more important at lower rpms. 2013 JCW torque is 207 (0-60 6.1sec coupe) , 2014 S torque is 220 (0-60 6.4 sec). 2004 S torque is 155 (0-60 7.2secs). 2014 Cooper torque is 170. (0-60 7.3secs)

          So with a stop watch yes, both are almost as fast compared to what I stated. While just going by the feel in your butt you’ll feel it’s just as quick.

        • lawrothegreat

          And that low down torque means that maximum power in the 2014 S is available from just 4700rpm. That’s low for a petrol engine and means that there’s lots of accessible power. Impressively maximum power doesn’t tail off at 4700rpm but remains constant until 6000rpm. I guess that’s the benefit of a larger capacity engine that’s relatively unstressed. But let’s not kid ourselves a 2013 JCW would be a little quicker in a drag race, if not A to B on normal roads.

        • robblef

          I’ve no doubt the JCW would beat it on a 1/4 mile drag strip. When is the last time you drag raced your MINI though? I can count on my hands the number of times I’ve been above 85mph in mine.

          0-60 runs such as getting on the freeway happens almost everyday.

          0-35 mph happens many times a day (although i’m not usually pounding it then)

  • Wolfgang Gullich

    It shames me that BMW works on fake engine sound generators now…it’s a more expensive version of those things you can plug into your lighter that cost $20.

    Why don’t they just engineer engine sound pipes as they did on the Z3 that just pipe sound directly from the engine bay into the cabin?

  • Wolfgang Gullich

    It shames me that BMW works on fake engine sound generators now…it’s a more expensive version of those things you can plug into your lighter that cost $20.

    Why don’t they just engineer engine sound pipes as they did on the Z3 that just pipe sound directly from the engine bay into the cabin?

    • r.burns

      Motors don’t always make a beautiful noise. Even and especially some 6-cylinders old motors…

    • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

      That was the Z4. And the reasons are many. Space for one. But also the sound of the inherently balanced inline six was undeniably nice. A direct injection four cylinder doesn’t have that quality.

      • walk0080

        At least it can be disabled. However based on what I’ve seen so far, this car is not marketed to me anyways. I’ve got my R56 JCW and that will probably be the last MINI for me for a long while.

        • lawrothegreat

          I remember this line of thought during the transition from the first to the second generation! :-)

        • walk0080

          haha totally :-)

      • Kev50027

        I can attest that the Z4’s inline 6 sounded astounding. I went from a Z4 3.0 to a Cooper S. I still love the way the R56 sounds under load, but nothing compares to those BMW 6 cylinder engines.

    • Soundzilla

      These are not fake engine sounds. Trust me on this, I know. Sometimes when a car gets to pre-production it doesn’t sound the way the engineers want it to sound. They have two ways to fix this:

      1.) Mechanically, which adds significant weight and cost through things like induction tubing and balance shafts. This hurts MPG by adding weight.

      2.) Electronically, which means they analyze where in the RPM band specific frequencies are deficient or too much, and compensate for those anomalies through the vehicle’s sound system. They add or remove harmonics that are naturally present, they do not pump sound recordings of any kind into the cabin.

      Testing shows people who drive cars with these subtle auditory changes made to them believe the car actually performs better than ones without. You may find a way to disable what they put into it, but your driving experience may not be as fun as it is with it on. If the goal for engineers is to achieve a certain sound in the cabin, why do you care how it’s achieved?

      • r.burns

        Thank you for your demonstration that sound has always been a commercial preoccupation, no matter how it is obtained

      • BimmerFile_Michael

        You are spot on! The harmonics of the car takes away from the INTERIOR sound- still sounds great on the outside!

      • Erik06MCS

        Exactly the reason most people think they “feel” a difference after installing an intake or exhaust when really they only hear a difference and their mind does the rest of the work..

        What will tickle me now is if people will run out to get exhaust systems or ‘flash tunes’ for their ‘engine noise box’ :)

  • r.burns

    You forgot to mention that this active sound comes only with “DRIVING MODES” option

    • Tim H

      by driving modes you eman “Sport” or “Green”?

      • r.burns

        Actually in USA the “Driving modes” option (green/normal/sport) is standard, whereas on other markets it is in option, or part of packs

  • walk0080

    Very silly and odd IMO having this in so many modern forced induction cars. Really don’t understand it – just one more gimmick or something else to break. I mean the new BMW i8 will have it as well, and that 3-cylinder engine sounds great without fake sounds.

    How much additional unnecessary weight does this POS add to the new MINI?

    • fishbert

      … and that 3-cylinder engine sounds great without fake sounds. I seem to recall Gabe being disappointed with how little you could hear of that engine in the driver’s seat. My guess is it’d be much the same story with the Cooper S without something like this (or like the “noisemaker” in the R56).

      • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

        I think you maybe right.

    • Soundzilla

      It’s software on a chip inside the car’s sound system amp. Zero weight gain.

      Many cars already have this technology but the companies don’t don’t mention it because they know there will be ignorant comments online from people who don’t understand how it works or why it’s needed. It will be interesting to see how many people go out of their way to disable theirs and make their interior sound unbalanced with errant resonant tones because they thought this was just a gimmick.

  • nervous

    Already had this feature in the 70’s

  • pmindemann

    This is sad and ridiculous. Yes, other car makers do the same (a Focus ST I drove recently had it, and it was one of the more “artificial” cars I’ve ever driven, on a lot of levels). Other cars using the technique does not justify its existence.

    It’s unfortunate that with every generation we get further and further isolated from actually driving… autonomous shifting, drive-by-wire throttle, electric steering, self-parking, and soon the engine sound will be replaced completely with a noise box.

    I guess Google saw this coming… they’re working on the end result, which will be a car that drives itself, so we can focus on more important things… like Facebook.

    We get what we deserve.

    • b-

      But wouldn’t Google rather you use Google+ over Facebook. :)

  • BimmerFile_Michael

    I think one key point that is not made here is that the reason for this is that the interior of the car is now QUIETER it is designed to let less exterior noise in. The exterior sound of the car is not amplified or artificially augmented in anyway but due to the sound insulating properties of the interior and overall high quality construction of the car itself the sound does not permeate the cabin. The options are to drive with the windows down or find another way to introduce sound to the cabin. Porsche is even doing this.

    BMW caught a lot of grief for this with the F10 M5 but truth be told it sounds nice on the outside but with the windows up and the system disabled there was little sound in the cabin- dual firewall, high strength steel and sound deadening that actually works was responsible.

    • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

      Bingo.

    • http://twitter.com/matthewwanderer Matthew

      There’s more than one way to accomplish this, isn’t there? I don’t know if Porsche still uses their Sound Symposer method, but it seems more “authentic”.

      • BimmerFile_Michael

        The sound symposer is really only for intake sounds… I am not sure what they are currently employing though.

    • http://about.me/jasonrwilliams Jason Williams

      The engine note of the F10 M5 has hardly been loved by reviewers, so I don’t find the comparison fitting. The F10 has also taken a lot of slack for it’s obese weight due to the 7-series platform it is based upon and generally more luxury than sport feel. We are not bemoaning a quieter cabin. The R53 owners in particular amongst us might appreciate a slightly quieter cabin on a daily commute. The issue that I have is the artificial nature of the sound. If the car is too quiet, add a physical sound pipe/tube as other manufacturers have into the cabin. Luxury and sport don’t have to be at odds, and although MINIs are “premium” compact [sports] cars, I think most people would say that “fun” and the sporty experience should take a precedence over luxury. Leave the luxury to it’s brother, the 2-series active tourer.

      • BimmerFile_Michael

        The comparison is fitting as the M5 was the first BMW product to use such a system and for the same reason. Sound is always subjective and most reviewers compare the F10 M5 to its predecessor, a naturally aspirated high revving V10, which is not fair. For a twin turbo V8 it doesn’t sound bad and it is loud and raspy on the outside.

        The performance package has eliminated much of the luxury vs. sport issues but most reviewers do not get what the M5 is meant to be- it is not a track toy and never really has been- that is what the 1/2/3 series cars are for.

        MINI was established as a luxury/premium/sporty brand if people just wanted sporty they would look elsewhere at a much lower price point. The 2 Series active tourer and the MINI hatch are not even the same target demographic by a mile.

        Until people have experienced the system I think it is best left to not judge what is artificial as it is not artificial since the sound is directly tied to the engine load and RPM- most would never even know it was there without articles like this. Adding a sound tube does’t make sense in a lot of ways- it adds safety issues, weight (more than this little control unit) and would require additional crash testing for each variation and would introduce other external noise which has otherwise been eliminated. Who is still using a sound tube aside from Porsche which only amplifies the intake sound via a large diaphragm and doesn’t enter the cabin? (Just curious).

        I think there are always going to be trade offs as technology and demands increase- can’t have a quite cabin that also has a great exhaust note without some form of system like this. Can’t get high fuel economy without some form of forced induction or hybridization, can’t have crash safety without added crumple zones.

        The F Series of BMWs were place holders for the G series as the technology was not ready for mass production and not economical until now. BMW only produced one generation of each model with the F codes before moving onto G- the carbon fiber, aluminum, steel, magnesium platform which will debut in the next 7 in 2015. At the time it launched the F platform, especially in 5 series guise was a step backward and even though it has sold very well and been a profit maker it has not pushed the envelope of the brand. R&D money was spent elsewhere and it will put BMW/MINI ahead of the competition for the next decade once it all starts trickling to market.

        • http://about.me/jasonrwilliams Jason Williams

          I will reserve judgement until I can experience it with and without the fuse installed as I’ve only had the opportunity to sit in an F56 and have yet to drive one. It may sound great with it, but the issue is that I (and I would believe others) appreciate authenticity. A singer on stage that is lip-syncing words to pre-recorded music might sound as good as if the singer was actually singing but we feel cheated and disappointed out of the authentic live experience.

          Regarding what cars use some type of sounds projection through the firewall, there are others: Ford Mustang GT and Mustang BOSS 302, Ford Focus ST, Porsche Cayman, VW GTI up until 2011, Lexus LFA, Hyundai Genesis Coupe, McLaren MP4-12C, Mazda Miata MX-5s with manuals after 2009, are the first to come to mind.

          My comparison with the 2-series active tourer was not to suggest the demographic is the same at all, in fact it was the opposite. I was suggesting that the demographic that will shop for 2AT, will appreciate a refined interior sound and will not care whether it is artificial or not. MINI has obviously taken great lengths to differentiate the cars given the shared platform, but I was hoping that the F56 S, would become the more focused sport model as Gabe has repeatedly said. I do think these cars will sell by the bucket loads given my experience siting in one in addition to the early reviews, however as enthusiasts, we’re allowed to be a bit nick-picky and to strive for what we believe the brand is capable of. I am also looking forward to the great potential the F56 platform will hold for the JCW, LCI and GP.

        • Spike

          Your missing the point. You will have noticed when you sat in the car how premium it feels? It is built to higher standard, which includes less cabin/road noise. This is a good thing and much needed in my opinion over the R56. When using sport mode (S only) the engineers have given back to the driver a bit more of the outside noise to make the experience of driving the car in sport, erm, sportier. You can usually tell if a singer is lip syncing. The difference with the F56 is it adds to the overall experience. It is not miming.

        • http://about.me/jasonrwilliams Jason Williams

          I’m very much not missing the point. You are mistaken if you think that quality materials are the main direct correlation to hushed interiors. I’ve driven in older BMWs and Mercedes that have much higher quality interiors than in most MINIs and yet are much louder. Less cabin or road noise is a conscious engineering decision and really doesn’t have much to do with the seat bolstering, steering wheel materials, plastic, leather or other substrate choice, switch gear dampening or most any other interior component which we equate with the interior level of “quality”.

          Engine “noise” is generally attributed to either induction or exhaust sounds and BMW and MINI engineers spend a huge amount of time fine tune these sounds. Regarding management of modern induction sound, bends and curves are added to intake runners to quiet air flow, air boxes are completely sealed and designed to minimize harmonic vibrations, plastic engine covers and insulated hood linings are designed to minimize metallic valvetrain sounds and the turbo’s plumbing is designed to minimize the natural boy-racer sounds the most basic turbo setup creates. However even as BMW engineers its engines not just for performance and efficiency but also for sound, one of the biggest effects on drivetrain and road sound is the structure of the car itself and specifically the firewall and footwells. Honeycombed aluminum and other boxed structures add rigidity and safety but also greatly baffle transmission of sound. Although MINIs have always made better european city cars than cross-country American cruisers, I could appreciate a bit more road and tire isolation. However this does not have to come at the cost of induction or exhaust character and noise if engineered as such.

          Although the R53 could be considered a loud modern car especially at speed due to road noise, the R56 is pretty quiet. I was particularly impressed with how quiet the R58 Coupe was over 80mph. Was it as quiet as my partner’s Audi S5? Certainly not, but I do not think it should be; it’s a small fun, expressive european hatchback!

          How can you suggest that a singer lip syncing to an actual recording of him or her is less offensive or genuine than playing computer-generated artificial sound that may not be a recording of the real thing but is designed to transform (or distort depending on perspective)? That is the definition of miming! It is suggesting something that is not there! My point is that other manufacturers understand the balance between engineering a unibody structure and firewall to filter out “unwanted” road noise or particular frequencies while using actual sounds from the engine to heighten the driving experience. Those solutions, such as the Porsche Sound Symposium and the others I mentioned above at least attempt to be authentic whereas BMW and MINI’s system just simply isn’t. If BMW or MINI even used a recording of the full engine sound spectrum it would be a bit more pure, but instead the Active Sound appears to selectively change the perceived sound of the engine from what it actually sounds like. And you don’t have to take my word for it, professional car-reviewers also describe the BMW/MINI system as a form of “lip-syncing” in their own exact words: http://www.caranddriver.com/features/faking-it-engine-sound-enhancement-explained-tech-dept

        • http://about.me/jasonrwilliams Jason Williams

          In summation after my longer declarative response, I’ll use an analogy. The other systems I mentioned which project direct audio from the engine into the passenger compartment are like having a good amplifier; there may be some variation or distortion, but it is minimal and a side effect of the means out of necessity for amplification. BMW and MINI’s Active Sound is the modern equivalent of auto-tune, it purposefully adds to or distorts the sound to trick the listener. You could argue the end result is the same, but I would say that how you get there is more important. It’s also why I own a MINI, because I appreciate what’s between point A and B as much as those points themselves.

        • Kurtster

          Jason, all due respect, your assumptions about how this works are misguided. Active sound management does not add to or distort sound to trick the listener and the more misinformation that gets spread about how these systems work, the more convoluted the general public’s opinion will become. It is complicated and no, not even people calling themselves car reviewers are going to report accurately on its use unless they understand how it works.

          There are components that make up the very build of the car, things like the firewall, body shape, etc. that diminish or augment specific frequencies or can create or diminish resonant frequencies at specific points across the RPM range. Increasing safety and fuel efficiency requirements make it even harder to maintain the sporty sound of the drivetrain because all the audible fun has been sucked out of it by uneven insulation, anemic induction, odd cavities in the body, new crumple zones and more.

          When an NVH engineer gets one of the first models they discover these anomalies. Traditionally they would fix them via mechanical means such as balance shafts, active exhaust valves, induction tubing and more. All of those fixes add weight, reduce fuel efficiency and increase costs and take more time machine exactly the right parts to get the desired cabin sound. There is nothing inherently better about a mechanical noise management solution over an electronic one unless there is a risk of structural danger without using a mechanical one.

          Active sound management isn’t trying to fool anyone, it’s trying to restore the sounds that are no longer as audible because of all of the stuff mentioned above.

          Have you ever heard a very uncomfortable sounding noise when buffeting wind comes into a car when all four windows are down? That’s a resonant frequency (learn more about these here: http://www.ymec.com/hp/signal2/car1.htm) and it can be very nasty, loud and even fatiguing over time. Now let’s look at engines. All engines have fundamental frequencies they produce. As with musical instruments, there are also resonant frequencies (harmonics) produced along with the fundamental frequencies. Your brain is used to hearing these harmonics because of the sound we expect engines to make, but too much or too little of one will stand out. When the engineer tests the sound in the car, let’s say they notice that there is too much resonance at 100Hz when the car hits 1500 RPM, but then the engine gets up to 4000 RPM there is a noticeable dip in a harmonic that makes the engine sound thin until it gets to about 4200 RPM.

          Active sound management allows them to reduce the overly obnoxious 100Hz frequency by producing an out of phase tone from the sound system. More on this process here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Active_noise_control

          It also allows them to boost the harmonic dip described above by locating the frequency in question on a graph and introducing that harmonic in the desired level through the sound system only between 4000 – 4200 RPM to keep the sound smooth where it was deficient in the graph. It’s a harmonic generated by the amp to fill in a gap that is missing, not some sort of fake sound that isn’t supposed to be there.

          Think of a graph of frequencies generated by the engine. The goal is to get a smooth, consistent engine sound across the spectrum. Enhancing or diminishing a few harmonics is not distorting anything and implying that it is adding sounds is too vague and could be misleading if you aren’t more specific about the sound being just a harmonic, and its use being very subtle. It is allowing engineers to restore the exhaust note and engine sound that are already present, but not as obvious because of factors beyond MINI’s control. It is bringing out the true character of the drivetrain, not making something up.

        • http://about.me/jasonrwilliams Jason Williams

          I do appreciate that you took the time to explain further and although my terminology may not have been precise, my assumptions are based upon what little information is provided by BMW, MINI and previous manufacturers which have used this and other techniques as I mentioned. Your description of resonant and fundamental frequencies takes me back to the music theory classes I took as an undergrad! I still sing although I leave the complex audio fundamentals up to the professionals, namely my fiancé who builds and restores some of the largest man-made musical instruments in the world and regularly discusses harmonics as he measures pitch in cents.

          Firstly as you describe harmonics which stand out regarding sounds from an engine, you assume that standing out is a negative that needs to be corrected or smoothed out. I disagree that all engine harmonics need to be corrected. The open window buffeting is an obviously uncomfortable example which I’ve experience in more than one Jeep, but besides the thrashy rental Mazda CX7 a friend had recently, I find the sounds produced by drivetrains to be a unique signature. Ask many car enthusiasts what their favorite rpm is and without flinching they will be able to tell you what they believe the absolute perfect-rpm of their car is. I do see where you could say that Active Sound is just one more tool that a NVH or powertrain engineer uses to adjusts the interior and exterior sound of a car as engineers have been doing for decades. However, if you read the start of this article, BMW engineers have been able to make a inline-6 diesel sound like a petrol V8 and while this is impressive it’s very and although I am usually an optimistic person I see the potential for a slippery slope. My bigger issue is in the wording of the article which may not be accurate when it states, “The system gives the car a slightly throatier sound…” as this is not specific obviously on what is occurring. You yourself are making assumptions that the harmonics are being modified while the Active Sound system used in the M5, M135i and upcoming M3/M4 do not make this clear. It is worth noting that the BMW applications use the stereo system whereas the MINI system has a stand-alone sound producing unit.

          Secondly, other manufacturers do use harmonic cancellation either specifically for engine sounds and/or for road noise such as Honda, Acura, Infiniti, Cadillac and Ford however from everything I’ve read and from what Gabe has said on here, there is no active cancellation so I believe you assumption may be incorrect in your example that an unwanted frequency would be cancelled by an out of phase tone, but we would likely have to ask a BMW engineer. Additionally, you mention “restoring the exhaust note, but at least on the M5, some casual reviewers have mentioned that removing the stereo fuse which disables active sound appears to primarily modify induction noise and not exhaust noise.

          Perhaps the terms adding or distorting sound were imprecise at best and misleading at worst, but considering BMWs vast history of engineering sonorous drivetrains without electronic aids, I am merely stating a personal belief that BMW and MINI could differentiate their products using techniques their storied brands have been built upon. There is a visceral experience from revving many BMW engines and engineers obviously spent a long time honing NVH so that say a E46 M3 has a melodious wail. I believe the harmonic dips or spikes throughout the rev range of prior BMWs have a place, just as an organist mixes stops to produce a particular expression which is limited and unique to each instrument. It just seems we have apparently have different definitions of what the true character of the drivetrain is.

    • Soundzilla

      Eh, so if it’s canceling noise why does the headline of the article say it’s enhancing noise? Enhancement and cancellation are two totally different kinds of noise management, the latter of which is usually more important in luxury cars, the former in sports cars.

      • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

        There is no active noise cancelation. Yes referring to the design of the car removing outside noise better than the previous model.

  • U.N. Gawah

    I thought the early road testers in Puerto Rico preferred the 3 cylinder’s engine sounds to the sounds from the S.

    • r.burns

      False, the 3-cylinder is too isolated to sound sporty

      • U.N. Gawah

        JALOPNIK’s road test said about the S: “I do have to say that its sound isn’t as interesting and compelling as the three…”

        • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

          It always makes my stomach queasy to see a Jalopnik “review” quote on the web somewhere.

          Anyway in the MotoringFile review we published a few months ago I said this:

          “With the windows down the 3 Cylinder had a vague similarity to a BMW inline six, albeit a little angrier. Which of course makes sense given that it’s basically half of that engine, but still being asked to do some real work. It’s a fantastic growl, but one that was too quiet to my ears. I wanted more.”

          I stand behind that. With the windows down it’s a nice growl that is immediately more interesting than any MINI engine sans the supercharged R53. However the cabin isolates the noise to the point that you need the windows down and your foot to the floor to really hear it’s voice.

  • Jon

    Hate this.

    The further digitizing of our driving experience; making it more and more synthetic and disconnected. I don’t want a virtual reality car!

    This seems like a band-aid fix for engine, intake and exhaust noise handling that should’ve been engineered better from the start.

    Back in the day, manufacturers would do the hard work, and “tune” these parts, so that in the end, the car had a pleasing and engaging soundtrack to drive to. This techno-geewhizzardry is taking the easy way out. It’s the instant-gratification way of getting to the solution. (Like when I was a kid in grade school, I had to actually learn basic math, instead of being able to use my calculator in class).

    Just because technology exists that allows you to do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD do it.

    • Tim H

      I used my smartphone as a calculator in class. I know basic math. But my productivity has been increased thanks to tech over the years. Technology has been a valuable ally in car manufacturing. In case you missed it though, the car sounds great. it’s just that as the build quality has improved so much so that ambient noise is not getting through to the cockpit. The car is tuned. Quite nicely in my opinion. BMW seems to want S owners to get more of that feedback in the cockpit without compromising the build quality. I like it.

    • Kurtster

      You hate it? How can you hate something you haven’t actually heard? Just on principle? Please do yourself a favor and test drive it before you criticize it. You’re essentially accusing the folks at MINI (and other car companies) of not knowing what they’re doing. This isn’t a short cut or a gimmick, this is progress. With increasing requirements for emissions, it’s harder and harder to deliver a sports experience in the cabin and no engine and exhaust note sound perfect without alteration of some kind.

      Is a mechanical solution inherently better than an electronic one just because it has more mass? Mechanical solutions are heavier, more expensive and more time-consuming with less accurate results.

      If you’ve got an engine that produces sound in the cabin that’s deficient in three frequencies when revving between 2000-3000 RPM, and an exhaust note that appears to diminish at a different point in the RPM band, would you rather just release the car with these weird, uneven sounds or spend time, weight and cost trying to attach induction tubing and an active exhaust valve that were never intended to be on the car to begin with to solve both problems?

      Most car companies wouldn’t do either of those things if the frequencies in question could be restored in the cabin via the vehicle’s sound system. The end result is the same to the driver so I just don’t get why anyone would hate a great sounding car regardless of how it is achieved.

      Of all the things to get worked up about with the F56, this seems to me like a small one but hey, if it is really important to you to have mechanical noise management instead of electrical then maybe this car is not for you.

  • lawrothegreat

    I wonder if this is software driven or whether it is hardware driven (dedicated chips). If software driven I wonder if it can be cracked to alter the level and perhaps the purpose of the effect.

  • James M

    I think quite a few car companies are now using active (rather than passive like Ford for instance) sound management now either to perk up the sound of the car or to make it quieter simply because the patent on the technology ran out a few years ago. I believe it was owned but Lotus, my uni engineering lecturer was part of team that put it together in the late 80s, he used to talk about how they made mundane cars sound like V12 Lamborghini’s from the inside.

    Here’s the video! Skip in about 2 min if you’re not interested active suspension.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxzrQCnCaNA

    My view is that i’m indifferent, initially a little disappointed as on my test drive at the weekend i thought the car sounded fantastic, but i had my suspicions as the engine noise was coming from no direction, just from everywhere. But when you rationalise it, the added weight is small, you already have the speakers and microphone in the car, its just the the weight of a control module. And when you’re not “on it” you get a more civilised car for motorways. The purist in me is displeased, but the realist recognise the benefits.

    After a few year of ownership i think i might end up putting a aftermarket exhaust on it anyhow…Its still a fantastic little car.

  • Piper

    Kind of gimmicky IMO … perhaps the BMW wizards will simulate the sound of a motorcycle by attaching cards to the forks of a BMW designed bicycle. We did it as kids on our Schwinns. With the R53 the sound of the supercharger is entertaining enough and when coupled with a performance exhaust the cacophony cab be a delight.

  • robble

    Having driven the 2014 S I can say the performance is outstanding – almost as fast 0-60 as a 2013 JCW and perhaps even faster in the lower rpms due to the higher torque. I did notice a sound difference between the different modes. While there may be an element of “fake” it does sound gorgeous from the drivers seat in sport mode.

  • Daniel

    Really??? Is this a early Aprils fool?

  • Daniel

    Really??? Is this a early Aprils fool?

  • otter

    Usually these kinds of things creep me out, electronic technology being employed to fake something. The thing is however that faux isn’t anything new, faux wood, leather, hood scoops, and so on have been use for years, sometimes in very high end cars. At first I was very disappointed by hearing about this. My WRX sounds great inside and out and I am pretty sure Subaru hasn’t employed any virtual sound gizmos; nevertheless, they did tweak the exhaust a bit to give it some added growl and admittedly you can hear the engine and exhaust note in the cabin because you can hear every sound in and around the car. To add to it all electric cars really should have sound effects when they move because you don’t hear them coming. So, after giving it some thought and assuming it really does work well, I am okay with it. Now if it just made the Jetsons car sound…

  • Jgh548

    Sorry to be a grump, but I feel that this kind of thing is indicative of the unnecessary gimmickry and technology that defines this generation for me.

    I am a keen driver – I want to hear the actual bloomin engine!

    I thought the Cooper S was way too quiet when I drove it anyway.

    • walk0080

      I find my JCW sometimes too quiet. I just open the window or sunroof… when it’s not winter.

  • http://www.jwardell.com/ jwardell

    Can they make it sound like a supercharger? They need the r53 sound back, fake or not!

  • Jay

    Oh you MINI trolls. Behaving like pseudo-amish regarding such a minor innovation that can be turned off. More importantly can this be tuned to sound like a Ferrari F1 car? Because that would REALLY make me feel like I’m driving one, you know? Upload Ferrari_F1.mp3 or something to ECU lol.

    Joking aside, I can’t wait to test drive one of these in the upcoming weeks. I am torn though. My mind tells me I should keep my R56, I want a S coupe, but I like the Countryman S….and I really like all the tech in the new mini. WWJD

  • Bob Hayhurst

    A year or so ago NBC financial correspondent Carl Quintanilla did a one hour documentary titled, “BMW; a driving obsession”. In that program he spoke to a couple BMW sound engineers whose work was analyzing the sounds made by BMW automobiles. What impressed me most though was their analytical skills and passion for their work. I’m sure they had something to do with the Active Sound Design.

    What is most interesting to me about “Active Sound Design” is the apparent subtlety of its operation. While one might think that the engineers would make a kitten roar, they’ve elected to more or less let this thing operate in the background to accentuate motor noise not substitute for it. As BimmerFileMicheal said, if not for articles like this, most of us wouldn’t it know it existed. Just as MINI added the burble to the engine (everybody loves that noise) while in sport mode, it is in fact contrived and contributes nothing to the performance of the car. It just sounds good. So goes the Active Sound Design. The engine sound we hear from a Cooper, an “S” or a JCW is all manufactured by engineers who manipulate the noises from the exhaust and engine bay to please the end buyer. I see nothing wrong with Active Sound Design and for me; I’d like to see/hear it louder and not quite so faint of heart. Just as an aside, that bell you hear from a Train Locomotive is no longer a bell; it’s a electronic sound generator and a weatherproof speaker…

    • Spike

      Nicely put. BMW don’t always get it right. The Cooper D has been taken off the road due to the accoustic levels. Shows how much they want the F56 to be perfect.

    • robblef

      when I drove the Cooper S in sport mode I had no idea the sound was augmented. I just knew it sounded “damn good!”

    • Kurtster

      But, but the burble is tampering with the natural sound! LOL. They’ve been managing noise for decades. When there was too much of a resonant frequency they used to use dampening methods to mitigate it. When they discovered it sounding weak, they used other methods to bring more sound at the substandard harmonic. Now they use electronic means and everyone freaks out and people post pictures of noise boxes on handlebars. I’ll say it again, there is no advantage to using mechanical noise management methods over electronic ones unless you’re dealing with something structural affected by the resonance.

      If someone who hates this can give me any quantifiable reasons why they think heavier, more costly, more time-consuming mechanical methods of noise management are better for achieving the desired drivetrain sound, I’m all ears. :-)

  • aylk

    Marketing speak makes this sound much better than what it actually is. Put it simply, it is just a digital audio file stored on the car’s computer played at different speeds during certain throttle applications through a specially tuned low frequency speaker. Very lame if you ask me.


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1st Gen MINI
R50: One & MC Hatch
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R53: MCS Hatch
2nd Gen MINI
R55: Clubman
R56: Hatch
R57: Convertible
R58: Coupe
R59: Roadster
R60: MINI Crossover
R61: MINI Crossover Coupe
3rd Gen MINI
F54: Clubman
F55: Five Door Hatch
F56: Hatch
F57: Convertible
F60: MINI Crossover
F58: Traveller

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'06 JCW GP Long term
Reader Review: JCW GP
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'04 JCW MINI Cooper Tuning Kit
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'05 MCS Cabrio 1st Drive
'04 JCW MCS First Drive
'04 MC w/JCW Tuning Kit
BMW M3 SMG Vs. MCS
'04 MINI Cooper CVT
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Autocrossing the MINI Range


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