We round up ten of the greatest sounding cars, with videos of each one. Got your speakers turned up?
Take your pick: highly strung Italian V12s, low revving American V8 muscle cars or screaming Japanese inline fours. There's no denying that the automotive world has given us some great soundtracks over the years. Sadly the trend towards turbocharging, hybrids and reduction in cylinders and engine capacities have dulled the average car’s exhaust note, and while similar complaints must surely have been heard when fuel injection began replacing carburettors, few can deny that more eco-friendly cars are the way forward for daily transportation.
More concerning is the trend of some manufacturers to pipe synthetic sounds into the car’s cabin in an attempt to recapture some of that lost aural excitement. In our list we focus on the cars that do without electronic aids to produce their beguiling soundtracks, cars that stop conversations and turn heads as soon as they make their presence heard.
Below is our list of ten that best capture the essence of what makes a car sound great. Have a suggestion? Post a video in the comment!
Choosing a nice sounding Aston Martin is like deciding whether to have your caviar and champagne on your luxury yacht or the balcony of your Monaco mansion. A bad experience is unlikely to be had. The soon-to-be replaced Aston Martin V8 has a unique sounding V8 exhaust note, that is quite at odds with the cultured growl of its V12 stablemates. It still however suits the car’s character and timeless design. The N430 is one of the last of the old school Astons, and this great evo video lets you hear its captivating exhaust note and see some great roads too, so sit back and enjoy:
Turbocharging may dull a car’s exhaust note, but in the case of the RS3 that growly five-cylinder bark comes through loud and clear as you spear down the road, raising and lowering the revs with each successive gear change. With a bit of damp weather, a dirt track and a lot of wishful thinking you can even imagine yourself piloting one of the all-conquering Rally Quattro Sports down a special stage, to yet another win. For some rorty off beat five-cylinder goodness, watch this video and turn your sound up:
An inherently well balanced design, BMW has stuck to the inline 6 engine for decades. The pinnacle of its development was the 3.2-litre 360bhp naturally aspirated gem that propelled the E46 M3 CSL to a delimited top speed of over 170mph. The massive carbon fibre air intake and high pitched exhaust note dominate the cars aural signature and now that everything in BMW’s range is turbocharged, there will quite likely never be another one like it. Listen to it here and then head over to our used E46 M3s to get one so you can hear it every day
Small capacity V12s are not in favour nowadays thanks to emissions regulations but they were all the rage in performance cars of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The Colombo derived V12 in the nose of the iconic Ferrari 250 GTO started life as a tiny 1.5-litre in the 125S way back in 1947, but by 1959 it had grown to 3.0, and in the GTO produced the a magnificent sound. For a perfect way to spend 7 minutes and 10 seconds, here’s a video of the GTO in all of its glory:
Two Japanese superbikes riding side by side through a tunnel, that’s what an F355 sounds like as it approaches its 8250rpm power peak. Its high pitched and piercing exhaust note is arguably one of the best of the modern Ferrari V8s, and is best sampled with the optional Tubi exhaust pipes and for additional retro points the manual gearbox. Clicking the gear lever through the stainless steel grate as you scythe down an empty mountain pass must be on the bucket list of every petrolhead. A nice Spider is just the thing to blow away those cobwebs:
The Americans may not be renowned for their skill in extracting every last horsepower from an engine, but few can deny that they sure know how to make a V8 sound soulful. Quite unlike the urgent higher pitched European V8s the American cars have a deeper more relaxed sound. Old school muscle cars like a ‘60s Ford Mustang let you hear each step of the combustion process as you burble along to the nearest petrol station for yet another top-up. Click over to this clip to see a GT 500 take on some much newer metal. Then for homework go and rent Gone in 60 seconds:
Lamborghini has doggedly avoided small capacity forced induction engines in its supercars for decades, rather sticking to large capacity V10s and V12s to the aural delight of many a bystander. The latest Aventador carries on this fine tradition and its high revving V12 shrieks down the road as blue flamed madness escapes from its massive exhaust pipe. The new LP 750-4 Aventador SV now produces 740bhp from its 6.5-litre V12:
Derived from the V8 found in the Ferrari F430, the engine in the Maserati GranTurismo is off to a good start when it comes to aural satisfaction. It gets a more traditional cross plane crank which endows the Gran Turismo with a bit more low end torque and that sonorous deep chested V8 sound that has you staring down the road waiting for its long nose to come into view. The MC Stradale is the sportiest in the range, and gets a suitably free flowing exhaust to maximise performance and sound. This video should have you trawling our used Maserati section in no time:
The latest AMG Mercedes range may have gone the forced induction route, and while there’s nothing wrong with the way most of them sound, the outgoing 6.2-litre V8 has not been bettered. The naturally aspirated engine will always have a special place in the hearts of those who remember the way it growled through the rev range, crescendoing in a sound not dissimilar to a WWII fighter plane passing overhead. This engine did duty in a number of Mercedes Benz products but it was in the SLS AMG Roadster that it was allowed to truly make itself heard. Take a look at this video to see Henry Catchpole giving one the beans
Despite Porsche’s unconventional drivetrain layout, modern 911s have been developed into cutting edge supercars, capable of taking on anything the competition may come out with. However to some the earlier air-cooled cars had the more characterful driving experience and soundtrack, sure they tended to sound like lightly modified Beetles at idle but that was all part of their charm, wound up through the rev range the exhaust note quickly changed into an oddly addictive wail that has been known to prompt otherwise sane men to part with exorbitant sums to have one in their garage. Enjoy this great video of a particularly special early 911S that was sold by RM Auctions some time ago:
Large capacity multi-cylinder engines are generally a sure-fire recipe to a captivating exhaust note but the manic high revving four cylinder engines in some of our favourite sports cars of a few years ago have their own charm too. The engine that perhaps best represents this group is the stratospheric revving VTEC unit as found in Honda’s sports cars. Capable of producing up to 245bhp and revving to 9000rpm when fitted to the S2000 convertible, this little car would announce its arrival with a wailing shriek that would have you scanning the road for a Japanese superbike:
This Alfa Romeo engine was found in many different forms throughout the company's more recent history, but it was arguably at its most sonorous in the 1980s GTV6. The SZ wasn't bad either... We'll let the video do the rest of the convincing:
The offbeat rumble of a Subaru Impreza is as distinctive a part of the car as its eye-catching rear wing and massive intercooler atop the bonnet. Turbocharging actually adds to this car’s character, with the popping and whizzing of the wastegate accompanying the frenetic surges of acceleration. The crazy early cars gave way to somewhat more mature versions over the years but that characterful sound is still part of the mix. For some rally nostalgia accompanied by that distinctive boxer sound why not check this out: