The Lack of Quiet Cars – Why the Automotive Press Bears Responsibility for Cars Being Too Noisy


Car Magazines

I would like to leverage Elevating Sound as a platform to really explore the issue of cars being too noisy, in particular the burdensome road noise when driving on rough/coarse asphalt/surface.

My rather grand objective is for the automotive industry to take notice of this site and start opening up to the fact that they are disregarding a very sizable consumer segment who are craving a quieter driving experience than what is available in the marketplace at present.

It is an unsustainable situation that only the largest and most luxurious vehicles have decent noise levels inside the cabin. After all, not only Mercedes S-Class and Lexus LS600h drivers place refinement as a top priority, but also drivers with other budgets – including buyers of e.g. premium cars like BMW 5-series and Mercedes E-Class, which are way too noisy, and also car buyers in other lesser-priced segments.

I fully believe that the car manufacturer that will be first to define an automotive sub-category of quiet cars in the mid-prized segment, including both a sedan and station wagon offering, will reap great commercial success. By creating and then managing that sub-category well, long-term leadership with competition kept at a distance is a very lucrative and possible scenario.

Besides the car manufacturers themselves, who obviously need to step up their game, there is one stakeholder group that seems to hold a lot of power in terms of how the offerings of the global automotive industry evolve.

I’m referring to automotive journalists.

If you have been reading automotive magazines, in particular the car reviews, you will have noticed the great emphasis placed on aspects such as drivetrain technology advancements, the fun factor of road handling and steering feel, legroom, interior design, boot/luggage compartment size, safety features etc.

But the issue of comfort and refinement in terms of cabin noise/silence tends to get just a sentence or two out of a multi-page car review. The comments on noise are usually very broad, lacking any meaningful analysis that will help the prospective car buyer to get an idea of how well the car performs in that area. There is not enough details on noise measurements in the front and back of the car, how the car fares on rough asphalt, the impact of wheel size/tire dimensions etc.

Because of the lacking press coverage and insights on noise as a review criteria, they let the car industry off the hook since they will not invest money in areas that won’t give them sufficient commercial leverage.

But there is a great misunderstanding here. The automotive press does not reflect the needs of a very sizable, and growing, group of car buyers, who are left with a range of sub-standard noisy alternatives and thus are forced to live with a sub-standard driving experience. This does not cut it. Something obviously has got to change.

I have gotten comments from people in the industry saying that it’s very difficult to reduce cabin noise – but rarely do I get any qualified arguments as to why it’s not possible to develop drastic improvements. That it’s difficult is by no means a reason for not making innovative advances. We constantly see advancements being made in a wide range of different automotive areas. The manufacturers need to start prioritizing refinement, sound proofing, acoustics etc more and invest additional resources.

Elevating Sound reader Rossi from Malaysia believes that any manufacturer does have the ability, technology and know how to make a very refined car without adding too much to the overall budget: “Over the past 10 years, we have seen such a huge leap in drivetrain technology, engines becoming ever more powerful, usable torque and at the same time more fuel efficient, gearboxes likewise have made similar improvements. But why can’t the NVH (Noise, Vibration and Harshness) refinement level follow a similar path?”

UK-based reader Kerry suggests that “if the motoring journalists were to start making more of an issue about noise in their test drives and reviews it would force the manufacturers to do something”. I fully agree. They would feel a need to step out of the ‘good enough’ mindset and start to really make significant advances in terms of cabin noise reduction.

The Elevating Sound wishlist for the automotive press is to start adding the following dimensions to their comprehensive car reviews:
– Detailed comments on the driving refinement and smoothness inside the cabin on different types of road surfaces and with different wheel sizes/tire dimensions – covering NVH (Noise, Vibration and Harshness) with comments in particular on engine noise, road noise, wind noise, interior vibrations and chassis/suspension harshness when riding over bumps
– Decibel readings both in the front and back of the cabin at varying speeds, including qualitative comments based on the different types of sound frequencies and what the overall sound ambience is like.

If you’re also craving quieter cars, please help us out by spreading the word about this post and feel free to contact your local automotive journalists to get their reactions.

Let’s spread the word about the growing, global Quiet Car movement!

To learn more about cars and sound/noise, get your copy of the Quiet Cars eBook – Your Guide to a Quieter Ride – plus join the Quiet Cars online community.

Quiet Cars - An Introductory Guide to a Quieter Ride (eBook and online community)
  • Rossi

    Hallo again Magnus,

    This post is a continuation of what I had understood about
    some sound proofing theories throughout my own findings when I was having
    performing my own pursuit earlier to get better sound deadening on my very own
    noisy car, a lot of the theories learnt from theso-called sound proofing specialist
    in Malaysia that worked on my car, though the result is not entirely positive,
    there are some interesting theories which I thought would be worth sharing –

    ** Note – for a lot of these theories I had learnt may not
    really be of much use, because it is mainly based on a Toyota Vios / Yaris,…which
    is having much worse sound deadening compared to most (or all) of the vehicles
    you own, thus, a lot of the stuff done to my car is already there in the
    vehicle you own.

    Theory #1 – Don’t overdo the soundproofing

    This guy, lets call him “Mr. A” (the sound proofing
    specialist), had been selling the idea on the net, everywhere, that you
    sometimes do not “over-do” soundproofing. The theory is, for each specific car,
    you got to really understand where and how to do it, not slapping as many sound
    deadening materials as possible everywhere. The result of over-doing it could
    cause uncomfortable “tinging” sensation, or “suffocation” for air type of
    feeling, …an example of how the feeling to describe such sensation is imagining
    you are in a total soundproof or vacuum type room,…for instance when you go to
    a hearing test vacuum room,…super quiet, yet not comfortable.

    Initially, I thought, this is a complete bullsh*t theory, or
    more as an excuse of doing not that much sound deadening materials to maximize
    his profit.

    But this is true, surprisingly. Ironically, this very guy,
    Mr. A, who had been criticizing other sound specialist in the industry for
    overdoing it, had just done that to my car during Phase 1 of the sound

    What happened, was he added a “roar buster” (a piece of
    cotton like material) into the front wheel well, which is a standard process of
    his. In addition, noting how noisy my vehicle is, he tried to do more, and added
    a type of Styrofoam like material into the wheel well to further quieten down
    the car. Because of this, I felt
    dizziness in my head when I am in the car for more than 15 minutes, the sensation I feel from ambient vehicles, my
    own car radio and so on, felt totally different and sort of piercing through my
    head. After I complaint to him, he immediately knew what was the cause, removed out the Styrofoam like material from
    the wheel well (that was the “Overdone” part), I immediately felt better. No more weird tinging sensations.

    Apparently, when you “over-block” sound just from certain
    specific area of the car, or certain sound frequency, your ears and “head” will
    start to pickup other sound frequency differently, process it differently and cause
    such weird suffocating sensations.

    Very weird, but to my own actual experience,…true.

    Theory # 2 – Most effective Sound deadening is always from the back / boot / rear trunk

    This guy Mr. A, had always been championing his approach of
    working out the sound deadening from the rear of the car. I am not too sure how
    true this is, but I shall still share the theory nevertheless.

    Within the cabin, sound effectively travels from front of
    the car to the rear, where the sound wave is collected at the boot area, giving
    all sorts of problems when there are resonance, sound reflections and so on.

    So Mr. A is always very keen to work on boot area, some of
    the standard stuff he always work on at boot area –

    1) Slapping a lot of sound deadening mats – to reduce
    low frequency sound and vibrations

    2) Putting some soft sound proofing wool like
    materials – to absorb some mid frequency or higher frequency sounds

    3) Adding some heavy mat (from Wurth product) to
    the rear trunk “door”. The rear trunk “door” is supposed to be a source of
    noise with vibrations, thus sticking this heavy mat reduces that. It also helps
    to make the trunk “door” heavier, and thus make it tighter when it is closed.

    The theory of putting this heavy Wurth mat to rear trunk door, and test he does is, you sit inside the car, rev the engine with someone pressing the rear trunk hard from outside the car,…and without someone pressing the rear trunk. You are supposed to hear slightly less sound when it is pressed harder,….some people said there is difference, but somehow, I struggle to notice any difference to this test.

    So, how true is the theory that most effective way to
    improve soundproofing is from rear trunk area?? It may be true indeed. I am
    saying this based on my experience in riding as a rear passenger in many
    cheaper cars, it is always noisier when you are a rear passenger, more road
    roar than from the front. However, more expensive cars may have these areas already tackled.

    Important note – when you are applying materials to the rear
    trunk, DO NOT paste anything onto the “airbox” inside the rear trunk. Every car is supposed to have some sort of ventilation vent in the boot area, you can see it if you remove the carpertry,…its like a flap. Covering this area may give you suffocation sensation in the cabin.

    To be continued……..

    • Magnus Kahler

      Thanks, Rossi! If you have additional theories as part of your sound proofing efforts, would you mind sending the entire text by email to hello (at) elevatingsound (dot) com ? And provided you’re ok with it, I’d like to publish it as a post, since I find your theories/findings very interesting.

      • rossi

        Hi Magnus, the main parts that I know of are actually in this post, but I shall find time to gather more info and send it to your mail when I have the time. cheers

  • Hollis Nolan

    Totally agree. I’m with you.

    • Magnus Kahler

      Great! :-)

  • Magnus Kahler

    I sent the following tweet to a range of automotive magazines: “Hi! Would love to hear your views on how you cover cabin noise in your car reviews.” coupled with a link to this post. It’s quite telling that NOBODY has replied so far.

    Which Car?, Motor Trend, Car and Driver, Auto Week, Automobile Magazine, auto motor und sport, Auto Express, What Car?, CAR magazine, Automotive News and Teknikens Värld – Elevating Sound looks forward to hearing from you. While the post puts forth a lot of criticism, we would really like to hear your perspective on the role of cabin noise in your car reviews.

  • Pär

    We are currently looking for a new car, and one of our main objectives is to get quieter one. With a larger budget than previously, I believed that more exclusive cars would be more quiet, but has so far been surprised how noisy also premium cars are. Henne I was so happy to find this article. I could not agree more!

    • Magnus Kahler

      Hi Pär! I myself have also been very surprised by the noise levels inside ‘premium’ makes. I have test driven the newer generations of car models like Mercedes E-Class, BMW 5-Series and Volvo V70 – and they are all too noisy when driven on highways on coarse/rough asphalt.

      Citroen has heavily promoted its C5 as a very quiet car – I can indeed notice some of their soundproofing efforts but strangely enough they only allow larger wheel sizes for their model with laminated windows, resulting in a car with reduced wind noise BUT excessive road noise. So even a manufacturer that wants to promote a quiet offering chooses the looks/aesthetics of larger wheels over providing the driver with a quiet car.

      Pär, are you living in Sweden? Unfortunately, the Swedish market is plagued by particularly coarse/rough asphalt, which results in one of the noisiest driving experiences in the developed world. Authorities have started experimenting with smoothening the surface as a way to reduce the noise, and thus also reduce the risk of drivers falling asleep due to the constant low-frequency cabin noise. However, tests are done on a small scale and I don’t foresee any major advances for us drivers within the foreseeable future.