Can you hear that?” I shouted at my knee, beside which I held my phone. I was trying to get it as close to the door speakers as possible, so the phone would catch an audible whiff of fake motorcycle noise.
Perhaps tens of thousands of ears were beside my knee as I sat in MOTOR’s Renault Sport Clio long-termer. I was doing a radio interview, the presenter transfixed by the idea some car companies are plumbing fake engine noise through car speakers these days.
Of course, Renault isn’t the only one. BMW is faking it, so is Peugeot, Ford and more. New turbo engines generally sound so vanilla that car companies – Ferrari and perhaps Porsche aside – have given up fiddling with intake and exhaust hardware, instead plumbing unapologetically artificial engine noise through the stereo.
But it must be said that Renault is having the most fun with it, as your index finger will find if it hunts around a Renault Sport Clio’s dashboard menu long enough.
And hunt long it will, given the French fixation on overcomplicating an interior as if in some sort of rebellion against ergonomic homogenisation. Renault, too, couldn’t resist with the Clio RS’s labyrinthine dashboard menu, which would cause a German engineer to pull hair out in fistfuls.
When you do eventually find the fake engine noise menu, there’s a platter of artificial engine notes, from Nissan GT-R to 1930s Renault Vivastella. But the one that’ll have your passengers erupting in guffaws is the 2038 Renault Reinastella – a fictional Jetsons-inspired hovercar. (Or Renault’s product planners dropping a hint.)
There’s also a Clio Cup car, Clio V6, Alpine A110 and a Renault 8 Gordini.
The volume of each is adjustable but they sound a little too fake to be enjoyable, such that you’ll soon be reaching for the off button. Except the motorbike. You might leave that one on for a bit, as it sounds the best, oddly.
But while fake engine notes are easily disabled, the same can’t be said for the artificial note Renault plumbs permanently into the Clio’s cabin – a bassy, rumbly low-down burble that only really makes itself known with a generous throttle input away from the lights, and helps to hide the engine’s otherwise pretty sawdust-y note.
Pop the Clio in Sport mode and the stereo engine noise climbs an octave. Truth be told, it’s subtle enough that it does add some welcome herbs and spices to the experience.
Stereo-assisted engine notes are about the most interesting thing that’s happened to 1CD6HB this month, accruing 1300 urban kilometres despite the promise of an alpine punt.
Personally I’ve spurned other test cars just to stick to the Clio, and I’m still enjoying the daily commute for reasons mentioned last month. And as Melbourne plunges into winter I’m appreciating the Cup Premium’s seat heaters, too.
There are things that make me wince, though, mostly the passenger headrest rattling non-stop, which I’ve tried half a dozen futile times to adjust. Moving away from a standstill, if you’re not leisurely with your throttle tip-in like your right leg is half-tranquilised, the clutches engage with a jolt that goes through the car. We’ve driven twin-clutches much smoother.
The Clio’s EDC auto gearbox, too, can get itself in a muddle, particularly down hills where it seems to dip the clutch as you lightly brake, but then when you resume accelerating, can lurch as the revs match the wheel speed again.
We’ve noticed, too, even in top-spec Cup Premium trim, our Renault Clio RS spurns a spare wheel of any size for a can of goo. Which, if we’re honest, makes us think twice about the alpine jaunt.
But only twice, and the answer is still yes, as the Clio is begging to stretch its talented little legs. As our time with 1CD6HB wraps up, a trip across the mountains for next month’s issue seems a fitting farewell. It seems appropriate, too, we select the Alpine from the fake exhaust noise menu. Even if we can only stand it for two or three gears.
This article was originally published in MOTOR July 2015.