How it Works

Ford reveals 'Whisper Strategy' for hybrid vehicles

Ford has reanalyzed its vehicle lineup to make them less noisy.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Fords are not synonymous with hybrid vehicles in the U.S. However, in Europe, where emission standards are stricter, the company is deploying more electrified vehicles, more rapidly.

Along with a focus on engine efficiency is engine noise. Because the size of the traditional internal combustion engine has shrunk with the innovation and addition of electric motors and batteries in vehicles, there is less engine noise permeating the boundaries between the passenger and the power plant.

2020 Ford Kuga More insulation in the cabin means less road noise is passed on to passengers.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Many hybrid vehicles operate with a four-cylinder engine under the hood. They are typically paired with a transmission. Some cars, like the Honda Insight, have no transmission and instead operate on a two-motor system. That transmission typically comes in three varieties: continuously variable transmission (CVT), dual-clutch transmission (DCT), or -speed transmission.

In the past, CVTs were known for being noisy and operating with what has been called a "rubber band effect". Though they've evolved to get better over time, a large reason as to why they've become more tolerable is the evolution and addition of sound-deadening technology around the cabin of the car.

You won't find details of it in a dealer brochure, but automakers are increasingly adding insulation to vehicles, front to rear and at the sides, to keep noise at bay. Ford is one such automaker, deploying what it calls its "Whisper Strategy" - a series of small noise improvements that add up to a big difference.

For its new Kuga SUV, a small model built on the same platform as the Focus and sold outside the U.S., Ford examined minute details, such as door seals, to find ways to lessen the amount of noise permeating the cabin.

2020 Ford Kuga The car was designed with a drive mode that allows it to run on just electric power.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

From there, the engineering team added perforation to the SUV's Vignale leather seat bolsters, which lessened the number of flat surfaces in the cabin allowing materials to absorb noise rather than reflect it.

Sound shields were added to the underside of the body of the vehicle, limiting road and wind noise permeation, and increasing the car's aerodynamic design.

The manufacturer shrunk the Chanels behind the car's exterior panels that traditionally hold hidden wiring to limit the airflow through the vehicle's body.

It took engineers two years to test more than 70 different tires on smooth and rough surfaces, in wet and dry conditions, and at a range of speeds to find which set best kept road noise at bay while achieving goals for grip and comfort.

When behind the wheel of the new Kuga Plug-In Hybrid model, drivers can opt for EV Now drive mode, which switches off the petrol engine and allows the vehicle to run on all-electric power. Without engine noise, the only sound coming into the cabin is from the road and wind. In controlled tests, that noise amounted to 52 decibels, the equivalent of a gentle rainfall.

Just How Much Quieter is a Hybrid Than the Cars of Yesterday? www.youtube.com

That same model also employs active noise cancellation technology. According to Ford, "The system works just like popular noise-cancelling headphones – detecting unwanted low-frequency cabin sounds through strategically-placed microphones and counteracting them with an opposing sound wave from the B&O Sound System."

Ford isn't the only automaker employing these sound deadening techniques. Nissan has had "library-level" noise as a goal for quite some time and the peaceful cabin of the Rogue is frequently noted in journalist reviews. Rolls-Royce prides itself on extra thick, plush carpeting between occupants' feet and the floor of the car, which helps keep road noise away.

The Kuga isn't the only vehicle with these sound deadening features. The practices explored with it are common when a vehicle is redesigned. The biggest difference is that all-electric drive mode, which is only available in PHEVs and EVs.

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Discontinued sedan

Volkswagen nixing Passat after 2022 model year

Racing Green Metallic is one of four exclusive colors for the car.

Volkswagen

After five decades on sale in the U.S., Volkswagen is pulling the plug on the midsize Passat. The explosion of SUVs' popularity and the need to shift production power to electric vehicles are behind the decision, which will take place after the 2022 model year. The cars have been built at the automaker's Chattanooga, TN plant since 2011, but the facility is being repurposed as VW's North American hub for electric vehicle assembly.

Volkswagen is giving the car one last hurrah, however, in the form of the Passat Limited Edition. The car features 18-inch wheels, LED headlights with an Advanced Front Lighting System, and an easy-open trunk. Inside, the cars come with sport seats wrapped in Vienna leather, memory seating, a Fender Premium Audio System, parking assistance, and parking sensors.


2022 Volkswagen Passat Limited Edition Each car gets a special model tag with its limited production number.Volkswagen


Only 1,973 of the cars will be built, and it will only be sold in four colors, each with its own limited production numbers that have special meaning for the Passat:

  • Aurora Red Metallic with Titan Black interior: 411 units to represent the original vehicle production code
  • Racing Green Metallic with Mauro Brown interior: 423 units to commemorate the Chattanooga 423 area code
  • Pure white with Mauro Brown interior: 524 units to signify the Chattanooga plant's May 24 opening date
  • Platinum Great Metallic with Titan Black interior: 615 units to signify six generations of imported Passats, one generation assembled in Chattanooga, and five decades of U.S. sales

Pricing for the 2022 Passat starts at $31,290, which includes a $995 destination fee. Adding Aurora Red Metallic drives the price up by an additional $395. Each car will receive a special number plate to designate its place in the limited production run.


2022 Volkswagen Passat Limited Edition The Passat Limited Edition gets several upscale features. Volkswagen

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Electric vehicle features

The VW ID.4 sounds futuristic

The ID.4 is VW's first electric crossover in the U.S.

VW

The Volkswagen ID.4 is finally here. The electric crossover offers compelling features, decent all-electric range, and a reasonable price. On top of all that, Volkswagen focused heavily on the electric experience with the ID.4, down to the sounds it makes in everyday operation.

Where many automakers seek to humanize electric vehicles with familiar gas engine sounds, Volkswagen hasn't bothered with any of that. Instead, the automaker's ID.4 electric crossover features several sounds that embrace the EV's place in the future of transportation.

On startup, drivers are greeted with a sound that Volkswagen says will alert them that the vehicle is ready to go. It's not at all unlike the flying saucer sounds heard in sci-fi movies decades ago, but it's a nice reminder of the ID.4's future-forward drivetrain.



In motion, VW gave the ID.4 what is known as an Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System, which helps alert people to the presence of a moving electric vehicle. Since the drivetrain doesn't make the same noises that a gas engine does, EVs can move almost silently at low speeds, so it's important to have some kind of warning sound.

Even the turn signal sounds received scrutiny in the ID.4's design, and while they're still fairly traditional, the sounds are subtle and pleasing overall. Beyond that, VW says it developed a library of sounds for typical vehicle control buttons and other functions that are exclusive to its electric vehicles. The goal, according to the automaker, is that the sound aligns with the vehicles' character, visual design, and features, and that people will be able to recognize a VW EV by its unique sound.

The ID.4 is just the first of several EVs that Volkswagen plans to release here in the United States. Larger family vehicles are on the horizon, and we may even see an electric revival of the legendary VW bus.

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