If you’re smitten by the adventurous lifestyle promised by the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport’s “safari roof,” ample ground clearance, and rubber-lined interior but you can’t quite swing the $34,155 it takes to get into a Badlands model like the one we just reviewed, then whatever you do, don’t test drive or ride in one. Doing so runs the risk of exposing your ears to an intoxicating fourth-order V-8 engine sound, after which that moaning 1.5-liter three-banger in the more affordable Bronco Sports just won’t do.
You’ve probably heard of trompe-l’œil, which means “fool the eye.” It refers to two-dimensional optical illusions that make a painted street look like a sinkhole or some other three-dimensional effect. Well, Ford delivers the same idea for your ears (trompe l’ oreille?) by leveraging the same noise-cancelling technology that employs the stereo speakers to generate sound frequencies that “cancel” unwanted engine (and sometimes chassis) sounds in order to generate new sounds. In Bronco Sport First Edition models or Badlands variants equipped with the $2,595 Badlands Package, which includes the 11-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system, this system is programmed to add V-8 engine sound. It does this by generating fourth-order frequency vibrations meticulously mapped to the speed of the Bronco Sport’s larger 2.0-liter engine. You need not be playing the stereo for the system to work and audio volume settings have no effect. In fact, to shut it off, you’d have to pull a fuse to defeat the faux V-8 noises.
Ford’s original motivation for piping louder engine noise into the cabin was to allow drivers to perceive engine speed without looking at gauges when maneuvering off road. Therefore it was only going to be activated in the most intense off-road modes (Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl). But when the team so effectively nailed the V-8 noise, more enthusiastic heads prevailed upon the powers that be to engage the sound enhancement in the on-road Sport mode as well. Now every time you nail the gas in a tight turn on to feel that torque-vectoring axle do its thing, you can just barely hear the ghost of Frank Bullitt’s 390 Mustang.
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My first exposure to convincing powertrain trompe l’oreille was at a Society of Automotive Engineers show a decade or two ago, when a Honda Accord V-6 was equipped with a high-performance loudspeaker in the intake tract that added the right frequencies to make that engine sound like a V-8, V-10, or V-12. I’m not aware of that system ever hitting production, and at the time engineers told me that the actual engine pulses of a four-cylinder engine were too far apart for them to convincingly fill with bigger-engine sounds.
Clearly that hurdle has been surmounted, but the pulses of a three-cylinder engine remain too far apart for stereo programming to do anything with. So the three lower Bronco Sport trim levels still sound slightly miserable without the B&O setup tied to the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine.
Now, we think the Ford aftermarket needs to rush a kit to market to bring fake V-8 music to its other four-cylinder EcoBoost products like the Ford Escape, Lincoln Corsair, and Mustang. We haven’t had enough exposure to the bigger Ford Bronco and its 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine to know whether similar auditory magic is employed in that application, but we’d guess not. It probably wouldn’t work very effectively with the top and doors off anyway, and it’s a little “off brand” for a vehicle that trades so heavily on authenticity. And in any case, we still hold out hope for genuine V-8s going under that Bronco’s hood sooner or later, whether from the factory or the SEMAverse.
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