Most drivers don’t care about what their car sounds like, as long as it’s not too loud, but enthusiasts pay special attention to an engine’s exhaust notes. Cars can play a wide repertoire of different tunes, depending on the kind of engine (and the type of exhaust) they’re fitted with. Bugatti’s mighty W16 won’t sound anything like a flat-twin, and both sing a distinctive melody that true enthusiasts can recognize right away.
For your listening pleasure, we’ve highlighted some of the best-sounding cars in the world.
Alfa Romeo Disco Volante
A car that looks as dramatic as the Alfa Romeo Disco Volante (the name is Italian for “flying saucer”) should have a dramatic exhaust note, and this limited-edition Italian beauty doesn’t disappoint. The sound is as distinct as the car’s curvaceous exterior. The source of that noise is a 4.7-liter V8 borrowed from the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione, which the Disco Volante is based on (but originally designed by Maserati).
Aston Martin V12 Vantage Zagato
Aston Martin’s decades-long relationship with Italian design firm Zagato has yielded some incredible cars, including the V12 Vantage Zagato. Introduced in 2011, it put the V12 Vantage’s drivetrain in a sleek-looking Italian body. Aston’s 6.0-liter V12 is a jewel of an engine, and its sound is the perfect match for Zagato’s elegant lines.
Chevrolet Corvette Z06
Chevrolet’s last-generation Corvette Z06 had a bark to match its bite. Listen closely, and you’ll hear a duet sung by a 6.2-liter V8 engine and a massive supercharger. It’s a combination that makes a radio completely unnecessary.
There’s nothing quite like the sound of an Italian V12, and the Ferrari F12tdf is among the best examples from the modern era. It was named after the Tour de France (though probably not the one you’re thinking of), which is appropriate because the F12tdf channeled the spirit of vintage race cars. It took the basic ingredients of the F12 Berlinetta and added a dose of spice. It had a much more aggressive nature than the car it was based on.
Fiat 500 Abarth
The Fiat 500 Abarth has no right to sound this good. It’s powered by a turbocharged, 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine, and that’s normally not a recipe for soul-stirring sound. Small-displacement engines can sound good, but usually not when they’re muffled by turbos. But, don’t forget that Abarth originally made a name for itself by making aftermarket exhaust systems for various cars (not just Fiat). It applied its magic to create a pint-sized performance car that not only sounds great but also sounds like it’s powered by something much beefier than a tiny four-cylinder.
Ford Shelby GT350R Mustang
Many Mustangs could have made it onto this list, but the latest Shelby Mustang takes melodious exhaust notes to a whole new level. That’s largely down to the engine, which is no ordinary American V8. The GT350 and its more hardcore GT350R sibling use a naturally-aspirated 5.2-liter V8 called Voodoo internally. It features a flat-plane crankshaft, which allows the engine to rev higher than a typical V8. That rev-happy nature gives this Shelby Mustang a ferocious metallic rasp that’s more aggressive than the traditional American V8 burble.
While the V6 engine offered in Jaguar’s sports car makes a pretty nice sound, we like the song of the F-Type’s 5.0-liter supercharged V8 even more. Befitting a car named after a predatory cat, the V8 F-Type sounds like an animal. Whether that V8 is installed in the F-Type R or the sportier SVR model, you can’t go wrong.
The LFA is the only supercar ever built by Lexus, and it was produced in strictly limited numbers. It made an outsized impression on the car world because it had what so many other Lexus models lack: Character. One source of that character was the LFA’s 4.8-liter V10 and its banshee wail. The shriek calls to mind an early 2000s Formula One car and definitely helped the LFA live up to its supercar billing. It was the exact sound one would expect from an engine that revved so fast that a conventional analog tachometer couldn’t keep up.
The Mazda 787B is the only Japanese car to ever win the 24 hours of Le Mans, as well as the only Le Mans winner powered by a rotary engine. That engine also gives the 787B a distinct sound. It’s a high-pitched shriek that ensures everyone within a wide radius will hear it coming and know they’re not about to see a run-of-the-mill car drive past.
Mercedes SLS AMG
Mercedes-AMG’s current crop of turbocharged V8s sound great, but nothing will match the fury of the company’s last naturally-aspirated V8. As deployed in the SLS AMG, this 6.2-liter engine combined German precision with a hint of American braggadocio. If Mercedes had built a NASCAR racer, it would have sounded just like this.
Yes, we’re talking about that Volkswagen Beetle. The one that starred in Herbie, and the one that put millions of people around the world on wheels. It wasn’t designed with performance in mind, and anyone who has ever been in one can tell you it certainly doesn’t feel like one, but its air-cooled flat-four engine has one of the most distinctive engine sounds we’ve ever encountered. It’s humble, it’s simple, and it sounds delightful.