Because sometimes you just want to relax on a journey.
We're as guilty as anyone for celebrating the noise of a car. A large part of enjoying a car as an enthusiast is how it stimulates all of the senses. A sonorous engine emphasizing the feeling of acceleration or deceleration has a visceral effect on the driver. An engine wailing enthusiastically as it reaches into the top of its rev-range heightens the sense of frantic speed. For a performance car, the sound of the engine is intertwined with its identity. Nothing turns an enthusiast's head like the low growl from a performance V8 cruising down the street. However, there's the other side to enjoying a car, like relaxing in comfort to enjoy the journey at any speed, undistracted by unnecessary noise.
That doesn't mean you have to substitute power for quietness, as some of the quietest cars on the planet come packed with a V12 under the hood. Rolls-Royce, for example, pays incredible attention to eliminating noise, vibration, and hardness (NVH), so the only time you hear the engine growl is when the throttle is buried in the deep and sound-reducing carpet. You don't have to spend Rolls-Royce money to enjoy a quiet car, although it helps. These are our choices from across the automotive segments for those that like to relax with their passengers when they drive.
Sure, you're heading towards Rolls-Royce money with any S-Class, and the Mercedes S-Class Hybrid starts at $109,750. However, the German luxury sedan has been the benchmark for traveling business-class on four wheels for decades. Adding electric motors means the Hybrid version can glide through the city as silently to passers-by as to those relaxing in the back with a glass of champagne. When it has to run on gas, the 3.0-liter V6 twin-turbo engine makes as little fuss as possible, despite the system being able to generate a massive 469 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque.
Germany may be the goto country for quiet yet powerful luxury, but America has some homegrown entries in the market. Ruling the roost is the Lincoln Navigator. The Navigator is powered by a twin-turbocharged V6 engine discretely putting out 450 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque, and then the interior is packed with well-crafted premium materials. The level of detail going into noise reduction is impressive, with an Active Noise Control system mitigating road noise and laminated windows, helping to keep the cries and shouts from the proletariat from disturbing a journey.
In a bid to get people to buy the vehicle they need rather than a big SUV, automakers have been cranking up the quality of their offerings over the years. It's now reached a point where minivans are entering into premium and luxury territory at affordable prices. Honda's Odyssey ranges from $30,790 - $47,420, and along with a high amount of technology and practicality, you get one of the quietest rides around. It's positively serene inside a moving Odyssey - when the kids have their headphones plugged into the rear-seat entertainment system, of course.
One of the quietest full-size cars around is American, and it's the Cadillac CT6. There's a lot of aluminum used for the CT6's bodywork, but the passenger cell is constructed using steel as Cadillac was happy to sacrifice some lightness to reduce NVH as much as possible. It's an isolating ride, and, with the 36-speaker sound system option, ditch the usual playlist and enjoy every subtle nuance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major while cruising down the road.
Hyundai is showing the world you don't need to drop big money on a quiet ride. Like Cadillac, Hyundai uses steel to keep vibration in the chassis to a minimum, along with a sub-frame mounted suspension. Unlike, say, Honda and Toyota, Hyundai isn't stingy about using sound-deadening material to reduce road noise and uses thicker glass in the windows. The result, along with the well-tuned suspension, is an affordable car with a comparable ride with more expensive German sedans.
Another car that's perfect for listening to intricate music at high speed is the Audi A8. Sure, you'll hear the growl of the forced-induction enhanced 335-hp V6 or 453-hp V8 as you punch it. Still, at cruising speeds, the dual-pane acoustic glass, high-end sound damping material, and vibration soaking air suspension will let you hear every subtle tone coming through the standard 14-speaker Bose surround system. With Audi's high level of engineering applied, you should never hear a tiny rattle or squeak.
When a car is rolling at speed, the ingredients for a noisy cabin are the engine, the tires, and wind noise. The Kia Optima addresses engine noise with particular attention to the engine mounting system. Even with the most powerful engine, the 245-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder option, there's little drone at freeway speeds. Matched with quality sound-deadening materials in all the right places and acoustic laminated glass, the Optima is a surprisingly quiet and pleasant car to cover long distances on the freeway with.
Genesis is one of the unsung heroes of the premium market, competing with Mercedes and BMW in quality and refinement. The luxury carmaker uses all the usual tricks and materials to keep the cabin quiet, and the active noise cancelation technology is the icing on the cake of one of the most peaceful rides around. Like in your headphones, active noise cancelation technology uses the car's audio to take audio signals you don't want to hear, invert them, and push them back out through the speakers to cancel the noise out. That's an oversimplified explanation of an exact science, but it is close enough for this article's purposes.
In the same vein as the Genesis G80, Kia brings affordable luxury to the table with the K900. Both cars suffer through not having a German badge but deliver the level of build quality, ride quality, materials quality, and comfort you expect from a full-size luxury sedan. The super-quiet cabin in the K900 is due to a long list of ingredients, including sound-absorbing carpets, acoustically insulating windshield and door glass, underbody trays, and a well-engineered engine mounting system. The K900 has an isolated ride that gives the Lexicon 17-Speaker Surround Sound Audio System plenty of room to breathe.
A truck does not have to be noisy. Well, not until it has some serious work to do, anyway, and Ram has been leveling up on luxury with the 1500 to the point its interior has become a benchmark for premium trucks. Every model comes with acoustic insulating glass, and Ram also has active electronic noise cancellation available. Particularly quiet is the Ram 1500 Ecodiesel model, featuring a 3.0-liter diesel-powered V6. Ram has gone all out to cure the traditional issues of clattery diesel engines, even going so far as to make the block out of a material called compacted graphite iron. It's so quiet that at idle, it's hard to hear it running.