Please note, the following article and driving review was done by Detroit Free Press reporter Jamie L. LaReau. To view the original article posted on Detroit Free Press, click here.
It wouldn’t be spring in Michigan without at least one trip to a tire shop after nailing a pothole. Our road craters, some the size of small canyons, are so bad that the state is considered to have the worst potholes in the nation. Michigan has ranked last in the nation in investing in its road system on a per-capita basis, according to the 2045 Regional Transportation Plan for Southeast Michigan. So until we fix the damn roads, we must tolerate a bumpy ride and pricey repairs.
Much of the time, our vehicle survives impact with a pothole, but there’s still the noise. I never gave that much thought — after all, who can hear anything over your teeth clattering followed by a string of curse words?
Well, turns out, the engineers at Buick have given it a lot of thought, starting nearly a decade ago with the brand’s QuietTuning process.
“QuietTuning is a strategy – it’s not any particular piece of content,” explains Marissa West, director of General Motors Global Noise and Vibration Vehicle Dynamics Group. “It’s an approach we’ve taken. We have baked quiet tuning into a Buick.”
I set out to do some real-world testing on how well Buick delivers the sound of silence. My verdict is below. Here’s an outline of the work General Motors did to achieve the quiet.
Tuning in silence
QuietTuning is exclusive to Buick and standard on all its cars, said West. GM started developing QuietTuning in 2000 and first applied it to the 2008 Enclave SUV, Buick’s flagship vehicle.
“The core DNA of your Buick product is intended and designed to be quiet,” West said. “The quiet tuning is throughout the vehicle.”
For example, “acoustic laminated glass” is slightly thicker than normal to muffle sound, including wind noise and the ambient sound of trucks, said West.
“There is acoustic treatment behind all the panels and headliners on the roof,” West said. “And we have done durability testing. That involves a series of potholes that the car can go over and handle.”
And that helps to muffle the road noise of hitting those chuckholes, she said.
Buick engineers considered the chassis of the vehicles, West said, especially coil spring isolators in the suspension to deliver a smooth ride. The isolation of the coils mitigates the sound of impact, West said. Likewise, shock absorbers are tuned to stabilize the ride over the impact, she said.
“Chassis validation, including testing on rough roads or roads with potholes, is an important part of the overall Buick QuietTuning strategy to reduce, block and absorb unwanted noise from entering the cabin,” said Larry Mihalko, Buick global vehicle performance manager.
He said Buick engineers use a variety of road surfaces at GM’s proving grounds for testing. Those road surfaces vary from coarse to smooth, with swells and dips, even those with potholes.
“Suspensions and tires are tuned to reduce the noise when a car hits these types of impacts,” said Mihalko.
Despite the QuietTuning process making driving on rough roads more pleasant, Mihalko said it’s still best to avoid potholes when possible to minimize wear and tear on the car.
GM lent me a black 2019 Enclave Avenir SUV to test over four days. My assignment was to hit as many potholes as I could find — not hard to do in southeast Michigan, but for good measure I took it down a dirt road too.
First, a little about the vehicle. The seven-seat Enclave with chestnut brown leather seats had 20-inch aluminum wheels, a 3.6-liter V6 engine and all-wheel drive.
The Enclave starts at $40,000, but this vehicle had a myriad of technical features and amenities that pumped the price to $57,645.
With a curb weight of 4,359-4,685 pounds, the Enclave is solid and felt like it would take a chasm-size gorge to damage the tires and rattle my bones, compared with my personal car, a compact sedan with a curb weight of only 2,939-3,194 pounds. When I hit a pothole in that little thing, teeth fillings come loose.
The Enclave had good acceleration and handling overall, and the instrument panel was intuitive to learn. On the smooth, open road it was quiet, and easy to get in and out of and maneuver, even in crowded parking lots.
The test ride
Now came time for the real test: Potholes.
It wasn’t hard to find them. First, I tackled a string of them along Merriman Road south of I-96 in Livonia. It’s a stretch I’ve traveled frequently and to which I once lost a tire.
The Enclave delivered a smooth ride over them, the road noise was minimum and it was solid.
I hit a couple of deep holes driving west along Schoolcraft Road between Farmington and Haggerty Roads. I felt the impact of the hit and there was road noise, but it was mitigated compared with smaller, lighter cars that might have dinged the same chuckholes.
Over the next four days, I drove the Enclave to Dearborn, Northville, Canton, Plymouth and Ann Arbor. It was in Ann Arbor that I found myself turning down a country dirt road pocked with holes as I headed to my aunt and uncle’s home for Easter dinner.
“A-ha! This is the perfect test,” I said to my 89-year-old mother seated next to me, enjoying the ride. Almost no vehicle could tackle the row of ridges, punctuated by deep potholes, and deliver smooth and quiet. I slowed down. It was a rocky and bumpy ride — as would be expected on such conditions in most cars — but it was quiet and solid as the shock absorbers kicked in.
Buick developed QuietTuning, in part, to make potholes less painful, said West. And while it is Buick’s brand’s identity, not so at Cadillac.
Cadillac is adding enhanced sounds as part of its identity. Those sounds include piped-in low-frequency acceleration and braking, it wants to emphasize luxury with performance.
Cadillac’s research showed its consumers “wanted to make sure the vehicle is quiet, but they also wanted to hear what they want to hear,” said Ken Kornas, CT5 product manager.
So Cadillac created a “curated library” of enhanced engine sounds that is exclusive to only Cadillac within GM, said Kornas.
“It’s a strategy we’ll use and offer it on other vehicles as part of the DNA of Cadillac,” said Kornas.
But while Cadillac has a curated library, Buick opts to be as quiet as a library.
“We made it intentional that Buick is a brand of luxury and that interior cabin quietness is key to that,” West said. “That you have a nice, pleasant ride experience and quiet and together that makes up what we at GM want Buick to be.”
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