Using Your Vehicle’s Sport Mode For Beginners – Don’t Miss Out On The Fun

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Wondering what that ‘S’ on your gear selector is for? Your new car very likely has a Sport Mode. Here is how it works and why you’ll love it.

What Does It Do?

2022 Chevrolet Camaro Sport Mode on information cluster
2022 Chevrolet Camaro Sport Mode on information cluster/Image Credit: Chevrolet

Virtually every new vehicle on the market today has a number of drive modes available that allow you to tailor the vehicle’s performance according to road conditions or your driving preferences. One of the most common driver modes available is “Sport Mode”. The idea behind Sport Mode is to squeeze more performance out of the vehicle mostly by adjusting the transmission and engine settings. This is true whether you have a V8 muscle car, a hybrid, or an electric car. Sport Mode ups the ante a bit and the engine and transmission become sharper and more assertive. You will notice the RPMs rise if you have a car with a tachometer. In practice, you will find that the vehicle becomes more responsive.

Engine Sound Settings for Sport Mode on 2020 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE

More expensive vehicles and vehicles that are intended to be sports cars will have other settings that can change. These include the throttle sensitivity, exhaust note, the steering weight or feel, the steering ratio (how much turn of the vehicle you get for a given turn of the wheel), and the suspension settings. In addition to being able to just turn these individual aspects to a pre-set “sportier” mode, some vehicles allow the driver to customize the settings and then lock them in as a personal favorite or even a couple of personal settings. High-performance vehicles will even have multiple levels of Sport Mode, typically called Sport+, Track, and Sport Sharp – that will disable or modify the traction control and stability control of the vehicle. These are primarily for race track use.

How Do You Make It Work?

Diagram of Sport Mode Indicator and Button for 2022 Honda CR-V Hybrid models/Image Credit: Honda

The first part of making the Sport Mode work for you is to find it. Every automaker hides it in a different location. Some are easy to find and simple to use. Above is a diagram of the Sport Mode button and indicator for the 2022 Honda CR-V Hybrid. The driver simply presses the button and Sport Mode is on. To turn it off, the driver pushes the button again.

Most vehicles have Sport Mode available either on the gear selector itself, like the 2022 VW Jetta (pictured below/left), and/or there is a dedicated Drive Mode selector like on the 2023 Kia Sportage (pictured below/right). Others are in less intuitive places. We’ve seen buttons, knobs, switches, and more novel approaches taken.

(Left) Sport Mode selector on gear shifter of 2022 VW Jetta/Image Credit: Volkswagen (Right) Drive Mode Selector below gear shifter of 2023 Kia Sportage/Image Credit: Kia

Some advanced Sport Mode systems are in more than one place. For example, the switch may be on the center console near the shifter, or even on the steering wheel. To change the settings to a custom pre-set the infotainment system is used. Please don’t let us make this sound difficult. On 90% of the vehicles we test, Sport Mode is a switch next to the shifter and there is just one setting.

The Downsides

You may find that when you actuate Sport Mode the car feels better when you want to blast up an on-ramp, or drive a twisty mountain road, but feels worse if you are trundling along in rush hour traffic. The drone of the engine, louder exhaust note, and the stronger engine braking due to the higher RPM settings are the opposite of what works best in traffic. This is why there is always an easy way to turn it on and off. It is not intended to be used in all situations.

There’s also the cost at the pump. All that extra performance comes at a price. Your vehicle’s normal drive settings are set to optimize for the right balance of performance and fuel economy. Sport Mode optimizes for performance at the expense of your gas mileage. That’s why many vehicles also include the flip side of the coin: an “Eco Mode”. As you can probably tell, Eco Mode optimizes for fuel economy and results in a much less thrilling driving experience.

Sport Mode Resets

In all mainstream vehicles, the drive settings are turned back to “normal mode” when you turn the vehicle off and on again. So you don’t have to worry about the next driver getting in and finding the car all revved up and itching to go racing.

We always recommend getting familiar with your vehicle’s driver’s manual. You never know what settings and features are hiding there to help you get more out of your vehicle. As always, we’re here to help you find your BestRide and also to help you maximize your driving experience later.