Many brands of cars come with selectable drive modes, and among those drive modes is a common feature known as “Sport Mode.” Some popular car models that use sport mode include the Honda Accord 2.0T, the Land Rover Range Rover Supercharged, Subaru WRX, Volkswagen Golf GTI, the Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road and many more.
The question, however, is what exactly does sport mode do in a car? The name suggests additional power, enhanced performance, perhaps greater aerodynamics, but it’s not entirely clear just from the name exactly what sport mode really is. This is what we are exploring in today’s blog.
What Is Sport Mode? What Does Sport Mode Do?
The array of different driving modes available in your car will depend on its make, model and style. For example, SUVs that come with drive mode select typically feature off-road modes, as well as modes to match various under-tire conditions like snow, mud, sand, etc. They too often feature a sport mode, especially if it’s a sportier SUV model.
On sedan and compact cars, drive modes are typically focused on performance, with some also offering additional traction or handling bonuses. But what does sport mode do? The simplest way of putting it is that sport mode is a drive setting that performs changes in settings to three main areas of your car:
What are these changes? What is their purpose? In short, their purpose is simply to enhance the overall performance of your car.
In the engine, sport mode usually makes the throttle more sensitive to your touch on the gas pedal. The result is usually a more responsive acceleration.
For the transmission, sport mode typically expands revving capacity by moving the points at which your automatic transmission would usually perform its shifts. More revs in the lower gear ratios means more acceleration and low-end torque.
Finally, the suspension is typically tightened up for a consistent ride on a hard, even paved surface like an interstate highway.
Other Effects of Sport Mode
If your car also comes with permanent or selectable all-wheel drive, then activating sport mode when using that AWD can also alter the way it works. While it will always be to different degrees on different makes and models of cars, the usual result of sport mode and AWD being used together is that more torque is sent at a faster rate to the rear wheels. This gives the driver more agile and precise handling, and can make even larger cars like SUVs very fast at cornering.
There are some models in which activation of sport mode delivers a new color scheme to the instrument cluster, or even new sounds coming from the exhaust. For instance, some high-spec BMW models are fitted with what they call a “Dynamic Digital Instrument Cluster.”
This display changes the appearance of the instrument cluster to reflect which driving mode you are in. When sport mode is active, the display turns red and shows the tachometer, speed and transmission selection more prominently.
In terms of sounds, activating sport mode might actually use mechanical means to generate a more muscular and aggressive sound from the exhaust tips. By altering the position of certain flaps and ducts in the air intake system, it is possible to achieve this effect. On other cars, the sounds might be more synthetic so that the driver can enjoy them within the cabin, but they don’t disturb the broader neighborhood.
Do All Cars Have Sport Mode?
The short answer is no, but it is becoming increasingly common as the technology advances and is easier to replicate cheaply. You’ll typically find sport mode on cars that are being marketed and sold as “high-performance” trim levels of their marque. For instance, the Volkswagen Golf has a more standard trim which doesn’t include these kinds of performance adjustments, but when you get the “GTI,” then it’s a different story.
Typically, an OEM will add sport mode to those higher trims usually indicated by words like “turbo” and “sport,” or acronyms like “GT” or “GTI.”
Pros and Cons of Having Sport Mode
The first advantage is obviously the performance boost it can give to your car. You don’t have to be driving your car on the track to enjoy the added benefit of more responsive throttle and tighter suspension, for example. If you are driving competitively, then that additional throttle helps you to overtake an opponent. In the real world, however, the throttle provides you with a boost to help you pass slower cars with greater efficiency.
Another pro of using sport mode is the sheer fun of it. Those who like to drive aggressively or at speed will always be helped to do more effectively when sport mode is activated. Don’t be under any illusion, activating sport mode doesn’t turn you into a race car driver, nor does it augment your existing driving skill. What it does provide is a better platform on which to apply those more dynamic driving skills that you already have.
Finally, sport mode can become a good selling point should you ever come to sell the car. While they are more common than they were back in the 1990s or early 2000s, they are still special enough to be a standout USP for a lot of cars.
When buying these cars brand-new, buyers often face much higher payments because they typically come only with the higher trims of the model range, or perhaps only the very top trip. These can cost as much as $10,000 to $12,000 more than the base model, depending on the specific marque and model.
With greater performance metrics like faster acceleration and responsive throttle, the inevitable result is gasoline being used up faster. Greater fuel consumption means you’ll end up spending more money on gas, but only if you apply the sport mode for long periods of time or have it as your “go-to” or default setting when driving.
The other unfortunate result of higher performance is greater wear and tear on your engine. As we mentioned further above, one of the effects of activating sport mode is a “stretching” of the gear ratios at which your automatic transmission will shift.
That means it will allow the engine to rev up to higher rpms when in lower gear ratios. That makes for terrific performance closer to that of a manual transmission, but at the same time more revving of the engine means more wear and tear on the engine. That’s an important thing to remember.
One other consideration could be on-road safety. If being in sport mode encourages us to drive in an overly aggressive manner, then that can become a danger to other road users, as well as to passengers you have in the car, especially kids. Sport mode can affect a driver’s mindset, making them think they are on the race track as opposed to on a public highway.
When Is the Best Time to Use Sport Mode?
The key piece of equipment to pair with your sport mode is the tries on your car. Depending on which car you drive, the tires may not be optimized for sport mode use. The good news is that you can change that yourself. In fact, it’s a good idea to make those changes if you intend to regularly use sport mode.
For sport mode, you need tires that feature the right tread pattern, level of stiffness in the shoulders, and grip. The tires need to be durable when used at speed, and be able to move quickly without losing traction or structural integrity. Look to brands like Bridgestone and Firestone for tires that are optimized for sport mode. Specifically, Bridgestone Potenza tires are great, as are Firehawk tires from Firestone.
Conclusion: Is Sport Mode Worth It?
For the majority of drivers, sport mode isn’t exactly what you’d call an “essential function” of the car. It doesn’t make the car worse, but only a relatively small slice gains meaningful benefits from it.
This helps to explain why sport mode is still typically saved for high-specification cars for those who look beyond utility and comfort when choosing a car. As the technology becomes easier to replicate and install, however, it could well become more of a standard feature to help enhance the appeal of more everyday cars.
Sport mode is always worth it if it provides performance metrics that you can then take advantage of and enjoy. Otherwise, it’s just another additional feature that makes the car more expensive to buy.