What Does Sport Mode Do To Your Car and When You Should Use It

Tag in Sport mode for fun performance driving, but ignore it while commuting.

2022 Rivian R1TRivian

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It seems as though almost every modern automobile—from compact hatchbacks to full-size pickups—has a Sport mode. This feature promises to enhance the performance of even the most average vehicles, but of course, not all Sport modes are created equal. Let's take a look at how it can shape the driving experience of your car, truck, or SUV.

What Does Sport Mode Do?

At its most basic, Sport mode is intended to sharpen how a vehicle responds to a driver’s inputs. It does so by telling the car's computers to adjust certain settings, such as throttle sensitivity and the transmission's shift points (assuming it’s an automatic). Increasing the sensitivity of the throttle, for instance, improves engine response, while delaying upshifts and promoting downshifts will help keep the engine in its power band.

A more aggressive shift schedule and throttle map are the most typical Sport-mode attributes, but it's common to encounter more heavily weighted steering, a lower ride height for vehicles equipped with air springs like the Rivian R1T, and stiffer tuning for models featuring an adaptive suspension. It's also possible that Sport mode will reduce the amount of intervention from a vehicle's traction- and stability-control systems, allowing for extra wheelspin and rotation through a corner.

In some cars, the driver must engage Sport mode to enable other performance features such as launch control, which provides the quickest possible acceleration from a standing start. And vehicles with an active exhaust often reserve their loudest setting for Sport-mode driving.

When to Use Sport Mode

Sport mode is most useful when you want to explore your automobile's full performance capabilities. Since this setting will likely make the throttle response sharper, the steering heavier, and the suspension not quite as comfortable, you'll want to avoid using it while commuting. Save it for the track or when you've got an engaging stretch of road ahead of you.

Activating (and deactivating) Sport mode is often as simple as pushing a button or twisting a dial. It requires no vehicle prep either. Some models offer an enhanced Sport mode (usually called Sport Plus) that can further dial back stability and traction control while adding extra bite to the transmission and throttle programs. Dedicated performance cars may boast a Track or Race mode that provides unfettered access to a vehicle's capabilities.

Does Sport Mode Burn More Gas?

By switching to more performance-oriented throttle and transmission settings, your vehicle's engine will rev higher and longer than it would during normal operation. This requires more fuel, and over a long drive, it can negatively impact fuel economy.

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Benjamin Hunting
Benjamin Hunting is a writer and podcast host who contributes to a number of newspapers, automotive magazines, and online publications. More than a decade into his career, he enjoys keeping the shiny side up during track days and always has one too many classic vehicle projects partially disassembled in his garage at any given time. Remember, if it's not leaking, it's probably empty.