What Is a Drive Mode in a Car? A Basic Primer

There are many drive modes you can choose to tailor how your car drives to suit your preferences.

Drive mode in a carShutterstock

Article QuickTakes:

  •  |

  •  | 

  •  | 

There are several available drive modes in many newer cars that can tailor the driving experience to different circumstances. Some cars only have a few modes while others offer half a dozen choices. Note that the names may also change slightly from one car to the next depending on the automaker. We'll cover the most common drive modes, what they do, and when to use each one, as we answer the question: what is drive mode in a car?

What is a Drive Mode?

Drive modes are a quick and easy way of adjusting the driving dynamics of a car to match either current road conditions or your personal driving preferences. Exactly what changes depends on the mode and the car. In general, drive modes alter the suspension, steering, transmission, throttle, and overall performance of a car.

The idea is to adjust these systems on the fly to meet the driver's needs. There's no complicated process for switching between modes. They are activated easily via buttons on the steering wheel or center console, and sometimes on the infotainment touchscreen.

Eco Mode

This is the most environmentally conscious mode you can choose. Eco mode in cars isn't focused on delivering performance, but on efficiency. Choosing this mode makes the throttle less responsive. It also changes the gear ratios so the engine doesn't rev as high, which saves on fuel. It may even change how the climate control system works to put less strain on the engine and further improve fuel economy.

Comfort Mode

This is an everyday driving mode that aims for balance. It delivers better performance than Eco mode, but doesn't push too hard in that direction. The suspension system will likely be softer and more relaxed to improve passenger comfort, and performance will be strong enough to engage the driver without becoming harsh or aggressive. The steering won't tighten up too much and will remain relaxed and easy. This is a great mode for long-distance road trips where everyone just wants to be comfortable.

Sport Mode

This mode swings even further away from the efficiency of Eco mode and more toward performance. Sport mode usually makes the suspension system stiffer and increases the steering weight. You may also notice the engine revving higher and the throttle becoming more responsive. Even the sound of the car may change with a louder exhaust note. Fuel efficiency is a secondary concern in this mode, as is passenger comfort. This mode focuses on giving the driver a spirited and engaging drive experience with optimum handling.

Sport+/Track Mode

Usually found only on performance cars, this mode is for the performance enthusiast who wants the strongest acceleration and best handling the car can deliver. It does the same thing as Sport Mode, but with even more emphasis on performance.

If your car has active bolstering, then it may tighten to hold you in place during high-speed cornering. This mode also turns off traction control systems so you can go sideways during aggressive track driving. That's not something you should do on a public road. This is a mode that should only be used in appropriate conditions, like on a dedicated track or other controlled environment.

Snow Mode

Those who drive where winter weather includes snow and ice may find this drive mode helpful. It can help get you out of a situation where you're bogged down, like in the snow. It changes the engine throttle and transmission so that your car starts with less power and torque. That could sound like a bad thing, but it's good in the snow because it helps keep your wheels from spinning and improves traction.

Off-Road Mode

The idea here is similar to Snow Mode and makes many of the same adjustments. It's all about improving traction when the surface beneath your tires is less than perfect. Depending on how your vehicle is equipped, this may automatically engage features including hill descent control and it may raise the vehicle for better ground clearance if it has an adjustable suspension system.

Know Your Drive Modes

Drive modes are designed to tailor the way a vehicle drives to fit the current conditions and the driver's preferences. They run the gamut from fuel-efficient Eco Modes to performance-focused Track Modes with a range of additional options that improve traction off-road and in poor weather. Take the time to explore the drive modes available on your vehicle to make the most of its capabilities and enjoy your time behind the wheel.

This site is for educational purposes only. The third parties listed are not affiliated with Capital One and are solely responsible for their opinions, products and services. Capital One does not provide, endorse or guarantee any third-party product, service, information or recommendation listed above. The information presented in this article is believed to be accurate at the time of publication, but is subject to change. The images shown are for illustration purposes only and may not be an exact representation of the product. The material provided on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice or to indicate the availability or suitability of any Capital One product or service to your unique circumstances. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.
author photo
Nicole Wakelin
I write about cars. A lot. That's because I’ve always loved cars and the fact that they regularly hand me the keys to shiny new automobiles so I can write about them is a constant source of amazement. I cover breaking news, write reviews, and attend auto shows and new vehicle launches across the country. The more winding the road and the more unknown the route, the better.