Guide to Modern Car Driving Modes

Explore driving modes and how they could transform your ride right here with Savvy.
Published on December 3rd, 2020
  Written by 
Adrian Edlington
Adrian Edlington is PR & Communications Manager at Savvy. With a keen interest in personal finance, car loans, the mortgage industry, cost of living pressures, electric vehicles and renewable technology, Adrian's research includes conducting primary data surveys and analysis of up-to-the-minute secondary Australian data sources. His work on behalf of Savvy has been featured on ABC.net.au The Conversation, the Sydney Morning Herald, AFR, News.com.au, The Age, Herald Sun, Adelaide Now, SBS On The Money, 7News, Car Expert, Which Car, Drive.com.au and more. In his spare time, Adrian enjoys mountain biking and business podcasts.
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   Reviewed by 
Bill Tsouvalas


Bill Tsouvalas
Bill Tsouvalas is the managing director and a key company spokesperson at Savvy. As a personal finance expert, he often shares his insights on a range of topics, being featured on leading news outlets including News Corp publications such as the Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun, Fairfax Media publications such as the Australian Financial Review, the Seven Network and more. Bill has over 15 years of experience working in the finance industry and founded Savvy in 2010 with a vision to provide affordable and accessible finance options to all Australians. He has built Savvy from a small asset finance brokerage into a financial comparison website which now attracts close to 2 million Aussies per year and was included in the BRW’s Fast 100 in 2015 as one of the fastest-growing companies in the country. He’s passionate about helping Australians make financially savvy decisions and reviews content across the brand to ensure its accuracy. You can follow Bill on LinkedIn.
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Driving modes can give drivers more control over their driving experience, allowing them to tailor their car’s behaviour to suit various driving conditions and personal preferences. In this blog, we explore the ins and outs of driving modes, uncovering how they work, the common types and the benefits they can bring to drivers.

Power at your fingertips: understanding driving modes

Driving modes alter a car’s behaviour by tweaking various parameters, essentially acting as a control panel for your driving experience. These parameters can include:

  • Engine performance: power output, throttle response and torque delivery can be adjusted to prioritise fuel efficiency, acceleration or a balance between the two.
  • Transmission behaviour: shift patterns can be modified for smoother gear changes, quicker acceleration or enhanced engine braking.
  • Suspension settings: the stiffness or softness of the suspension can be adjusted to prioritise comfort, handling or a combination depending on the driving scenario.
  • Steering feel: the responsiveness and weight of the steering can be modified for a more comfortable experience at lower speeds or a more precise feel for spirited driving.
  • Stability control systems: the intervention level of electronic stability control (ESC) and traction control systems can be adjusted depending on the need for on-road safety or off-road capability.

By electronically manipulating these settings, driving modes offer distinct driving experiences catering to a variety of driving situations and preferences. Depending on the car, modes can be set and changed using a dedicated button or switch, or through the car’s infotainment system menu.

Common driving modes explained

Common driving modes found in modern cars include:

  • Normal/comfort mode: this is the default setting for many cars and offers a good balance between performance, fuel efficiency and ride comfort. It's suitable for everyday driving scenarios.
  • Eco mode: this mode prioritises fuel efficiency by adjusting engine performance, transmission behaviour, and sometimes even air conditioning settings to minimise fuel consumption. It's ideal for city driving or when maximising fuel range is a priority.
  • Sport mode: this mode unleashes the car's performance potential by sharpening throttle response, adjusting transmission for quicker shifts and potentially stiffening the suspension for improved handling. It's perfect for enthusiastic drivers or situations requiring a burst of acceleration.
  • Snow mode: this mode optimises the car's performance for slippery conditions like snow or ice. It typically adjusts engine power delivery, traction control intervention and transmission behaviour for smoother and safer handling on low-traction surfaces.
  • Off-road mode: found in cars like SUVs and off-road vehicles, this mode adjusts various parameters to enhance the car's capability on rough terrain. It might adjust the suspension height (if equipped with air suspension), modify traction control settings and optimise engine and transmission behaviour for off-road driving.

Some car manufacturers offer even more specialised driving modes catering to specific driving scenarios or vehicle types. These might include:

  • Track mode: for high-performance cars, this mode might deactivate certain driver aids, adjust suspension settings for maximum performance on a racetrack and allow for customisation of various parameters by the driver.
  • EV mode: this mode allows electric vehicles (EVs) or hybrid vehicles to operate solely on electric power for a limited range, perfect for emission-free driving in urban areas.

Are there driving modes in manual cars?

While driving modes are more commonly associated with automatic transmissions, some manual transmission vehicles also offer them. The key difference is that manual cars lack the ability to electronically control gear selection like automatics. Since the driver has direct control over gear selection in a manual car, the impact of driving modes on transmission behaviour might be less noticeable compared to automatics. The focus in manuals with driving modes is typically on:

  • Engine performance: the electronic control unit (ECU) may adjust engine mapping to prioritise power or fuel efficiency based on the chosen mode.
  • Throttle response: the car's computer might alter how the engine responds to driver input on the accelerator pedal.
  • Driver assistance systems: some advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) like hill-start assist or lane departure warning might be linked to specific driving modes.

However, in automatic cars, driving modes offer a wider range of control due to the electronically controlled transmission. The ECU can electronically adjust various aspects to significantly impact the car's behaviour. This helps to create distinct driving experiences tailored to specific scenarios and driver preferences.

What are the pros and cons of driving modes?

Driving modes offer several key benefits that enhance the overall driving experience:

  • Improved performance and efficiency: by optimising vehicle parameters, driving modes can enhance performance while maintaining fuel efficiency.
  • Enhanced safety and control: driving modes can improve traction, stability and handling, especially in challenging driving conditions.
  • Personalised driving experience: customisable driving modes allow drivers to tailor their vehicle's behaviour to suit their preferences and driving style.
  • Reduced environmental impact: eco modes promote fuel efficiency and reduce emissions, contributing to a greener and more sustainable driving experience.

However, there are also some considerations to keep in mind:

  • Complexity: the increasing number of driving modes and settings can make the driving experience more complex.
  • Dependency: some drivers may become overly reliant on driving modes, using them to compensate for poor driving habits or lack of skill rather than developing good driving techniques.
  • Potential for confusion: with multiple driving modes and customizable settings, there is a risk of confusion or unintentionally selecting the wrong mode, which could affect vehicle performance or safety.
  • Limited effectiveness: while driving modes can enhance certain aspects of the driving experience, they may have limited effectiveness in extreme conditions or situations where driver skill and experience play a more significant role.

Driving modes cater to a diverse range of driving scenarios. By understanding how these modes work and the options available, you can unlock the full potential of your car and improve your driving experience.

Whether or not your car has driving modes, if you need finance for your car, Savvy can help. Our team will work with you to find a car loan that suits your needs, comparing offers from dozens of lenders. Get started with a car loan through Savvy today.

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