Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!
Dave asks: I keep reading about “sport” mode in new cars but no one seems to be able to tell me what that means exactly. How does pushing the “sport” button make a car “sportier”?
My reply: It doesn’t, really. It makes an automatic-equipped car feel – and sound – “sportier,” usually by electronically disengaging the overdrive, which reverts the transmission to the next-lowest gear, which increases engine RPM and that makes the engine feel more responsive (and sound it). Sometimes, engaging Sport mode will also change the shift programming to feel sharper, or to hold revs longer between gear changes, or to hold a gear longer (as when cornering and an upshift would not be desirable for best performance).
All of this can be done manually – even with an automatic – by using the manual-shift capability (either the gear selector or the + and – paddle shifters many cars have) to do the same thing pushing the button does. In both cases, though, the parameters of “sportiness” are set by the programming; e.g., the transmission will shift up (or won’t shift down) according to the limits programmed into the thing.
Some new cars also have “sport” modes for the suspension – if the car has adjustable dampers – and for the exhaust – if the car has “active” exhaust (a baffle opens up when you engage the “sport” mode, which increases the “sporty” sound of the exhaust).
Is it all a gimmick? That probably depends on your perspective. There isn’t much objective difference – in terms of how quick a car is or how quickly it can slalom a road course – between Sport and Normal modes. But the feel – and sound – difference can be significant.
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