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What do different driving modes mean?

There was a time when cars only had one driving mode: drive. Each type of car had its own driving feel and characteristics, both good and bad, but there was no way of changing them without mechanical work. However, with technology always developing, we’re increasingly seeing that cars often come with a range of different driving modes and it’s useful to understand what these driving modes can offer.

The history of driving modes

The evolution of driving modes is hard to pinpoint as the technology has grown over time with manufacturers taking different steps. Arguably, some of the very early Land Rovers had driving modes because you could change the four-wheel drive options using an extra gear stick – but doing it via a button in the car didn’t come along until much later. Initially, it started in sports and luxury cars like Mercedes, but has now filtered down to many other mainstream makes and models.

What happens when you choose a driving mode?

What actually happens in the car depends on the make and model. Sports mode in one car can be very different to that in another. That being said, there are common experiences across cars. Things like the sensitivity of the throttle pedal can change, the amount of fuel being put into the engine may alter, the amount of computer traction control available may change and the suspension can become softer or harder. These things, among others, can be used in combination to varying degrees to bring about a change in how the car drives and feels.

Common driving modes


This is a common mode and can have varying degrees of intensity. Generally, the throttle will become more responsive, so the car will accelerate more readily. It also puts more fuel in the engine to increase power. The suspension will often stiffen in sports mode, which can lead to traction control becoming less effective. It is important to understand that sports mode can be, in some cars, only for very special occasions such as driving on a track where skidding is allowed. It isn’t generally advised to use sports mode on the road but, if it is possible with your car, you should do so with lots of caution.


This is very similar to sports mode but less likely to reduce traction control. It is a sporty mode where the suspension may be stiffer and a sharper throttle response used, along with a gear shift change in automatic cars.


This mode is designed to reduce fuel consumption so commonly opts for putting less fuel in the engine or even changing the number of cylinders that are used. It may also lower throttle response, so the driver uses less fuel. Generally, eco mode will feel slower but can be very useful.


This is becoming a common mode offering a softer ride from the suspension. In automatics, the gear change may come early to allow for a smooth and steady drive. It can feel a little too soft in some cars for those who suffer from car sickness.


Driving in the snow involves low throttle input, gentle breaking and a high gear choice. Snow modes are designed to take all that work and do it for you. So, the traction control will be very active, the gearbox in automatics will select the highest gear possible and the Automatic Breaking Systems will be primed for any skidding. This is a very useful mode to have and use in the right conditions.

Do driving modes make any difference?

The answer varies as much as the size and shape of modern cars. With some car manufacturers, the driving mode options can make a huge difference. Even if it doesn’t feel like it has changed the car very much at all, it is important to be aware that no matter how subtle a driving mode feels, it will have changed the car in some way. Generally, luxury cars will offer more distinct driving modes and bigger changes.

Test and try them out

Driving modes can be very useful – when trying them out with your own car, it is critical that the conditions are dry and safe before testing them, as some will reduce traction and increase power.

Eco mode could well save a lot of money on fuel and help the environment and comfort mode could help reduce discomfort on long journeys. If in doubt, read the manual and get an understanding of what each mode does before testing them out.

Browse cars available on the Motability Scheme

There are many different types of cars across any manufacturers available on the Scheme that also have varying features included. You can browse the full selection by using our car search tool.

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