The "Sport Mode" button: Useless or fantastic? In this era where every function on your car is regulated by a computer, they have become an almost ubiquitous presence on everything from humble economy cars to high-end luxury and sports cars. But do they really add anything to the car?
A "gimmick" is best defined as a special feature that adds some novelty and excitement to a product, but may not actually be that useful in realistic applications. New cars may be faster, safer, more efficient and better made than ever before, but they come with plenty of gimmicks.
Instant MPG readouts are gimmicks because I already know when I'm using a lot of gas; rev-matching manual gearboxes are gimmicks because if I bought a manual transmission car, I'm by God going to heel-and-toe shift myself, thank you very much.
But where do sport mode buttons — or rather, the sport mode itself, which can be engaged either by button or fishing through menus on an infotainment screen — stand in all that? Are they just gimmicks or welcome additions to modern cars?
Being able to adjust a car's settings on the fly is hardly anything new. Certain versions of the E30 M3 had electronic damping control switches in their cabins, for example, and sport modes that adjust the car's overall behavior have been present on luxury cars since the 1990s. They're just way more common now than they used to be.
First, it's good to define what sport mode does on most cars. Typically it adjusts a variety of engine, transmission and even suspension settings. "Sport mode" often tightens up the steering, sharpens the throttle response, and raises the shift points or holds gears for longer on automatic transmissions.
It may also adjust the suspension to give you a stiffer ride, and if it's worth its salt as a feature at all, dials back the traction and stability control to let you have more fun on the track or a particularly twisty and cop-free back road.
I have driven cars that do just some of these things and cars that do all of them and more. They vary widely from car to car. Sometimes I found myself using sport mode a lot, and sometimes I downright hated how the car behaved in that setting.
But most of the time, I think sport mode is an excuse not to make a car feel balanced.
I feel like sport modes are present on a lot of cars that shouldn't need them at all. See that up there? That's a sport mode button on an Audi R8 V10. Wouldn't a sporty drive be inherent to an R8? Does it really require a button for added sportiness?
Travis recently drove the new Lamborghini Huracan, and he wrote that like the Gallardo and Aventador before it, it has three drive modes: Strada, Sport, and Corsa. (That's Street, Sport and Course, or Race, if you don't speak Italian.)