It used to be that changing between driving modes took time and a little engine know-how, but now with advanced technology, this type of performance enhancing is available to any driver. Think about older 4WD vehicles, it used to be that you needed to stop, click the wheels into 4WD mode and then use a separate gear stick to operate it effectively. Today all of that has been done away with and you are able to smoothly transition between 4WD and 2WD modes, with a single switch.
In reality, there are still changes happening to the vehicle, but all of that is being controlled by an internal computer and a series of switches and other mechanisms. In many cars that have multi-drive modes, you have three options: Normal (or Auto), Eco (Economical), and Sport.
What Does the Sport Button on Do?
While all cars are different, there are a few basic things that happen when you change the mode in the car. For sports mode, the car will have a preference for keeping the car in lower gears to increase the takeoff speed, so it gets you moving much faster. However, the off-set for this is that you’ll burn through an increased amount of fuel. But you want to arrive at your destination faster right? Well unfortunately that is the trade off.
When you turn on the sports mode, you’ll notice that the car tends to sit at higher REVs, and the accelerator reacts faster to your touch. It may also engage an electric power-assisted system, which can give the driver a firmer steering sensation. This allows you to have more direct control of the car, perfect for hitting tight corners at higher speeds.
In some cars, there are adaptive dampers (or shock absorbers) when sports mode is engaged these are adjusted and react differently to the rise and fall you see on many roads. With firmer suspension, you get a more appealing style of handling, but it comes at a cost to your comfort; better for the car, but worse for the passengers. Usually, manufacturers will counter this by providing more comfortable seats for the occupants to sit in, but this is often limited to high end sports vehicles. But, you get what you pay for.
What Does The Terrain-Management System In A 4WD Do?
Terrain management means that you are able to switch the car between types of terrain, and the vehicle will auto adjust to best suit those conditions. Depending on the manufacturers you could see many different types of modes offered, but most come with, ‘Auto’ (for regular road driving), and ‘Off-Road’ (for everything else). However, some vehicles go much beyond that offering modes for rock, dirt, mud, snow, and sand.
All of these modes allow the driver to have control over how the car is handling. This is especially important if you are into plenty of off-road driving, as you need the vehicle to operate at its peak performance in a variety of conditions. The best part is that you can switch between modes while in the driver's seat; there’s absolutely no need to get out and risk injury by scrambling about the wheels that are stuck up to the axles in mud.
What Does the Eco Button Do?
The eco button, or economical, is a standard multi-drive mode that many vehicles come with as a standard feature. It was developed to assist with fuel efficiency. You will usually find it on the dash and marked as ‘Eco’ or ‘Econ’, it’s usually green, to indicate it’s environmentally friendly, and it affects the car in many ways.
When activated it adjusts the car's gear changes so that it stays in higher gears for longer. This results in the car driving further under lower REV’s, which can ease how hard the engine needs to work to produce speed, and therefore save fuel. However, it usually takes longer to achieve acceleration, so you get to where you need to be at a slower rate.
The eco mode also lowers the car’s idle speed, so when you are stopped at a set of lights, the car burns through less petrol as it is sitting there waiting. It is also faster to engage the vehicle’s torque converter - which helps transfer power from the engine to the wheels. Although there isn’t a direct connection between the two, it is just something that happens when the car runs at lower speeds.
In some models the eco mode will also take over the control of air conditioning systems, reducing its power and effectiveness. It can also alter the car's reaction time to inputs from the driver, for example, if the driver plants the accelerator, the car may take longer to respond to the need. It will also ignore minor changes in the accelerator from the driver, giving the accelerator a more playful feel, but this is all done with fuel economy in mind.