Lately, it seems that every new vehicle on the market now has a "Sport Mode." Heck, the new 2018 Ford Expedition that I’ve been driving this week even has one. Depending on the vehicle and how it’s engineered, that’s both a good and a bad thing.
If you go back to the original "M" button that appeared on BMWs many years ago, you’ll see how the integration of a "go faster button" was done correctly. Steering, dampers, throttle — these things can all be remotely adjusted and configured from the cabin to make your car more fun to drive, and maybe even reduce your lap times.
But, nowadays, it’s much more of a gimmick than actual engineering. The basic sport mode is engaged through a button, usually somewhere near the automatic shifter, that typically does one thing: it adjusts throttle response. The thought is that the driver sees a sudden bump in RPMs and assumes they’re unlocking some special sauce, or maybe even more horsepower. In reality, the vehicle becomes buzzier, more annoying and no faster than it was before you pushed the button. Almost every press loaner that has shown up over the last year has had one, and most rely on the "enhanced throttle response" version.
Some other systems make adjustments to things like steering or shift points, but most automakers don’t bother to even do this properly. Beyond the throttle adjustment, it’s fairly easy to give you the feeling of more direct steering — but, in reality, it just makes your electric steering a bit heavier. You know, they consider it "feedback." Or something.
So when the transmission also shifts later than normal in sport mode, you, as the driver, get a sense that things are much more performance-oriented, just like with the extra revvy throttle. But it’s all just a show — and I assume our dear Oversteer readers aren’t falling for it, even though I imagine many buyers are. Most of these cars also have paddle shifters, too — so in reality, I can shift whenever the heck I want. Within reason. See above — this isn’t surprising; it’s more software than hardware, more marketing gimmick than performance enhancement.
But with everything becoming electric and remotely adjustable, there is, ironically, a real opportunity to customize your experience.
Last week I was driving a new Challenger GT. Sounds fast, but it isn’t exceptionally so, as you only get the 305-horsepower V6. But, regardless, it does give you all the fancy track software that you get in versions like the Hellcat. And that’s a good thing, because that means anything is customizable. Forget the sport button: Now you can go into Chrysler’s "Performance Pages" and dial in your settings exactly as you like them, adjusting a myriad of functions with the push of a few buttons. Want your suspension tuned for better cornering, but your steering laid back and soft? You can do it. Or maybe you want a tighter steering feel, but soft suspension and better throttle response? You can do that too — and a number of other things.
This is also true in a wide variety of other cars, from the Cadillac CTS-V to the Kia Stinger GT. Indeed, these cars give you the opportunity to create a true split personality, tailored exactly to your liking — and it’s far better than a regular ol’ sport button.