What does S mean on gear shift? How does sport mode work?

What does S mean on gear shift? Whether you’re a seasoned or beginner driver, you’ll notice the different letters on the gear shift when driving an automatic. However, it’s safe to say that not all drivers are familiar with all the letters.

Most people know about D for Drive, P for Park, and R for Reverse. Then, certain vehicles will have added modes on the gear shift to activate a particular driving experience.

One of the most widespread “extra” modes on a gear shift is the letter S. What does the S mean on a gear shift?

Today, we’re going to answer the prevalent question that many of our readers have: what does the S mean on a gear shift? If you’re looking for a quick answer, the S on a gear shift stands for Sports Mode. Meanwhile, if you’re hoping to learn more about your vehicle’s S or Sports Mode, you’re in luck. Keep reading to know more.

What is a Transmission System?

To understand drive modes and gear positions better, you’ll have to know how a car’s transmission system works.

What does S mean on gear shift

The transmission, aka the gearbox, is the component responsible for enabling vehicles to move with their wheels using their power. The transmission is critical to delivering the right amount of power and torque to your car wheels.

Another part, called the crankshaft, converts the rotational motion into torque via the automatic transmission. This is essential to ensure the right amount of power is delivered every time.

Without a transmission, there’s no way you can drive modern cars since you’ll have difficulty keeping the vehicle at the right speed because the crankshaft usually spins at around 2,000 RPM. Even with a broken transmission, it’s not safe to drive other than a short jaunt to the mechanic’s shop. Transmissions also make modern cars more eco-friendly and faster in a straight line.

Car manufacturers continue to improve modern transmission systems. Aside from making them smooth in terms of power delivery, companies keep adding new driving modes to the gear shift.

What is an Automatic Transmission?

What does the S mean on a gear shift? If you’re asking this question, you’re likely driving a vehicle with an automatic transmission. You may not realize it, but your car’s automatic transmission does many tasks. There are several types of automatic transmissions, and the most common one uses hydraulic power for shifting between gears.

Below are some of the most common operations of an automatic transmission:

  • When the vehicle is on a 4-speed or overdrive, the transmission will automatically choose the appropriate gear based on the speed and position of the throttle pedal.
  • When accelerating slowly, the shifts will happen at lower speeds than accelerating at full throttle.
  • The transmission will automatically downshift when you floor the gas to the next lower gear.
  • The transmission will downshift when selecting a lower gear unless you’re moving too fast. In that case, the system will wait until the vehicle slows down before downshifting.
  • When shifting to the second gear, it will remain in that shifting position even when stopping unless you use the gear selector again.

As you can see, the automatic transmission does plenty of functions, mainly regulates the power delivery to the wheels and keeps the driver safe.

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What are the Standard Gear Shift Positions?

The majority of drivers are familiar with the P-R-N-D letters that each correspond to a specific driving mode. Most gear shifts will have a standard layout with some slight differences. Here’s a quick breakdown of each letter and what they can accomplish:

  • P or Park: The park position is the starting position as you board your vehicle. Park means the transmission is currently disengaged from the engine, which means your car can’t move forward or backward.
  • R or Reverse: As the name suggests, this is the gear position for going reverse. With the Reverse gear engaged, your car will move backward once you step on the gas pedal.
  • N or Neutral: Most drivers aren’t using the Neutral gear on a regular basis. Basically, the neutral gear is necessary if you need to tow your vehicle or use a drive-in car wash. You can’t tow a car with the parking gear engaged.
  • D or Drive: Most people would spend the most time in this gear while driving. When you select Drive, it allows the vehicle to move forward. It’s about as simple as it gets.

What Does S Mean On Gear Shift?

Unlike cars with a manual transmission, automatic transmission cars come with letters on their shifters instead of numbers. For the most part, these letters or modes usually include P, R, N, D, and S, with some automatic transmission cars including B or L.

What does S mean on gear shift

The S mode stands for sport. It provides you a more dynamic driving experience as the S mode varies the sensitivity of your car’s throttle response. As a result, you would feel that your car’s RPM will climb faster than usual as more fuel is injected into the cylinders as compared to using the D or Drive mode.

Another purpose of the S mode is it stays on a gear longer than usual. This means that your car will reach higher RPMs before automatically shifting to a gear. Generally, the higher the RPM, the faster the acceleration.

Not only will the S mode help you reach higher speeds, but also enable the loud rumbling sounds of your engine which all ultimately results in a sportier driving feel.

It is ideal to use the S mode on open highways where you need the power to overtake the car in front of you. Using the S mode will hold a certain gear depending on your throttle.

Your car’s engine control unit (ECU) will try to read how you like to drive so it automatically shifts to the gear best suited for the situation.

Some cars come with paddle shifters that are best used whenever you shifted your AT car to the S or Sport mode. Paddle shifters are placed behind the steering wheel and are used to whether you like to downshift or upshift your vehicle. Some AT cars are instead installed with manual shifters on the gear selector similar to shifters in racing arcade games.

However, there are also drawbacks in shifting to the S or Sport mode. Your car will suffer in terms of fuel efficiency as it will require more fuel to hold a gear and reach a high RPM. If you decide to save on fuel, then it is recommended to stay off the S mode and go for the D mode.

How To Use S Gear In Automatic Cars?

Now you know what the S gear or mode does, you might as well give it a try and see it for yourself. Observe how different the throttle response and automatic gear shifting are in the S mode and D mode. To get started, here are the steps in using the S mode in cars.

  • You should use the S mode in open highways instead of areas with traffic or when your car is parked to avoid sharp accelerations.
  • Start by shifting to the D mode. This will help you drive as fuel-efficient as possible. Find first a road where high-speed runs are less dangerous.
  • To shift to the S mode, you need to press the button on your gear selector then bring it down to S mode. It is the same button as the one you use to shift from P to D.
  • Another thing you should take note of is that you shouldn’t press the button on the gear selector if you are going back to N mode or D mode. Just push it back to place after using the S mode. This will help you prevent shifting to unwanted gears such as R and P which will damage your transmission.
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How Does Sport Mode Work?

When you activate Sport mode, your car’s computer will adjust several settings to give you a more engaging driving experience.

Here are a few ways that the sport mode works:

Throttle Response

The throttle response is how quickly your car accelerates when you press the gas pedal. In Sport mode, the throttle response is increased, meaning your car will accelerate more quickly.

Transmission Shift Points

The transmission shift points are the points at which your car shifts gears. In Sport mode, these shift points are adjusted, meaning your car will stay in lower gears longer before shifting up.

This gives you more power and acceleration.

Suspension and Steering

In some cars, Sport mode will also adjust the suspension and steering to make your car feel more sporty.

The suspension will be stiffer, meaning your car will handle corners better, while the steering will be more responsive, giving you better control over your car.

When Should You Use Sport Mode?

Sport mode is designed to be used in situations where you want a more engaging driving experience.

What does S mean on gear shift

Here are a few things when you might want to use sport mode:


If you need to accelerate quickly, such as when merging onto a highway, Sport mode can give you the extra power you need to get up to speed quickly.


If you’re driving on a twisty road, Sport mode can make your car feel more responsive and nimble. This can make it easier to handle tight corners and switchbacks.


If you need to pass another car on a two-lane road, Sport mode can give you the extra power you need to make the pass quickly and safely.

Mountain Driving

If you’re driving in mountainous terrain, S mode can be especially useful.

With sport mode, the car will shift gears more quickly, allowing you to maintain your momentum and avoid losing speed on steep inclines.


For racing enthusiasts, S mode is essential. It allows for quicker shifting and better acceleration, which can make all the difference when trying to gain a competitive edge.

Highway Driving

S mode can also be useful for highway driving. When cruising on the highway, S mode will provide a more responsive driving experience, allowing you to overtake other vehicles with ease.


If you need to tow a trailer, S mode can help you get more power out of your engine. This will make it easier to tow heavy loads and climb steep grades.


Let’s face it, sometimes you just want to have some fun while driving. Sport mode can make your car feel more sporty and exciting, giving you a more engaging driving experience.

Is It Better To Drive In Sport Mode?

It’s best to use your automatic vehicle’s sport mode sparingly. In this section, you’ll learn some of the shortcomings of frequent shifting to the ‘S’ setting on your car:

Increased Fuel Consumption

The sudden and quick changes to a car’s performance can lead it to burn more fuel than usual. It’s like giving your vehicle an adrenaline rush, making it perform better than before with a relatively short activation period.

As a result, fuel efficiency suffers. Also, your car uses up more energy the longer you sustain the ‘S’ gear.

Reduced Engine Life

Keep in mind that the average car engine lasts about 150,000 miles or 8 years. However, shifting to the ‘S’ gear frequently and maintaining it for extended periods can overwork the engine, reducing its lifespan.

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Still, some cars can take the heavy load of using the ‘S’ gear often. But preventing the reduction of the car engine’s life can still save you a significant amount of money from repair and/or replacement costs.

Benefits of Driving in Sport Mode

What does S mean on gear shift

More Horsepower/Torque

It doesn’t matter how much power your car produces, there will be times when you still want more. By shifting the gear selector into the “S” mode, you can get more with ease in many car models.

Right away, there should be a dramatic increase in power and torque. It may even help you achieve a better top speed.

Improved Throttle Response

When you push the accelerator pedal in “S” mode, you are going to feel the difference. The near-instant power and torque are going to translate into a more responsive throttle.

With this increased throttle, you gain faster acceleration. There’s less waiting around for the power to be delivered, so the 0-60 mph time might be shortened.

Tighter Steering

When the car is in Sport Mode, the steering automatically tightens up on some car models. As you turn the steering wheel, the car is going to respond faster to what you want it to do.

If you are on a curvy road or heading over the mountain, you’ll appreciate the fast response. It also helps you feel like a race car driver, even if you are sitting behind the wheel of your family’s people mover.

Stiffer Suspension

If you want a controlled ride, everything relies on the suspension. Sport Mode ensures that the suspension offers a firmer feel and it will often lower when equipped with an adjustable setup.

With a stiffer suspension, you will notice less body roll. There’s also a lower center of gravity, so you can handle the curves with ease. However, the stiffer suspension can affect comfort to some level.

Disadvantages of Driving in Sport Mode

Reduced Fuel Economy

When you increase the power, torque, and responsiveness of the car engine, you can naturally expect the amount of fuel needed to increase, too. More fuel is going to burn so this power can be produced.

In many cases, the change will be dramatic and noticeable, so you can expect to visit the gas station more often. However, some people find the power output increase to be worth every penny that needs to be spent.

More Engine Wear

There was a time when the average engine was only expected to last eight years or 150,000 miles. However, modern technology has made it easier to keep a car engine running 200,000-250,000 miles on average. If you are providing regular maintenance, you could achieve even more life.

However, using the Sport Mode is going to put more pressure on the car engine. If you are overworking the motor for extended periods, you can expect the lifespan to naturally decrease. You may also require more frequent maintenance because of the wear that’s occurring. Consider providing more frequent oil and filter changes if you are pushing the engine to the limit regularly.

Can You Drive in Sport Mode All the Time?

There’s nothing stopping you from keeping your vehicle in Sport Mode all the time. The manufacturer created the car so that it could run in Sport Mode at all times without any restriction.

Does this mean that you should keep it activated? It’s not usually the best decision. For starters, you are going to need to put out more money for fuel. Unless you have an unlimited supply of money, this is going to add up and start to drain your bank account.

Additionally, you are going to put more strain on the engine than what’s needed. If you want the car to last, it’s wise to only use Sport Mode when the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.

Beyond that, you might enjoy the ride that Sport Mode provides, but do your passengers? With the stiffer suspension, ride comfort can be reduced. If you are going to drive around town in Sport Mode, it’s best to check with the passengers to see how they feel.


What does the S stand for in automatic transmission?

The S mode stands for sports mode which provides more spirited driving.

Is the S mode bad for my car?

Using the S mode is not going to hurt your car. However, it will affect your car’s fuel efficiency if used frequently.

How to use sport mode in AT cars?

Press on the button on the gear selector and push it down to the S mode.

Above is information about What does S mean on gear shift? that we have compiled. Hopefully, through the above content, you have a more detailed understanding of What is an automatic transmission? Thank you for reading our post.

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