What Is Eco Mode in a Car?

What Is Eco Mode in a Car?
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These days it seems like electric vehicles are all the rage, but in reality, electric vehicles are still out of reach for most consumers.

To meet the ever-increasing demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles, manufacturers deploy a variety of clever engineering tricks to help consumers squeeze every last drop of fuel out of their vehicles. One of these tricks is Eco mode (Econ in some brands).

So, what is Eco mode, and how does it help you save fuel? Let’s get into it.

What is Eco mode?

Engaging Eco mode instructs a vehicle’s computer to adjust the vehicle’s transmission, throttle, and other components to prioritize fuel consumption over performance.

Most modern vehicles have some sort of Eco or Econ mode, even vehicles with fuel-efficient engines. This is due to stringent government regulations that aim to increase the average fuel economy of vehicles on the road. Ever since the fuel crisis of the 1970s and the formation of the EPA, these regulations have pushed manufacturers to create vehicles that use less and less fuel.

The most successful implementation of higher efficiency vehicle standards is the CAFE program (Corporate Average Fuel Economy). Passed in 1975, CAFE sets fuel-economy benchmarks that must be met by all manufacturers who sell vehicles in the United States. The original CAFE standards stated a manufacturer’s average fuel economy across their lineup needed to be a minimum of 25 miles per gallon by 1985. This huge jump forced manufacturers to figure out how to make vehicles more efficient across the board.

For comparison, the latest round of CAFE standards requires vehicles to be at an average of 49 MPG by the 2026 model year. The change is remarkable compared to where we were just 30 years ago.

How does Eco mode work?

Eco mode prioritizes efficiency over performance through a complicated series of engineering tricks.

Let’s say you’re sitting at a red light, and the light turns green, so you press the accelerator down and accelerate up to 40 miles per hour. The harder you press the pedal, the faster you will get to your intended speed and the more fuel you will use to get there. Fast acceleration equals higher revolutions per minute (RPM) for a longer period of time. That uses more energy than slower, more deliberate acceleration.

Eco mode electronically adjusts the throttle and the transmission to help you use less fuel. It does this by reducing the impact of the gas pedal on forward motion and by forcing the transmission to shift at a lower RPM and up into its most efficient gears in a hurry. This means you have to push the pedal harder to achieve faster acceleration. But for the majority of your driving, acceleration is smoother, more gradual and much more efficient.

In addition to the engine and transmission, Eco mode may also adjust systems that cause engines to use more fuel, such as the air-conditioning system and even the seat heaters, by making them slightly less potent.

Conversely, many vehicles have a Sport mode that does the exact opposite of Eco mode. Rather than dull the throttle response and shift into higher gears sooner, Sport mode intensifies the throttle’s response and holds gears at a higher RPM for a longer period of time. Rather than save fuel, this gives the driver a sportier, more performance-oriented drive.

Eco mode differences

Not all Eco modes work the same across all manufacturers, and some go well beyond adjusting throttle and transmission mapping.

Volvo, for example, disconnects the transmission from the engine when the vehicle is coasting down a hill to save fuel. BMW’s Eco Pro mode takes the concept up another notch by changing everything from the heated seats and mirrors to the air-conditioning system to use less overall energy. Honda integrates the Eco concept into their cruise-control systems by forcing automated cruise control to resist downshifting, even when going up a hill, as well as changing the fuel-injection mix to achieve better fuel economy.

Each subsequent year brings more innovation in this area as clever engineers figure out more ways to squeeze every last drop of fuel from our vehicles.

Which car makers offer Eco mode?

Most mainstream automotive brands offer Eco mode in some form, but Eco mode is not necessarily available on every vehicle in their lineup.

Here are the manufacturers that offer Eco mode in their lineup:

  • Acura
  • Audi
  • BMW
  • Buick
  • Cadillac
  • Chevrolet
  • Chrysler
  • Dodge
  • Fiat
  • Ford
  • GMC
  • Honda
  • Hyundai
  • Infiniti
  • Jaguar
  • Jeep
  • Kia
  • Lexus
  • Lincoln
  • Mazda
  • Mercedes Benz
  • Mini
  • Mitsubishi
  • Nissan
  • Smart
  • Subaru
  • Toyota
  • Volkswagen
  • Volvo

Eco mode pros and cons

Drivers who activate Eco mode may save fuel, but they may also feel like their vehicles are a bit more sluggish and less fun to drive. Let’s explore all the pros and cons.

Eco mode pros

For most drivers, there are more pros than cons when it comes to utilizing Eco mode.

Improved fuel economy

There are no hard and fast numbers for how much fuel Eco mode can save, but most manufacturers have a discernible difference. According to AutoTrader, experts state that most vehicles see a 5% improvement.

Reduced emissions

Eco mode does not specifically reduce emissions, but burning less fuel does reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions produced, so that’s always a win.

Changing Habits

Eco mode does its thing effortlessly and requires little extra work from the driver, save for actually pushing the button or selecting the drive mode. It also helps drivers be more aware of their usage with specific on-screen fuel-savings graphics with figures like miles gained or gallons saved. This can have the effect of building habits that make drivers more aware and more efficient.

Eco mode cons

Although we all want to save money and the environment, Eco mode is not a cure-all for the impact of motorized vehicles on the planet and our wallets.

Reduced performance

Drivers who use Eco mode will notice that vehicles can feel a bit more sluggish when pressing the accelerator pedal, especially if they’re coming from vehicles without Eco mode. Acceleration can still be called up with a pedal stab, but it will always feel a little more sluggish.


If your expectation of speed doesn’t change, you’ll find yourself pushing the accelerator pedal harder to overcome the lack of acceleration pace. This basically cancels out the positive effect of Eco mode. Drivers in busy metropolitan areas with fast-moving traffic, like Los Angeles or Atlanta, may find Eco mode insufficient to keep up with the traffic.

Does Eco mode actually save gas?

In general, yes. Eco mode does actually save gas, but the results can vary widely.

Most manufacturers don’t give a specific percentage of improvement with Eco mode simply because drivers usually override Eco mode settings with a lead foot. This can happen because a driver is used to driving quickly or simply needs to keep up with heavy traffic. Eco mode also has very little discernible difference on the highway at higher speeds because the vehicle is already operating efficiently.

Can you use Eco mode all the time?

Yes, you can use Eco mode all the time, but that doesn’t mean you should.

Eco mode is more suited for stop-and-go conditions where throttle input and engine speed will drastically impact fuel consumption. However, at highway speeds or when going up hills, the Eco mode is unnecessary and can take away from things like passing power and AC performance with no real gain in MPG.


Eco mode is a worthy addition to newer vehicles. Although it doesn’t function as a “magic button” that instantly saves fuel, it can provide savings around town. More importantly, it can help change drivers’ habits by teaching them more gradual acceleration techniques.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you turn off Eco mode while driving?

Yes, you can turn Eco mode off while driving. There is no speed limit or other constraints to activating and deactivating Eco mode.

What is the difference between Eco mode and Sport mode?

Eco mode saves fuel by coaxing drivers to accelerate more gradually with reduced throttle impact and specific transmission mapping. Sport mode encourages performance by allowing drivers to accelerate with verve and encourages the transmission to rev to a higher rpm before shifting.

Which mode is best for highway driving?

Eco mode has little impact on the highway. It’s best to keep your vehicle in Normal mode (sometimes called Comfort mode) during highway driving to enjoy enhanced passing power and more effective air-conditioning performance.

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Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.