Eco Go? Eco No.

Getting rid of Eco mode is easy for those who A) know it exists, B) know what it does, and C) know where to find the off button.

Christie Schweinsberg, Senior Editor

September 5, 2017

3 Min Read
Econ mode button near shifter in 3917 Honda Civic
Econ mode button near shifter in '17 Honda Civic.

I have a confession to make, and it may come as a shock to some of our loyal readers who know me as the “Green Queen,” the WardsAuto editor who never met an eco-friendly vehicle or feature she didn’t like.

I don’t like Eco mode. In fact, I hate it.

There, I said it. Sweet relief!

For those not in the know, Eco mode is a drive-mode setting many automakers use in non-hybrid or electric vehicles to improve efficiency. It usually does this by making throttle tip in less aggressive and upshifts faster, as too long a hold on a lower gear will result in more gas gulping than a quick-ish upshift to the next highest gear.

But Eco mode (dubbed Econ mode by certain automakers) can change the character of a car to more no-no-no than go-go-go. I experienced this recently during our test of the refreshed Hyundai Sonata. Normal and Sport modes had me loving the car, Eco mode had me thinking: “I can get out and run faster than this thing accelerates!”

Getting rid of Eco mode is easy for those who A) know it exists, B) know what it does, and C) know where to find the off button.

But few people outside the auto industry even know what Eco mode is.

Why is this a problem? Because people are buying vehicles, have Eco mode on unknowingly, find acceleration agonizingly slow and torque lacking and think their new car sucks.

A case in point is a fellow WardsAuto editor’s wife, who complained she hated the lack of get-up-and-go in her CUV. He asked her, “Why don’t you just turn Eco mode off?” Her: “Oh, I didn’t even notice that!”

“That happens all the time, and what happens is sometimes (a buyer prompted by a salesperson will turn it on) at the dealership and they’ll just leave it on, and forget it’s on, because there’s so many things you hear (during a vehicle demo) at the dealership (and it goes over your head),” says Brandon Ramirez, senior group manager-product communications for Hyundai Motor America.

Some buyers with Eco mode are so upset they tell other people about the crappy performance of their vehicle on social media and automotive forums.

And sometimes they tell third-party survey firms. Negative scores on closely watched surveys, such as those conducted by J.D. Power, can harm a model’s – maybe even a brand’s – reputation.

This is what motivated Hyundai to delete Eco mode from its sportier models, such as the just-released Elantra GT compact hatchback and the forthcoming Kona subcompact CUV, Ramirez says.

“This one only has Sport and Normal,” Ramirez, a former HMA product planner, told me last week during a drive in the Elantra GT.

Even for those who understand Eco mode and what it does, they “are complaining, ‘Hey, I don’t like (my vehicle) in Eco mode, it hinders my performance,’” Ramirez says. “We do a cross-car-line recommendation with our service-quality group and they’re in agreement, ‘Hey, a lot of people just complain about the Eco mode.’”

But the 12 fans of Eco mode in the U.S. have nothing to fear: Hyundai is keeping it around on more luxurious models and/or those without a strong sporting character, such as the Sonata midsize car and Genesis lineup.

“In the future (on those vehicles) we are going to offer four (modes),” Ramirez says. “You’re going to have a Comfort, which is like a Normal, and then you’re going to have the Eco and the Smart. And the Smart understands how you drive, and based off of how you drive it’ll put (the vehicle) in the mode you want.”

For those who don’t like Eco mode, here’s a friendly tip: The button to turn it off usually is on the center console near the shifter. Sometimes it says “Eco” and you hit it once to turn it on and off. Sometimes the button says “Drive Mode” and you must hit it repeatedly to cycle through the mode choices.

Some automakers put it in a menu or sub-menu in the central screen or gauge-cluster screen. For this, I can’t help you. Godspeed.

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