Have Fun with
Drive Mode Select

Here’s one way to get to know this feature: take a well-deserved pleasure drive.

Posted: Dec 13, 2017

A potential consequence of driving a well-appointed vehicle on daily commutes is that, over time, it’s easy to forget that some features are also meant for soul-enriching escapes.

So let’s talk about Drive Mode Select. If you haven’t had time to experiment with that dial on your center console, we highly recommend carving out a road trip—be it for a few hours or, better yet, a few days—and just start trying out the drive modes.

They’re pretty wild: with Drive Mode Select, you can actually alter your Lexus vehicle’s personality thanks to different settings like high-energy Sport mode, which adjusts the powertrain for faster gear changes, and mellow Eco mode, which moderates the vehicle’s engine behavior for increased fuel efficiency.

And to really have some fun with your Drive Mode Select settings, it helps to find a suitable road trip tailored to your modes’ unique abilities. This, of course, requires a driving route with its own mixed personality so, today, we’re heading to the Pacific Northwest’s Cascade Loop, a classic U.S. escape journey with dramatic alpine scenery, winding two-lane roads, and no less than three mountain passes (not to mention getaway-worthy accommodations).

Heading north from Seattle in Normal mode, we soon turn east into the Cascade mountains with golden alder leaves pockmarking the pavement and a seasonably moody windstorm defining the fall scenery as reliably as holiday houseguests. Soon we’re on our approach to an ideal stretch for Drive Mode Select’s Sport setting: the Index-Galena road.

This serpentine route, which circles 6,213-foot Spire Mountain, is a Cascade Loop offshoot and it mirrors the flowing bends of the Skykomish River, at the moment swelling a brilliant jade green. Turning the Drive Mode Select dial from Normal to Sport in my NX 300, I can actually feel the vehicle’s throttle-response time jumping into gear like a sports car. The vehicle’s extra punch is unmistakable and it feels good.

Between turns, I accelerate on the straightaways (up to the speed limit) and enter each curve with growing confidence. In a word, Sport mode is a blast! We travel like this for another five miles along the river’s edge before turning back and repeating the thrill ride back to the town of Index.

I switch the Drive Mode Select dial into Normal as we reenter this part of the Cascade Loop—Route 2—to ascend 4,061-ft Stevens Pass, home to Stevens Pass Ski Resort, which receives more than 450 inches of snow annually. The climb offers some of the most accessible vistas of Washington’s young, jagged Cascade peaks.

It also affords an opportunity to relax a bit with Eco mode. I switch the dial over, and for the rise over the summit the green Eco display consistently illuminates, indicating I’m traveling as energy efficiently as possible. Your Drive Mode Select’s Eco mode is, of course, made for any type of driving, from highway travel to urban environments, but out here it just feels right among the Douglas firs, Cascade peaks, and roadside waterfalls.

Not far beyond the summit, Bavarian-themed Leavenworth is at its theatrical best when dusted with snow. We descend into town, seemingly coasting in Eco mode, for a lunch of schnitzel, spätzle, and red cabbage. The village itself froths with visitors who’ve arrived for the annual weekend lighting festival between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, a band plays in the gazebo, and a plethora of nutcrackers in das shop windows clearly have their moment.

We depart the tubas for Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort, the rustic retreat that established eco standards long before the concept gained its cache as a green travel amenity. Situated like a winter wren’s nest within a deep pine forest, Sleeping Lady was created primarily as an arts center for musicians and visual artists to share their talents with each other and their audiences.

The next morning, we secure German pastries and coffee then make our way to Highway 97 over Blewett Pass, pausing for lunch at the Roslyn Café, a travel treasure located in the town where the television show Northern Exposure was filmed. Along the way, I dial up Sport mode for the summit curves then switch over to Eco mode to glide home to Seattle—an exhilarating, fuel-efficient trip where our cup full of well-deserved winter escapism has delightfully runneth over.

By Crai Bower/photos by Danielle Lamp