All the post I have read compare each for a whole tank of gas...Nope, does not make any real difference...unless you use them at the right time and here is why,
POWER is the easiest as 0-80 runs this works the best for being a hooligan or stoplight to stoplight and times when you need the power on edge. The engine holds higher rpm to be in the power curve for the 0-80 range...Great fun, more gas if used for fun. Turn off TRAC control
SNOW seems to be the most confusing to most. SNOW is just the opposite of POWER in that to reduce wheel spin power must be controlled and let out slowly and smoothly. To make this happen they short shift the transmission, just like in a stick shift when you shift real early at like 1500 rpms. This allows the car to move easily with all that torque. HERE is the SECRET. You only use it when between 0-45 traffic. Between 30-45 you will see as much as a 10mpg jump.
So combine super pedal sensitivity in POWER to a slow REACTION in SNOW mode and they each will give you the best in a certain MPH range. This is why the standard is the standard version as it does 90 % the best leaving 5% for fun and 5% for mpg.
Summary: If I use SNOW for bumper to bumper and slow lunch type traffic I go from 20 MPG tank avg to 23 mpg avg. The toughest part is remembering to turn on SNOW in traffic and back off when done.
This is what I have figured out over the last 500 miles of figuring this out.
60% city / 40% highway Sams 93 octane fuel. 2005 LS430 55K miles
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I drive local and very rarely highway and average 12-13mpg around town on 93 premium. When it has been very snowy and icey I used snow mode with Trac off and was 10-11mpg. Never used a whole tank on performance mode but I have noticed it raises shift points and throttle response. Glad to hear I'm not the only one guzzling 4.00 gallon gas around here lol.
Black on Black 2005 LS430 daily driver
2009 Gsxr 1000 with some work
Lowering the torque and making throttle response much more lax, works wonders in bad road conditions. I was testing it last month in the Alps, and I think it's great for inexperienced drivers. I would go as far as saying that you don't even need to react in 99% of the cases, as not even the ESP comes in. You would have to really press the car for it to skid due to power.
Of course it wouldn't save ya if you were going to fast. Understeer is a b*tch
And yeah, I guess the slow throttle response would filter out most input and give you better mileage, but to see over 20mpg in traffic (or even close to that for that matter) I think is a stretch...
I only use snow mode in the snow, but on my 98 Lexus with VSC off and power mode I could really let that baby rip. I'm not so eager to do that with my 2006. I've been through a few transmissions in other vehicles, so even though the LS touts a nearly flawless tranny, I don't want to foot the repair bill if I am the 1 in 1000. As far as snow mode being a better choice... in 40-50 mph turnpike traffic during a snow storm WITHOUT snow mode I got 28-29mpg. Due to the fact I live in Michigan I use snow mode often, and I can say it really, really dumbs the car down for any performance whatsoever, although it is great for getting up slick, snowy, and icy hills. If the wheels lose traction at all, for anything, like say you gassing it to get out of a jam, the car just farts and negates what your foot wants it to do... in other words it won't accelerate at all. The mileage in town with snow mode didn't amount to much benefit, if at all. Marginal benefit with lousy performance is not why I bought the car, but maybe you're trying to squeeze Camry mileage out of a 300hp V8 sedan that is as fast as a mid 90s Camaro Z28(automatic).
2006 LS 430 Black/Black Nav, ML, regular suspension (Mine)
1998 Land Cruiser River rock mica green, complete aftermarket stereo (Wife)
As I understand snow mode (at least in the 2001-2003s) the transmission doesn't use first gear. When you pull away from a dead stop, the transmission is in second gear and the torque converter has to slip more than it would if the transmission were in first gear.
This increases the wear on the transmission fluid. I wouldn't recommend driving in stop and go traffic in snow mode (on good tracation pavement) because the torque converter will slip A LOT and really increase the temperatures of the transmission fluid. As a rule of thumb, a 20 degree increase in the normal temperature of ATF will halve the life of the transmission. If you change your fluid regularly (30k miles or so) it's probably fine but not great. IF you change your transmission fluid every 100k or so, it's possible that extended use of snow mode when there isn't snow on the ground will jepordize the life of the transmission.
Personally, I'm going to switch my transmission fluid to Redline D4 which has better thermal characteristics than Toyota Type IV and I would still be hesitant to use snow mode on nice days.
I imagine this torque converter slipping problem would be even worse for the 2004-2006 cars since they have a taller 2nd gear and less transmission fluid. They'd have to work less fluid harder and that can't be good for a "sealed" transmission.
Personally, I wouldn't jeopardize such a well-working transmission for a slight MPG increase. I'd rather run a KN air filter, synthetic oils in the engine, transmission, and differential, and just call it a day.