While the Nissan ProPilot Assist system is not quite an autonomous driving system, it certainly does take control of the vehicle in significant ways. While the system is not quite hands-free yet, the pedals and cruise control combination make the car take you on a drive.
This is how it works: set the cruise control at your desired speed and the front radar of the car will scan the road in front of you to brake or accelerate according to the flow of traffic. For long distances, there is no need to apply any input to the brake or throttle.
The system even comes to a complete stop, holding the car there indefinitely if the vehicle ahead does not move – and as soon as the car starts off again within three seconds, your car will automatically do the same.
However, if the front car waits any longer, you will need to tap the resume button to put it back into auto mode.
This adaptive cruise system also gives you the choice of three different following distances – like most do.
The lane-centering is a huge step beyond what manufacturers call lane-keeping assist. ProPilot easily navigates you around curves of a gentle nature. Of course, it'll need some human input if the curve on is too sharp. But most highway driving can be handled without any help. This is a great step forward, although you still need to pay attention in order to adjust.
As mentioned previously, this system is not yet hands-free. The lane-centering requires your hands to be on the wheel in order to function. If it doesn't sense the pressure of your hands, it will chime and warn you to reapply your hands. In fact, if it detects your hands off the wheel for long enough, the car will slow down, turn on the hazard lights and eventually come to a stop in the current lane your car is in.
Nissan believes that the alternative, shutting the system off completely on a possibly incapacitated driver, would be more dangerous – and they're probably right.
Another safety feature to take note of is that ProPilot can only apply a max of 40% braking power. If an emergency stop from high speed is required, the car is only capable of partial brake application – otherwise, the driver is responsible for the rest.
Nissan's avoidance system can provide full brakes, but that's only activated at lower speeds.
So, regardless of its few limitations, we must remember that we have not yet come to the future. As it is, the Nissan ProPilot Assist system is easy to use and helpful in many ways. Simply press two buttons on the steering wheel and you're on your way – for long drives touching either pedal could be completely unnecessary.
So if you're someone with a long, tedious commute every day, this might just be the assist system for you. And the fact that this self-driving tech is available in non-luxury cars just assures us that autonomous driving tech is on its way into the mainstream.