Cars with lane assist and autopilot

The range of partial driverless and autonomous technology available on new cars is astounding. So here, we explain what's on the market

James Wilson
Oct 13, 2021
Volvo XC40 front three quarters view

Driverless cars have always felt like something out of science fiction, and that soon enough we’ll be able to get our car to drive for us or remotely pick us from somewhere. In reality, truly autonomous cars are still some way off (some argue that they’ll never fully materialise), despite Tesla claiming its cars can be equipped with ‘Enhanced Autopilot’ and ‘Full Self-Driving Capability’. People that use these systems while falling asleep or being otherwise occupied are following a recipe for potential disaster.

Even the most advanced driver assistance systems (including Autopilot) can't match a human driver when it comes to hazard perception and spatial awareness in ideal conditions - on a well-marked, clear motorway in daylight. The car’s task of understanding the road ahead is made much harder in inclement weather, at night-time, through roadworks and where the road isn’t in pristine condition.

But what manufacturers do offer is an interesting glimpse of what driverless technology will be like when it eventually arrives, with a host of semi-autonomous driving technology knitted together with a lot of sensors and cameras. Nissan has ‘ProPilot', Honda has ‘Sensing’, Volvo has ‘Intellisafe’, Subaru has ‘EyeSight’ and Mercedes has 'Distronic', just to name a few.

These are all labels for a range of driver assistance technology, which generally falls into one of four categories:

  • Adaptive cruise control
    Uses radar - and sometimes Lidar and cameras - to monitor traffic ahead, adjusting the accelerator and brake to maintain a set distance. If there is no traffic ahead it will keep you at your desired speed, like regular cruise control. The best systems operate in both stop-start traffic and at high speeds. 
  • Emergency braking
    Cameras and sometimes radar sensors are used to identify obstacles ahead and warn the driver of an imminent collision. The system will slam on the brakes if there's no reaction. Advanced versions can recognise humans, cyclists, and animals, and plot their trajectory. Some cars can now swerve out of danger if they perceive it is safe to do so.
  • Lane-keeping assist
    Cameras monitor white lane markings and nudge the car back into line if it's drifting out of its lane. The latest technology keeps the car in the centre of the lane automatically.
  • Parking assist
    Ultrasonic sensors detect parking spaces large enough for the vehicle and then steer the car into bays, while the driver controls the accelerator and brake. Advanced versions control the entire manoeuvre and can drive the car out of tight spots too - even without the driver being in the car.

The most advanced cars integrate these together to develop a driving assist system that helps the car to 'drive itself' on well-marked roads. But there is a big asterisk next to this claim, as none of these current driver assist features have the capacity to address some of the more unpredictable situations that drivers often find themselves in - you wouldn't want to leave your car to navigate roundabouts or junctions, for example.

Inclement weather can also cause problems for the numerous cameras and sensors responsible for making all of this technology work properly. It's also worth noting you are still currently required to keep your hands on the wheel when using even the most advanced driver assistance tech.

In contrast, Audi claims that its luxury A8 saloon is ready to drive itself when legislation catches up and Tesla has said all its cars leave the factory capable of self-driving at a safety standard substantially greater than a human driver.

Irrespective of both these points, it doesn’t look like driverless cars will be here anytime soon. So, the questions for car buyers then: what driverless technology does each car manufacturer currently offer and who has the most advanced systems?

Manufacturers’ partial driverless technology

Alfa Romeo, Fiat and Jeep

As you will see throughout much of this list, many carmakers are actually part of a conglomerate. Even though Alfa Romeo, Fiat and Jeep sell very different cars, they are the same company (Ferrari is part of the same company, too) so there is a healthy amount of tech sharing – well, Fiat withstanding.

Fiat hit the headlines (twice) when crash test expert Euro NCAP retested two of its cars (the Punto and Panda) and awarded the first ever zero-star crash test ratings. While the lack of driverless technology didn’t help either of their cases, models further up the range do get driverless technology. The 500X boasts emergency braking and adaptive cruise control.

Alfa Romeo and Jeep are when things get more impressive though. Alfa Romeo's smaller MiTo and Giulietta aren’t much to write home about, but the newer Stelvio SUV and Giulia saloon are. Adaptive cruise control with stop/go is on offer as is lane keep assist. Motorists will have to settle for parking sensors, however, as Alfa is yet to sell a car that can park itself.

Jeep does though. Perhaps surprising for many UK buyers is that Jeep offers a complete range of autonomous tech, right from autonomous emergency braking to self-parking – and cherry on top is that these can even be specced on the small Renegade model.

Audi

Getting your head around Audi’s available autonomous technology is like winning the Euro Millions – it may seem impossible, but it can be done. The reason it is so hard is down to the sheer number of assistance systems – there are five variations of Audi’s ‘pre-sense’ anti-collision system alone.

There is good news though, almost all of Audi’s range can be specced with the major autonomous systems, even the entry-level A1 supermini. The key things to remember are, ‘pre-sense’ systems attend to autonomous braking, adaptive cruise control is available with stop/go provided a suitable gearbox is chosen (some features require an automatic gearbox). Audi is also working on autonomous valet parking.

The reason Audi has been kept separate from its sister companies VW, Skoda and Seat is because of Audi’s AI traffic jam assist. It is the first mainstream system that promises level 3 autonomy i.e. it can properly drive itself (although only up to about 38mph and legally you aren’t actually allowed to use such a system yet). Unfortunately, it is only available on the flagship A8 saloon.

BMW and Mini

BMW puts its driverless technology under the heading of ‘Intelligent’ motoring systems. These include ‘intelligent parking,' ‘intelligent driving’ and ‘intelligent safety.'

These bring the usual raft of lane departure warning systems, autonomous braking and adaptive cruise control (with stop/go), but being a luxury car brand, BMW goes one step further.

Its active protection system carries out tasks such as placing seats in the upright position and closing the windows and sunroof in the event of an accident. There is also remote parking using the car's key. While the most advanced technology is found on models such as the 7 Series and 5 Series, even entry-level cars such as the 1 Series and 2 Series can offer some of the goodies.

Mini isn’t as much of a market leader. The Mini ‘Driving Assistance’ or ‘Assistant’ is as autonomous as you will find on its models. Adaptive cruise and self-parking are included in the suite, but lane keeping is not. On the upside, the technology is available throughout the range.

Ford

Ford has stayed away from giving its driverless technology an overarching special name (for the time being at least…). It simply offers the various technologies as options or as standard. The new Focus and Fiesta are arguably the best representatives for Ford’s autonomous capabilities. The Fiesta (which has for a long time been the UK’s best selling car) can come with adaptive cruise control, which is impressive for a car of its price and size. While the Focus will happily park itself and brake in emergency situations.

Honda

Honda’s answer to driverless technology is called ‘Honda Sensing’. Under this umbrella Honda offers lane keep assist (which subtly keeps you in the middle of the lane and prevents unintentional departure from the road), emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and cross-traffic monitoring (used for reversing out of bay parking spaces). It is standard on the CR-V SUV and Civic, with other models only able to get in on some of the act. For example, the HR-V crossover can come with autonomous emergency braking.

Hyundai and Kia

Hyundai's 'SmartSense' brings lane-keeping assist and autonomous emergency braking, while adaptive cruise control and active park assist are on the menu as well but not as part of the same suite. If you want a tech-heavy car then one of Hyundai’s electrified cars is a good bet, either the Ioniq (available as electric or hybrid) or Kona Electric. That said, the Santa Fe SUV range also benefits from SmartSense.

Over at Hyundai’s sister company Kia, its naming system works a little differently, by the fact there isn’t an overarching name. Instead, you need to check whether the model you want comes with the tech you desire. Kia hasn’t been building a reputation for reliability and quality on nothing though, expect to find driverless tech on (trim level dependent) everything from the new Ceed hatchback to the sleek Stinger.

Infiniti, Nissan, Renault and Mitsubishi

Another huge tie-up of car manufacturers, and it is Nissan which claims the autonomous crown. Largely thanks to its ‘ProPilot’ technology which is available on just two models (for now) the Leaf and Qashqai. ProPilot is one of the more impressive systems on the market, especially as neither the Leaf nor the Qashqai is the most expensive car in their respective segment. Similar to Audi’s AI Traffic Jam Assist, ProPilot is a step closer to autonomous motoring.

Infiniti offers much of the same technology as Nissan, but ProPilot as such is yet to be included on its models in the UK. That said, it has crept into its range overseas, so could well become available in the UK in the future.

Renault is a little underwhelming if you are on the hunt for a tech fest. While it offers adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist, neither stand out amongst its rivals. That said, it has recently released some interesting autonomous concept cars, so could well become a leader in the future.

The last of this group is Mitsubishi, which actually has the best selling hybrid SUV in Europe – the Outlander PHEV. Of Mitsubishi’s model range, the Outlander PHEV is arguably the flagship when it comes to driverless technology – adaptive cruise control with stop/go function are on offer as well as lane keep assist.

Jaguar and Land Rover

Being premium car brands, Jaguar and Land Rover are under pressure to keep up with the Joneses when it comes to autonomous tech, with the Joneses being BMW, Mercedes and Audi. They are not quite on the same level but still offer a suite of tech called ‘InControl Driver Assistance’.

Here you will find the normal raft of technology, including adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and blind-spot monitoring.

Lexus and Toyota

Lexus is Toyota’s luxury car brand and has a long history with driverless technology. In 2007, it introduced autonomous parking into its range (well ahead of the competition) but found that its customers didn’t like the feature so removed the option a few years back.

This is interesting because if current trends are to be believed, car buyers do want such a feature. While a self-parking Lexus is not available, you can enjoy a range of safety systems which include lane departure assist and adaptive cruise control.

Toyota shares much of the same technology – even an iteration of the self-parking technology Lexus introduced in 2007. Collectively the tech is known as ‘Toyota Safety Sense’ and promises pre-collision warning (emergency braking) with pedestrian detection.

The smallest model in the range, the Aygo, is available with emergency braking and lane departure warning, whereas bigger models such as the RAV4 and Toyota C-HR come as standard with the entire bag of driverless goodies.

Mazda

i-Activsense is the name of Mazda’s autonomous technology. Thanks to a combination of radar, infrared and video cameras Mazda can offer lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control (or radar cruise control in Mazda-speak) with stop/go capability and emergency braking. Autonomous parking assist, however, is not included.

Most of the Mazda lineup can be specced with the above, including the impressive CX-5 SUV and recently updated Mazda 6. The smaller cars in the range, such as the Mazda 2 and MX-5 convertible do without adaptive cruise.

Mercedes and Smart

Mercedes first introduced adaptive cruise control (albeit in a much simpler form) back in 1999, and called it ‘Distronic’. The current iteration of Distronic is much more advanced and falls into the ‘Driving Assistance’ or ‘Driving Assistance Plus’ package Mercedes offers. The ‘Plus’ variant being a more comprehensive version of the former, adding ‘PRE-SAFE’ systems which prepare occupants for side or rear impacts in a similar fashion to BMWs. Even the new A-Class is available with an impressive collection of safety systems and the flagship S-Class is arguably a market leader.

The story is very different at sister company Smart. As a marque focused on making city cars, they arguably don’t need vehicles with the latest autonomous technology. At the same time, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection would be useful for when driving in built-up areas.

Peugeot, Citroen, DS and Vauxhall

Peugeot, Citroen, DS and Vauxhall are all part of the same company (collectively they are known as Stellantis, previously PSA) and as such have very similar autonomous technologies. All things considered, the technology the group has on offer is good.

DS cars can come with something called ‘Connected Pilot’ which the company claims is a step towards autonomous driving as it able to control speed, distance from the car in front and lane positioning without input from the driver.

Similarly, Citroen offers something called ‘Highway Driver Assist’, which combines adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist to help you down the road. Though Highway Driver Assist is currently only available with Citroen’s flagship SUV, the C5 Aircross.

Peugeot doesn’t have an autonomous suite per se, but offers much of the same technology. Perhaps most impressive in its range is the new 508, which amongst other things boasts an impressive self-parking feature.

Vauxhall only recently became part of the PSA family so shares less technology with the makes above, but that will likely change in the future. Regardless, Vauxhalls do currently come with a raft of driverless technology including self-parking features and adaptive cruise control.

Seat, Skoda, Porsche and Volkswagen

All four of these car makers are part of the same company and offer driverless technology which is very similar. All the main autonomous technology available today (model and spec dependent) and all are very capable systems.

For example, Skoda’s emergency braking and collision mitigation system works from a walking pace all the way past motorway speeds. While the new Porsche Cayenne is set to come with a competent self-parking feature. Likewise, many VWs will park themselves (even the relatively affordable Golf hatchback, which also includes adaptive control with most models) and Seats will happily ensure you don’t unintentionally leave your lane.

Volkswagen has now combined its driver assistance features to create Travel Assist, which will keep you in your lane and at a set distance from the car in front. You still need to be touching the steering wheel and alert, however.

Subaru

Subaru has a system it calls ‘EyeSight’. The name comes from the two cameras (i.e. eyes) at the top of the windscreen which analyses the road ahead. Eyesight consists of six safety systems, including adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and something called ‘lead vehicle start alert’, which warns you that the car in front has set off when you are busy daydreaming. All models in the Subaru UK range apart from the sporty BRZ are available with EyeSight.

Tesla

As headline-grabbing driverless technology goes, Tesla’s ‘Autopilot’ seems to be the best. First, there were numerous videos of ‘Autopilot’ software being tested on the road effortlessly driving people around, which created quite the stir. Since then, there have been a number of crashes involving people using Autopilot, some of them fatal.

Even so, Tesla claims that all the cars which leave its factory are capable of driving themselves to a high standard.

Volvo

Volvo has been seen as a leader in vehicle safety for some time now, but more recently it has been seen as a leaders in autonomous technology. Not only has the Swedish manufacturer agreed to supply Uber with thousands of self-driving cars, it also offers something called ‘Intellisafe’.

As you can probably guess based on the others on this list, that underneath this heading is adaptive cruise control, emergency city braking and lane-keeping aid. Various iterations of Intellisafe are available across most of the Volvo range, including the new V60 and S60 models.

 

 

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