Cars with partial driverless and autonomous technology

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

James Wilson
Apr 17, 2019

Tesla might market its cars as having 'Autopilot' but the truth is that you can't yet buy a driverless car, and it doesn't look like you;ll be able to for several years yet.

Even the most advanced driver assistance systems (including Autopilot) can't match a human driver in ideal conditions - on a well-marked, clear motorway in daylight.

But what manufactuers do offer is a tantalising glimpse of what driverless technology will offer when it eventually arrives. Nissan has ‘Propilot’, Honda has ‘Sensing’, Volvo has ‘Intellisafe’, Subaru has ‘EyeSight’ and Mercedes has Distronic.

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. The best systems operate in stop-start traffic and at high speeds. 
  • Emergency braking
    Cameras and sometimes radar sensors are used to identify obstacles ahead, an 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.
  • Lane keeping assist
    Cameras monitor white lane markings and nudge the car back into line if it's drifiting out of its lane. Teh katest 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 in to 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.

The most advanced cars integrate these together, enabling a car to drive itself on well-marked roads, but drivers still have to keep their hands on the wheel and maintain full concentration, as the technology is not completely failsafe and could require human intervention at any moment.

Even the cream of the crop will struggle in certain situations, namely adverse weather such as thick fog and snow.

Depending on who you speak to, you could come away thinking fully autonomous cars will be here tomorrow, or that they will never actually arrive. The truth is somewhere in between (as is the case with most things in life). Recently, John Krafcik, the CEO of Waymo, a sister company of Google and a market leader in autonomous vehicles, warned that driverless cars will always have constraints and the development of such vehicles is a very lengthy process.

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 car makes are actually part of a conglomerate. Even though Alfa, 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 recently hit the headlines (twice) when crash test experts 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 and Jeep are when things get more impressive though. In Alfa’s stable, the 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 which 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 transmission is chosen and 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’ (although the latter largely falls under intelligent driving).

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 and 5 Series, even entry-level cars such as the 1 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 braking in emergency situations.

Honda

Honda’s answer 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

Who hasn’t heard of ‘Hyundai SmartSense’? The answer: most people. Hyundai will be hoping that is set to change though as SmartSense is its moniker for technology aimed at keeping you safe on the road, which, as luck would have it, also falls under the heading of driverless tech.

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 standout amongst its rivals. That said, it has recently released some interesting autonomous concept cars, so could well become a leader in the future.

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 Jones’ when it comes to autonomous tech. With the Jones’ 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.

Which is interesting, because if current trends are to believed, car buyers do want such a feature. While self-parking a 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 vernacular) 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 Mazda6. The smaller cars in the range, such as the Mazda2 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 Automobiles and Vauxhall

Peugeot, Citroen, DS Automobiles and Vauxhall are all part of the same company (collectively they are known as PSA) and as such have very similar autonomous technologies. All things considered, the technology PSA 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 as 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 makes 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 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.

 

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 analyse 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 handful of crashes involving people using Autopilot.

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 leaders in vehicle safety for some time now, but more recently they have been seen as 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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