Cars with Autopilot in 2019

Cars with Autopilot

The term ‘autopilot’ has been used for decades within the aircraft industry, enabling pilots to reduce their cognitive load by allowing an aircraft to practically fly itself during “cruising” portions of the trip. The same is now happening with cars as ‘autopilot’-like features are making their way into vehicles, allowing drivers to let the cars drive themselves on certain portions of the trip, like freeways.

Tesla most famously branded its self-driving features as “Autopilot”, but many other car manufacturers are now including similar self-driving features as part of their driving assistance option packages.

This article provides a breakdown of who offers what, but first, we’ll go through a bit of background and explanation of terms.

Self-Driving Car Levels: A Brief Overview

First, let’s define exactly what constitutes ‘autopilot’-like features. Automation in cars can take many different forms, from basic driver assistance features, like cruise control, to full self-driving capabilities. The industry even has a set of levels to help classify this automation.

Level 0No automation
Level 1Semi-automated systems, like cruise control.
Level 2Semi-automated systems, like steering, speed and braking.
Level 3Primary driving functions are automated under some conditions.
Level 4Primary driving functions are automated under most conditions.
Level 5Primary driving functions are automated under all conditions.

Learn more about this by reading our article on SAE self driving levels.

Autopilot Definition

Autopilot is a generic term used in multiple industries, particularly aircraft, and generally means that something can guide itself without human intervention. In relation to cars in 2019, most mainstream automobile manufacturers are focused on, Level 2 autonomy. This level allows the vehicle to take over most steering, acceleration and braking functions, but still requires that the driver remain fully attentive to the driving situation and be able to intervene at any moment.

That means, today, autopilot really means ‘assisted driving’ and not ‘self driving’ since the driver still has to be alert and attentive at all times. It won’t be until Level 4 or Level 5 cars hit the roads that the true promise of full self-driving will be a reality. Currently, that’s not expected to happen until 2022 (although the team at Tesla is pushing hard to do so sooner, since all cars sold with Hardware 3 should be able to do so).

Core Autopilot Features

At minimum, we define autopilot (Level 2) to include the following features for use on freeways and highways with “controlled access” (i.e., they have on-ramps and off-ramps and no-cross traffic intersections):

  • Stop-and-Go Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC)
    • Like traditional cruise control from the past, you set your speed and the car maintains that speed.  However, with Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), the car uses radar and/or cameras to maintain a following-distance from the car in front of you, automatically slowing down or speeding up, as needed.  
    • In addition, newer ACC systems are now able to slow down all the way to a stop and then automatically resume as traffic gets moving again. This is crucial for drivers who commute in heavy traffic urban environments.
  • Automated, Lane-Centering Steering
    • There are many systems that have what’s called “Lane Keeping Assist” (LKA), but these systems usually just help nudge a car back towards the center of the lane if a driver drifts. For ‘autopilot’ the vehicle should be able to keep itself centered in a lane and follow a freeway or highway lane, as long as the turns and curves are generally fairly mild (i.e. no sharp curves).  

Other autopilot features that are useful, but not critical for the ‘autopilot’ designation (as of 2019), are:

  • Automated Lane Changes
    • Automated Lane Changing allows a vehicle to automatically change lanes (on freeways) after the driver has initiated or approved a lane change maneuver.  It will only change lanes once it’s safe to do so (using built-in sensors to detect nearby cars).
  • Autopilot on All Roads
    • Currently, most autopilot systems are designed to primarily handle freeways and highways that are “controlled access roads”, meaning that they have on-ramps and off-ramps, so there’s no possibility of cross-traffic, at an intersection, for example.  Some systems allow Level 2 autopilot features to work on any road where the markings are clear, however, the driver must be fully engaged to watch for cross-traffic, stop signs and traffic lights.
  • Follow Navigation Route (freeways only)
    • This system requires allows the vehicle to automatically follow a navigation route on freeways only (“on-ramp to off-ramp”), changing lanes as needed, even handling freeway interchanges. Once the vehicle is off the freeway, the driver takes over again.

Presently only Tesla is able to achieve the additional three mentioned above with their Enhanced Autopilot option on ‘Hardware 2’ vehicles.

Isn’t This Just Cruise Control with Lane Centering?

If you step back and look at the core of what’s being provided, we’re really talking about a better cruise control with the ability to steer itself (keep the vehicle centered in the lane). However, the second part (steering) is critical and one of the most difficult tasks, which we’ll explain below.

Lane Keeping Assist vs Lane Centering (steering)

One of the most confusing aspects of choosing a good autopilot system is understanding the difference between what’s often called “Lane Keeping Assist” (LKA) and automated steering where the system is actually keeping the car centered at all times with no driver input (other than hands on the wheel, if the system requires it).

Almost all major manufacturers have some sort of LKA functionality, however, that usually means helping to move the vehicle back to the center of the lane if it drifts. Some systems are robust enough where you could keep your hands off the wheel for a short period of time so it feels like automated steering to a certain degree.

In reality, the future systems will be ones that can accurately identify the road and combine that with map data to ensure the car can steer itself on the road as good or better than a human driver. So far, only Tesla and GM’s Super Cruise are able to do that, but only in certain conditions (e.g. the road only has mild curves).

The bottom line is, if you see “Lane Keeping Assist”, be sure to dig into that feature and test drive it on the freeway to understand whether it automatically keeps the system centered in the lane automatically, and how well it does it. The last thing you want is a false sense of security and have the car drift into another lane or off the road.

What About Basic Safety Features?

Most all cars that have autopilot-like features, also have fairly common automated safety systems included (called Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) within the industry).  These core safety features include:

  • Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) to avoid a front-end collision if a large object is detected ahead
  • Blind Spot Monitoring to alert a driver if another car is in the blind spot
  • Lane Departure Warning to alert the driver if they are drifting out of the lane

All these features are “must-have” today and you should double check to ensure they are included with your vehicle and package options.

Tesla includes these as part of standard Autopilot (see Autopilot vs. Enhanced Autopilot).

Autopilot Technology Providers

Historically, most auto-manufacturers have relied on Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), like Bosch, etc. to provide parts and technologies for their cars.  This allows the auto manufacturers to concentrate on developing and marketing the core cars themselves while other companies focus on specialized parts and technology.

Mobileye, which was purchased by Intel, is argubaly the leading OEM in providing autopilot technology to auto manufacturers. They famously provided Autopilot technology for the first-generation Tesla Model S vehicles that came with Enhanced Autopilot. Later, Tesla began to develop their own technology.  Today Mobileye is providing autopilot-like technology to manufacturers such as Audi, BMW and Nissan.

That said, many car manufacturers are developing their own technology as they feel it’s critical as a future differentiator. Tesla is most famous in this regard, having created a sophisticated Autopilot system using a neural network based on cameras.  Toyota, Honda and Subaru have also created their own systems.

Why does it matter? Generally speaking, dedicated OEMs like Mobileye can innovate faster than auto manufacturers. However, some auto manufacturers like Tesla are innovating so quickly that they push over-the-air software updates to their cars, just like your smartphone. Most traditional auto manufacturers don’t update software, requiring you to purchase a new model year instead.

Evaluating Autopilot Quality

Most auto manufacturers claim to have some sort of self-driving capability, whether it’s basic Adaptive Cruise Control or Lane Keeping Assist, or a combination of both.  However, simply having those features doesn’t mean they work well.

These are generally the most important criteria for autopilot functionality:

  • Availability – Is the system available on all roads or only certain roads or freeways (that have been previously mapped, for example)?
  • Lane Centering Accuracy – How well the vehicles tracks the lanes and stays centered without direct driver input is critical to a good autopilot system. Most systems today handle clearly marked freeways with mild turns, however, sharp turns and/or turns at higher speeds are usually not supported. This is NOT Lane Keeping Assist (LKA) that simply corrects the car back into the lane if it drifts.
  • Smooth Acceleration and Deceleration – Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) has been around for a while, but ensuring the vehicle is able to maintain a reasonable distance and smoothly accelerate and decelerate is not always that easy, especially down to a full stop.
  • Attentiveness Monitoring – How does the system monitor attentiveness? Most check that your hands are on the wheel, but some also use cameras to check that your eyes are on the road.
  • Emergency and Evasive Actions – When you’re traveling at freeway speeds, it’s critically important that autopilot system can detect and ideally take evasive actions if the situation warrants it. This is probably the most difficult thing for autopilot system to get right since there are so many different unexpected situations that can happen in the real world and is one of the reasons most systems require the driver to stay attentive at all times.

While we have not personally tested each system, the criteria above are what we watch out for in reviews and videos to understand how well each autopilot system performs.

Vehicles with Autopilot Features

Top Cars with Autopilot for 2019

While there are many ‘autopilot’-like systems available from car manufacturers today, they are generally a combination of Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) and Lane Keeping Assist (LKA). As mentioned previously LKA by itself only nudges a car back to the center of the lane, but does not keep it centered.

The cars below are ones that are generally considered the top cars with autopilot and do a good job automatically keeping a car centered in the lane.

Top Cars with Autopilot:

  • 2019 Tesla Model 3, S and X
  • 2019 Cadillac CT6
  • 2019 Mercedes Benz E-Class and S-Class
  • 2019 BMW X5 and 3 Series
  • 2019 Nissan Leaf / Rogue
  • 2019 Infiniti QX50
  • 2019 Audi A6 / A8
  • 2019 Volvo XC90 / XC60 / XC40

We go into more detail on each one below, so read on.


Tesla

Overview:
Tesla has long been the leader of the pack in terms of autopilot functionality in cars, even calling their system ‘Autopilot’. Not only is their system one of the most sophisticated and accurate systems on the road, it’s continually updated over-the-air (just like your smartphone), so the vehicles just keep getting better and better.

For more information, read our detailed review on Tesla Autopilot.

What It’s Called:
Autopilot (the option package is called ‘Enhanced Autopilot’)

Supported Models:
All current Tesla vehicles (the Tesla Model S, Model X and Model 3) all support Autopilot (called Enhanced Autopilot) as an option.  Older Tesla models (pre-2016) with ‘Hardware 1’ have an older version of Autopilot that doesn’t have all the current features.

Core Features:

  • Availability – Tesla Autopilot is available on most roads, far more than other systems. However, this means drivers must pay attention at all times and not use it inappropriately.
  • Adaptive Cruise Control – Full start and stop functionality. Excellent and generally smooth acceleration and deceleration.
  • Lane Centering – Best-in-Class lane centering and is able to work on a variety of roads.
  • Attentiveness Monitoring – Hands on wheel (alert if off more than ~ 15 seconds)
  • Other Features –  Automatic Lane Changing, Navigate-on-Autopilot allow the system to navigate itself on freeways to a destination (on-ramp to off-ramp)

Verdict:
The best of the best, especially with Navigate-on-Autopilot that automatically routes the vehicle on closed-access freeway systems (on-ramp to off-ramp). However it’s so powerful it can be used almost anywhere, meaning it’s up to the driver to pay attention and use it properly.


Cadillac

Overview:
GM is arguably one of the top innovators in self-driving technology, having launched its innovative Super Cruise technology on the Cadillac CT6 and with its work on Cruise – a subdivision working on creating fully-self driving fleet vehicles (like taxis).  

What It’s Called:
Super Cruise

Supported Models:
2018, 2019 Cadillac CT6

Core Features:

  • Availability – Limited to mapped US interstates
  • Adaptive Cruise Control – Full start and stop functionality
  • Lane Centering – Excellent
  • Attentiveness Monitoring – Sophisticated eye tracking using IR cameras
  • Other Features – manual lane change only (no automated lane changing yet).

Verdict:
The Super Cruise system is right behind Tesla’s (and some argue as good, if not better). By restricting the roads where it can be used and strictly monitoring driver attentiveness using eye tracking, it limits the mistakes that can be made by drivers, particularly older drivers (Cadillac’s primary demographic).


Volvo

Overview:
Volvo has always been a leader in safety technology and has recently added driver assistance enhancements to help relieve drivers from fatigue during long freeway trips.

What It’s Called:
Pilot Assist (the latest version is technically Pilot Assist II)

Supported Models:
All 2019 Volvo models including XC90 / XC60 / XC40 and sedans.

Core Features:

  • Availability – Any road with clear lane markings
  • Adaptive Cruise Control – Full start and stop functionality
  • Lane Centering – Fair, may sometimes drift from lane
  • Attentiveness Monitoring – Checks if driver is holding steering wheel
  • Other Features – none

Verdict:
Volvo’s Pilot Assist II is only fair when it comes to autopilot quality. It’s helpful in straight stop-and-go traffic, but we wouldn’t trust the driving to Pilot Assist on roads with curves as it has challenges staying in the lanes.


Mercedes-Benz

Overview:
Mercedes actually helped pioneer adaptive cruise control in the late 1990s with it’s high-end S-class sedan.  As a luxury car provider, Mercedes has continually ensured that it’s vehicles have the latest technology available. Mercedes works with Bosch and NVIDIA to power its systems.

What It’s Called:
Intelligent Drive

Supported Models:
E-Class and S-Class sedans

Core Features:

  • Availability – Any roads with clear lane markings
  • Adaptive Cruise Control – Full start and stop functionality.  Will also adjust speed to curves based on map data.
  • Lane Centering – Good with gentle curves.
  • Attentiveness Monitoring – Hands must be on steering wheel
  • Other Features – Active Lane Change Assist, automated remote parking

Verdict:
The Mercedes system does a good job with autopilot functionality and nicely ties map data to the driving system, for example, helping to slow the vehicle around bends as needed.


BMW

Overview:
BMW utilizes the Mobileye / Intel system in their Driving Assistant package that includes a tri-focal front camera and radar.  The system is not updated over the air and must be taken into the dealer for updates.

What It’s Called:
Driving Assistant Pro with Extended Traffic Jam Assistant

Supported Models:
Available on select 2019 models, including BMW X5 7 and 3 series.

Core Features:

  • Availability – Controlled-access highways, and on surface streets at speeds less than 37 miles per hour
  • Adaptive Cruise Control – Full start and stop functionality
  • Lane Centering – Basic lane centering / steering (however, reports of ping-ponging between lanes)
  • Attentiveness Monitoring – Eye tracking
  • Other Features –  Automatic lane changing upon driver request and clear surroundings.

Verdict:
The BMW system is loaded with features but it’s lane centering (crucial for autopilot), leaves something to be desired.


Nissan / Infiniti

Overview:
Nissan and Infiniti have come a long way in bringing practical safety and self-driving technology to the masses. It’s Nissan ProPilot is available on lower-end models such as the Nissan Rogue.

What It’s Called:
ProPilot Assist

Supported Models:
2019 Nissan Rogue and Nissan LEAF
2019 Infiniti QX50

Core Features:

  • Availability – Roads with clear markings on both sides, above 37 MPH.
  • Adaptive Cruise Control – Full start and stop functionality, but must press accelerator if stopped for more than three seconds.
  • Lane Centering – Fair, more like Lane Keeping Assist
  • Attentiveness Monitoring – Hands on steering wheel
  • Other Features – Parking assist

Verdict:
Nissan and Infiniti’s ProPilot system does an admiral job brining basic autopilot features to the masses. Automated lane centering is just fair.

VW / Audi / Porsche

Overview:
The Volkswagen Group is the parent company of several brands, including VW, Audi, and Porsche. Audi has recently made aggressive moves into self-driving, including the first Lidar unit in a consumer vehicle, the A8, in addition to its new zFAS controller that integrates sensor inputs into a single computing unit, similar to Tesla. Unfortunately, it’s not releasing the Level 3 version of the A8 in the US due to regulation concerns. So, for now autopilot functions in Audi are similar to others.

What It’s Called:
Active Lane Assist with Stop & Go (for higher speeds) and Traffic Jam Assist (for lower speeds).
The future, Level 3, version that will be hands-off in speeds under 37 MPH, will be called “Traffic Jam Pilot”. It’s currently available in some other countries, but not yet in the US. There’s also a system called “Adaptive Drive Assist” for foreign markets.

Supported Models:
2019 Audi A8, A6 and most 2019 models

Core Features:

  • Availability – Roads with clear markings on both sides. Active Lane assist works over 37 MPH, while Traffic Jam Assist works under 37 MPH
  • Adaptive Cruise Control – Full start and stop functionality, but must press resume if stopped for longer periods.
  • Lane Centering – Fair, more like Lane Keeping Assist
  • Attentiveness Monitoring – Hands on steering wheel
  • Other Features –  Remote controlled parking on A6 and A8

Verdict:
While Audi has been aggressively diving into advanced autonomous technologies, it hasn’t yet translated into a usable product for the US that’s anything beyond what other companies currently offer.

Other Manufacturers of Note


Toyota / Lexus

Toyota has the Toyota Safety Sense (TSS) system, the latest version being TSS 2.0. Lexus calls their system the Lexus Safety System (LSS) and the automation Lexus CODRIVE. TSS 2.0 is currently available in the 2019 RAV4 and 2019 Corolla. Both Lexus and Toyota use a feature called “Lane Tracing Assist” which allows the vehicle to center itself in a lane, but is not as robust as Tesla, Cadillac or BMW.


Honda / Acura

Honda has the Honda Sensing Suite that includes ACC and Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS). With Acura it’s called AcuraWatch and also comes with LKAS. As with the Toyota / Lexus system, it allows the vehicle to center itself in the lane but isn’t particularly sophisticated and requires constant vigilance.

Conclusion

Autopilot-like functions are becoming more and more mainstream as technology improves. By 2022, most car manufacturers will be offering some sort of self-driving capability.

Here’s What’s Important to Know

When evaluating autopilot-like self driving systems, the main thing to look out for is Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) and whether it handles starting and stopping at all speeds and on what kinds of roads. Then learn how well the vehicle can identify roads and stay in the center of the lane. Most manufacturers tout “Lane Keeping Assist” (LKA) as a way to help automate steering, but that’s a far cry from something like Tesla’s Autopilot system or Cadillac’s Super Cruise that are able to stay steadily centered in the lanes while driving.

If you’re not sure, check out videos on YouTube – enthusiasts and professionals often test out the systems to provide their opinions and real-word examples.

Also, ask the dealer how the system can be updated since technology and software changes so quickly. In Tesla’s case the Autopilot system is continually updated over-the-air with software updates. Most other auto manufacturers require the updates occur at the dealer during regular service updates.

Either way, the good news is that more and more cars will have autopilot features and help cars become much safer in the years to come.