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 as cars with autopilot are rapidly turning into autonomous 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 companies are now including similar self-driving and autonomous vehicle features as part of their driving assistance option packages.

This article provides a breakdown of cars with autopilot and 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. Autonomous systems in cars and self-driving vehicles can take many different forms, from basic driver assistance features, like cruise control, to semi-autonomous, all the way 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. It is not fully autonomous driving.

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 fully autonomous 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 by 2020 as announced at Tesla Autonomy Day, since all new cars sold with Hardware 3 are much more powerful).

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 (automatically, without needing to activate the turn signal) 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 Full Self-Driving and Enhanced Autopilot options on ‘Hardware 2’ vehicles.

Isn’t This Just Automated Cruise Control with Lane Centering?

If you step back and look at the core of what’s being provided, we’re really talking about automated 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, in addition to collision warnings
  • 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.

AutoPilot Technology Suppliers

Historically, most auto-manufacturers have relied on Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), like Mobileye, Delphi and Bosch, etc. to provide autopilot parts and technologies for their cars, including things like navigation systems.  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 arguably the leading OEM in providing autopilot technology, via their EyeQ line of visual perception chips, 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 as Elon Musk wanted to push autonomous driving technology faster.  Mobileye previously focused on perception technology (i.e. identifying objects) with its EyeQ chips and it was up to the manufacturers to integrate driving control hardware and software but now Mobileye is also beginning to offer “full-stack” autopilot solutions. Today Mobileye is providing autopilot-like technology to manufacturers such as Audi, BMW and Nissan via their EyeQ 4 and EyeQ 5 chipsets.

NVIDIA is close behind Mobileye in developing autopilot features. In fact, their latest ADAS system is termed “Autopilot” (see this article). NVIDIA comes from a gaming / AI chipset development background and rightfully believes that more powerful AI-like system will be required in cars to achieve reliable full-self driving. They are supplying solutions to Volvo and Mercedes for their future vehicles.

New startups, like Aurora are also gaining momentum, but are still the research and development phase.

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.

Regardless, all manufacturers are beholden to regulatory approval before bringing new autonomous driving technology to the market.

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.

Cars with AutoPilot Features

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 features for 2019:

  • 2019 Tesla Model 3, S and X
  • 2019 Cadillac CT6
  • 2020 Kia Telluride / Hyundai Palisade
  • 2019 Audi A6 / A8
  • 2019 BMW X5 and 3 Series
  • 2019 Mercedes Benz E-Class and S-Class
  • 2019 Nissan Leaf / Rogue
  • 2019 Infiniti QX50
  • 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.

What It’s Called:
Autopilot and Full-Self Driving options. For more information, read our detailed review on Tesla Autopilot and Full Self-Driving options.

Technology Used:
Tesla uses eight cameras around the vehicle for a full 360 view, plus a front-facing radar and long-range ultrasonic sensors. It uses a powerful machine learning computer (called the Full Self-Driving Computer, aka Hardware 3) which began rolling out in early 2019.

Supported Models:
All current Tesla vehicles (the Tesla Model S, Model X and Model 3) all support Autopilot and Full Self-Driving features as an option, AP2 and above.  Older Tesla models (pre-2016) with AP1 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) with powerful features continually rolling out. 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

Technology Used:
Super Cruise packages a variety of technology from suppliers including Intel’s Mobileye platform, Trimble RTX for positioning, forward facing cameras, side cameras, radar plus an internal camera from FOVIO for eye tracking.

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 in our opinion. However while Tesla Autopilot is more powerful and sophisticated, the Super Cruise system is better suited to everyday drivers since it restricts use to freeways it has mapped in the US (most major ones) and strictly monitors driver attentiveness using eye tracking, therefore limiting mistakes that can be made by drivers, particularly older drivers (Cadillac’s primary demographic).


Kia / Hyundai

Overview:
The Hyundai Motor Group and Kia Motors are jointly owned entities that produce distinct but similar vehicles using common platforms and parts. In 2019 Hyundai invested in self-driving startup Aurora, but that technology has not made it to public release yet. Currently, Kia and Hyundai offer Level 2 technology in some of their 2020 vehicles that is best-in-class outside of advanced systems like Tesla and GM Supercruise.

What It’s Called:
Lane Following Assist (LFA) and Smart Cruise Control w/ Stop and Go (SCC)

Technology Used:
Currently Hyundai / Kia used an in-house technology called HDA2 (Highway Driving Assist), but may in the future leverage technology from the Aurora investment. They also have worked with Intel / Mobileye in the past as well and likely use EyeQ sensors.

Supported Models:
2020 Hyundai Palisade, 2020 Kia Telluride, plus others.

Core Features:

  • Availability – Any road, well marked lanes under good conditions.
  • Adaptive Cruise Control – Full start and stop functionality
  • Lane Centering – Excellent
  • Attentiveness Monitoring – Hands on steering wheel detection
  • Other Features – Blind View Monitor which shows the side-view mirror camera if an obstacle is detected.

Verdict:
The Hyundai and Kia Level 2 driving-assist implementations are incredibly impressive and have gotten very positive reviews so far, with many people comparing it favorably to Tesla’s Autopilot, at least as far as basic adaptive cruise control and lane centering is concerned. For someone looking for a system to take the edge of the daily commute, it’s worth considering.


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 touting a Level 3 system in Europe which is unfortunately not yet in the US due to regulatory 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.

Technology Used:
Audi has recently made aggressive moves into self-driving, including the first Lidar unit in a consumer vehicle, the A8 (and now the A6 and Q8), in addition to its new zFAS controller that integrates sensor inputs into a single computing unit. They also work with Mobileye (EyeQ 4 chips) for perception inputs.

Supported Models:
2019 Audi A8, A6 and Q8

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.


BMW

Overview:
BMW has long had adaptive cruise control with rudimentary lane center, but with certain 2019 models, they are rolling out new technology. 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

Technology Used:
BMW utilizes the Mobileye EyeQ platform in the Driving Assistant package with control software from ZF, and on the newest models, the EyeQ 4 chip with a tri-focal camera set looking forward. It also has forward and rear radar sensors. With some options, it also includes an eye monitoring camera.

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

Core Features:

  • Availability – Up to 115 mph on roads with clear markings. Hands-free using eye sensor under 40 mph.
  • 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 and isn’t nearly as robust as Tesla’s during our tests. That said, at low speeds (under 40mph) in freeway traffic, the hands-free option (using eye-monitoring) is a nice option.


Volvo

Overview:
Volvo has always been a leader in safety technology and was one of the first companies to bring advanced safety systems and lane centering to its full lineup of vehicles. They recently have had some self-driving setbacks as they’ve decided to switch platforms, delaying more sophisticated autopilot-like features.

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

Technology Used:
Volvo currently leverages the Mobileye EyeQ 3 platform and has a front-facing camera and radar (Delphi’s RaCAM – Radar and Camera Sensor Fusion System, that sits on the windshield). In the future, they plan to switch from Mobileye to the NVIDIA DRIVE AGX platform.

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, but has been a bit behind lately in advancing autopilot features.

What It’s Called:
Driver Assistance Package PLUS package that includes options like Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC, Active Steering Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist and Active Lane Change Assist.

Technology Used:
Mercedes works with Bosch and NVIDIA to power its systems via a combination of camera and radar inputs.

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 fair job with autopilot functionality and nicely ties map data to the driving system, for example, helping to slow the vehicle around bends as needed.


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

Technology Used:
Nissan / Infiniti use the Mobileye EyeQ platform, leveraging forward camera and radar inputs.

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. Nissan announced ProPILOT 2.0 for Japan, which is much more advanced, but is unclear when it will come to the US at this point.

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.

However, for now, if you want the most powerful AutoPilot-like functionality, we’d opt for a Tesla or Cadillac with Super Cruise. That said, Hyundai / Kia is doing a great job on their latest vehicles, Audi is coming on strong and BMW, Nissan/Infiniti, and others will continue to expand their Mobileye offerings over the next few years. All other system are still fairly immature and require heavy attentiveness, but will be improving quickly in early 2020.

What’s Important to Know When Evaluating

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, called Lane Centering. Most manufacturers tout “Lane Keeping Assist” (LKA) as a way to help automate steering, but that’s different from Lane Centering and often 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.

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Manufacturers & OEMs

If you’re a manufacturer or OEM and you’d like us to evaluate your vehicle, technology or just want to provide additional information, feel free to contact us directly.