When I heard the new Lexus LS460 flagship sedan could park itself, I knew there had to be a catch. Maybe it would only do half the job, or require a parking space twice the length of the car — or some other unreported disclaimer. I went to Detroit yesterday to try it myself, determined to discover and report the ugly truth. The truth, it turns out, is that the car freakin' parks itself. It really does it. Line it up, and the optional Advanced Parking Guidance System does the hard part. This is the coolest spectacle any of us jaded automotive journalists has seen since the retractable-hardtop convertible.
Here's how it works, starting with parallel parking: You pull up alongside a space, making sure to pass the rear car before aligning next to the front car. A sonar sensor on the front fender measures the length of the space and your distance from the cars. Put the car in Reverse, and the rearview camera, which comes with the required navigation system, presents a wide rear view on the in-dash display. (This feature comes with the optional navigation system, which is a prerequisite for APGS.) Pressing the parallel-parking icon at the bottom of the touch-screen places a simple green square roughly over the parking space.
Arrows let you adjust its position.
Once it's centered, you press OK, take your hands off the wheel and use only the brake to ease the car backward.
The steering wheel flings itself around under control of the electric power steering, angling you in. All you have to do is keep the speed low enough and stop the car when the display shows that you're closing on the rear car's bumper.
Then you put it in drive, square the car and you're done. Basically, the car controls only the steering. If you let it, it will drive into the car behind you. Though it may change in the future, APGS doesn't tell you when a space is too small for the car. For now, it lets you try, no matter how small the space.
A few conditions can interfere: If you pull up too close alongside the front car, the box appears red instead of green, which means you're too close to make the cut, and the system won't work. If you go more than 2 mph, grab the steering wheel or step on the accelerator, it defeats the system and you're on your own. An incline of 4.5 degrees or greater may prevent APGS from working because the car won't reverse up a steeper hill under idle power alone.
If you push the back-in icon on the screen, APGS will guide the car backward into a parking-lot space, too. The only difference is that it lets you rotate as well as slide the target box, to adjust for whatever angle you're at when you begin. Overall, I was impressed by how close to perfectly the system placed the target initially.
Automatic parking won't come cheap. The car itself will cost roughly $60,000, and the parking feature requires the navigation and rearview camera option, which are sure to cost at least a couple grand. (On the current LS430, navigation comes only in option packages, the cheapest of which is $5,000.) Lexus says only that APGS will be a stand-alone addition priced "under $1,000" — which in marketing-speak means something like $995.
I have mixed emotions about automated parking. We've already bred a generation of drivers who can't stop short without ABS, can't stay on the road without a stability system and can't drive at all without an automatic transmission. As a Midwesterner, I pride myself on my ability to parallel park almost anything almost anywhere. Shouldn't everyone be required to pass that part of the driving test before they get licensed? ... Come to think of it, maybe automated parking isn't such a bad idea. The bumper it saves could be your own.
Parking lot screens