You may have heard of autopilot, a feature used for decades in aircraft. As it relates to cars, autopilot’s history reportedly includes brief circulation in the 1950s as a term for cruise control. Today, such queries undoubtedly refer to Autopilot, a branded feature from Tesla that combines lane-centering steering with adaptive cruise control.
Tesla’s Autopilot dates back to October 2014, when the California automaker unveiled the driver-assist tech. Its name has proven controversial, since it still requires you to pay attention and take over as necessary. Some high-profile crashes have involved drivers allowing Autopilot to drive the car with virtually no intervention. Tesla has since updated the system to shut off if it detects extended hands-free driving, but safety and consumer advocates still say its name is misleading.
Three cars, all Teslas, offer Autopilot for 2019:
- Tesla Model 3
- Tesla Model S
- Tesla Model X
If you want Autopilot per se, only Tesla has it. But many other cars offer advanced driver-assistance features that rival — and in some cases exceed — Autopilot’s primary capabilities. Adaptive cruise control with lane-centering steering is widely available: Fifty-five models for 2019 offer both capabilities all the way down to a standstill in stop-and-go traffic:
- Acura: RLX
- Audi: A4/S4, A5/S5/RS5, A6, A7, A8, E-Tron, Q5/SQ5, Q7, Q8
- BMW: 5 Series, 6 Series, 7 Series, X3, X4
- Ford: Edge
- Hyundai: Nexo
- Infiniti: QX50
- Kia: Niro EV, K900
- Lexus: GS, RX, LC, ES, LS, UX
- Lincoln: Nautilus
- Maserati: Ghibli, Levante, Quattroporte
- Mercedes-Benz: AMG-GT 4-Door, A-Class, C-Class, E-Class, S-Class, CLS-Class, GLC-Class, GLE-Class, GLS-Class, SL-Class
- Nissan: Altima, Leaf, Rogue, Rogue Sport
- Porsche: Cayenne
- Toyota: Corolla Hatchback, RAV4
- Volvo: S60, S90, V60, V90, V90 Cross Country, XC40, XC60, XC90
Caveats abound. The above capabilities require the right conditions — typically a divided highway with limited entry, in some cases intuited via GPS. And not all of the vehicles above offer such features as standard equipment. In many such cars, you’ll need to spend extra on optional features or trim levels. Some of the vehicles above include hybrid or plug-in-hybrid variants, too.
Five model-year 2019 cars go beyond what’s above by offering systems that combine adaptive cruise control with true hands-free steering, which centers the car in certain highway conditions without your needing to hold the wheel. All of them require you to pay attention and take over as necessary, intuited by a driver-facing camera that monitors you in real time.
- BMW: 3 Series, 8 Series, X5, X7
- Cadillac: CT6
Tesla’s Autopilot doesn’t offer hands-free capability as of this writing, though that may change, as the automaker frequently tweaks the system’s capabilities through over-the-air updates in cars currently on the road.
With or without Autopilot or some variation thereof, no production vehicle can currently drive itself. The closest system to that reality was to be the Audi A8’s new Traffic Jam Pilot system, which could putter along in low-speed traffic while you watched a video or played games with backseat passengers. But regulatory concerns have held up Traffic Jam Pilot’s debut. It currently remains unavailable.
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