There’s no doubt about it: autonomous cars are coming. And while fully autonomous cars are undoubtedly still a few years away, several automakers are rolling out semi-autonomous systems that are getting ever closer to the idea of jumping inside the car and letting it take over from there. The seven systems we’ve listed below — all of which are out right now or are coming out very shortly — represent the best in autonomous driving technology you can buy today, even if they don’t quite let you sleep or watch TV while you’re cruising down the road.
Audi Traffic Jam Pilot
Expected to be out late this year or early next year in the Audi A8 sedan, Traffic Jam Pilot isn’t a fully autonomous or automated technology that’s designed to be used in all cases, but it’s a system that can take over driving where you (likely) desire autonomous technology the most — in heavy traffic. Functional below 60 kilometers per hour (around 37 miles per hour), the system can steer, accelerate, brake and even come to a complete stop and start up again so you don’t have to constantly move on and off the brakes and make minor adjustments to the steering wheel as you sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic. No word yet on whether you have to keep your hands on the wheel (or periodically touch the wheel) in order to keep the feature active, like some other systems.
BMW Traffic Jam Assistant
Much like Audi’s Traffic Jam Pilot system above, BMW’s Traffic Jam Assistant isn’t a fully autonomous system to be used at all times, but rather a semi-autonomous feature that takes away some of the monotony of sitting in heavy, bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go traffic. When you’re in such a setting (at very low speeds), Traffic Jam Assistant can take over all steering, braking and accelerating, meaning you no longer have to actually carry out the mind-numbing tasks of stop-and-go driving. Unfortunately, Traffic Jam Assistant generally requires you to keep your hands on the wheel, even if it’s doing the steering and working the pedals.
Cadillac Super Cruise
Cadillac bills its "Super Cruise" system as the "world’s first true hands-free driving system" on the theory that, unlike other systems, it doesn’t really require driver intervention: According to Cadillac, if you drive on the brand’s mapped routes, you can let the system drive your vehicle for hours on end without a problem — and without ever tapping the steering wheel to let the system know you’re there. Unfortunately, the caveat is that you have to drive on Cadillac’s mapped routes for the system to work — and right now, Cadillac has mapped a mere 130,000 miles of highways in the United States and Canada, far short of the 4.8 million total miles of road in the two countries. Regardless, the system is impressive, and it’s available right now in the Cadillac CT6 luxury sedan.
Nissan’s comprehensive ProPilot driver assist system is available on the new 2018 Nissan Leaf and is coming to the 2018 Infiniti Q50 sedan, which goes on sale shortly. Unfortunately, it’s probably the least autonomous of all the systems on this list: Like many adaptive cruise control systems, it can accelerate and brake for you, based on whatever speed you set and the actions of the vehicle ahead. Unlike many adaptive cruise control systems, it can also steer for you — but there’s a catch: You have to keep your hands on the steering wheel, basically, at all times. Remove your hands from the wheel for more than even just a few seconds and the car sounds warning chimes to remind you to get your hands back in place. The system also keeps you centered in your lane. It’s not fully autonomous, but we did sample a totally self-driving Infiniti Q70 and it navigated the real world in a point A to point B and back demo with no issues and no human intervention. Outside the U.S., the Nissan Serena (a minivan) gets a more comprehensive ProPilot system so, clearly, a self-driving Nissan is headed our way in the not too distant future.
Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot
The latest Mercedes-Benz E-Class debuts with a new system called Drive Pilot, which allows automated driving — and even lane changes — at virtually all speeds when weather and road conditions are right. Unfortunately, like all largely autonomous systems except the aforementioned Cadillac Super Cruise, you can’t simply remove your hands from the wheel and let the car do the work — regulations prohibit that — but you can keep your hands off the wheel for longer than with some other systems. Some tests say it’s possible for up to 45 seconds.
Tesla’s Autopilot system is the closest thing to autonomous technology, aside from Cadillac’s Super Cruise. When Autopilot first debuted, drivers could leave their hands off the steering wheel for long periods of time — but government regulations have limited that capability, and drivers now must make contact with the wheel every minute or two to let Autopilot know the driver hasn’t climbed into the back seat to take a nap. Still, when your hands are off the wheel, Autopilot does it all: It can slow down, speed up, change lanes and negotiate most corners and curves, even when road lines aren’t tremendously reliable.
Volvo Pilot Assist
Volvo’s Pilot Assist feature works much like Tesla’s Autopilot and Mercedes-Benz’s Drive Pilot: It boasts largely autonomous driving, but it still requires occasional inputs from the driver so the system can verify the driver is still in place. But notice the name. Volvo says this is not an autonomous system, but more of a driver’s aide. The feature, which is available on Volvo’s S90 sedan, V90 station wagon and XC60 crossover, will steer around most gradual bends and can speed up or slow down the vehicle based on the actions of cars in front.
Editor’s Note: Since this is new technology, some terms are new or being newly applied. To make some minor semantic differences clearer to the average consumer, we’ve created a separate article that points out the differences and similarities in words like “Self-driving” and “Autonomous.” For consistency, we have also updated the text in this article.