Porsche InnoDrive is not your typical cruise control. It’s not even your typical adaptive cruise control, which uses sensors and cameras to match the speed of vehicles ahead and reduce your pedal inputs during highway drives.
Yes, InnoDrive still does that, but it goes much further. By utilizing precise map data, the car pulls information about the programmed drive route ahead, including curve angles and elevation changes, to operate the accelerator and brake for you in the quickest and most efficient way possible. And we do mean quickest.
We sampled the system in the 2017 Porsche Panamera Turbo on twisting rural roads in southern Germany, where the speed limit defaults to 100 kilometers per hour unless otherwise noted (which it rarely is). This was an absurdly fast speed for the roads at hand, with blind corners and often little more than a full lanes’ worth of width for both directions. We’re no strangers to briskly attacking a mountain road, which is helpful since the driver still does all of the steering, but even we were getting antsy as InnoDrive hauled itself through the varied mountain terrain.
After a while, the system’s capability was obvious and we started to trust it. The problem is, you can never trust what will be coming around that blind corner — a wide delivery truck, an animal, a fallen tree limb or a distracted driver drifting from their lane. And that’s on a proper 2-lane road. Yes, InnoDrive features automatic emergency braking, but that won’t do you as much good with such limited reaction times.
Of course, we don’t know of anywhere in the United States where such roads are limited at 60 miles per hour. The more likely speed would be 30, although you can override the system to something higher. In any event, you’re less likely to experience the same sort of white knuckle, roller coaster ride we did during the demonstration.
There are also multiple settings for the system when you opt for the Sport Chrono package. Sport mode is more aggressive with the accelerator and brake, whereas Normal is more relaxed. Porsche actually developed a Sport Plus setting, but those who sampled it determined it to be far too fast for comfort. Having sampled Sport, as described above, that’s saying something. Although it also speaks to the system’s capability if it’s effectively leaving something on the table.
At the same time, it’s hard not to question the overall value of InnoDrive. Doesn’t removing the throttle and brake control from the driver remove a big part of the reason you buy a performance car like a Porsche in the first place? Even if that Porsche is a Panamera or the recently unveiled 2019 Cayenne? Maybe that’ll be the case for some, but perhaps other, less talented drivers will enjoy experiencing their cars in a faster, safer way than they’d otherwise be able to do.
In any case, we’re guessing that InnoDrive’s other talents will be more appreciated. Its Traffic Jam Assist also handles the accelerator and brake when stuck in stop-and-go traffic at speeds up to 37 mph. Unlike at higher speeds, however, it does make steering inputs to keep you in your lane. This equals the systems offered by Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and others, which make the daily grind a far more pleasant experience.
There are other advantages as well. When applied to the Panamera E-Hybrid, InnoDrive uses the map data to plan ahead and store up battery power for upcoming hills and grades (the system scans two to three miles ahead). That improves efficiency. It’ll also work better in inclement weather than adaptive cruise control systems that strictly rely on sensors — map data, updated four times per year via the car’s Wi-Fi connection, isn’t effected by rain or snow. It’ll also adapt to changing speed limits (determined by map data or sign-reading cameras), although you can set it to observe a standard overrun of, say, 10 mph. Neat.
So although Porsche InnoDrive lives up to its name by being innovative, it certainly isn’t anywhere close to full autonomy. The driver still has a lot to do, and when we’re talking about Porsche, isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?