A future of self-driving cars looms ever closer, but for now they still require a human behind the wheel. Although you can’t buy a Nissan that will drive itself, you can buy one with ProPilot Assist, which takes much of the work out of driving.
This technology made its debut on the 2018 Nissan Rogue and is also available on the all-new 2018 Nissan Leaf electric vehicle. It’s tempting to call this self-driving technology, but Nissan makes a point of saying it isn’t because you absolutely must keep your hands on the wheel at all times.
Nissan instead calls it driving assistance technology, putting it somewhere in-between a fully autonomous car and one that relies solely on human inputs. It’s designed to take the tedium out of stop-and-go traffic rather than replacing the driver all together.
To activate ProPilot Assist, you simply press a little blue button on the steering wheel. Next, you set the Intelligent Cruise Control at the speed you want, just like you do with a regular cruise control system. Once lane markings are detected, which is noted by icons on the instrument cluster, ProPilot Assist takes over.
It controls steering, speed, and braking while you keep your hands lightly on the wheel. It will even take you all the way to a complete stop if needed. If the car is stopped for more than three seconds, simply tap the accelerator or press the resume button and ProPilot takes over once again.
We had the chance to try out this technology both on an open highway without any traffic and in rush hour congestion. It’s easy to use with clear indicators so you know when it’s on and when it’s off. Getting used to it, however, takes a little time.
It’s hard to rest your hands on the wheel and resist the urge to turn as the road curves. You have to let the car lead the dance. Once you get the hang of it, however, it becomes second nature. Driving in stop-and-go traffic has a similar learning curve. You’ll have your foot hovering over the brake at first, but once you see that it really does do what it’s supposed to do, then it’s easy to let ProPilot take over.
That’s when it gets tempting to take your hands off the wheel, but don’t do it. That’s not how Nissan designed the technology to work. They also know we’re all really bad at following directions so they’ve designed a warning system that’s impossible to ignore.
First it gives you a visual warning. Next, it sounds a tone to get your attention. If you still don’t put your hands on the wheel, the tone increases in frequency and eventually changes to something that sounds like a red alert out of a sci-fi flick. If you still don’t put your hands on the wheel, the system pulses the brake in one last effort to get you to pay attention before flipping on the hazard lights and bringing the car to a complete stop.
You can’t buy a fully autonomous car that lets you ignore the road just yet, but you can buy a Nissan with ProPilot Assist as a preview of our autonomous future.