Nissan is launching its new semi-autonomous ProPilot Assist system in the Rogue crossover, its best-selling vehicle, before it arrives in the all-new electric Leaf next year.
The system uses a camera and radar to allow a vehicle to steer itself in the middle of a lane on the highway, while maintaining a safe distance from the vehicle in front of it. Nissan sales and marketing boss, Christian Meunier, said that he expects around 30 percent of Rogues to be equipped with the feature.
Unlike some competing systems, ProPilot Assist isn’t meant for anything resembling hands-off driving. It’s only there to make your life easier and safer, especially if you’re flaking out, hence the “Assist” part of the name. If it senses you’ve let go of the wheel, alarms will start going off within about 10 seconds with increasing urgency until you grab it again. If not, the system will slowly shut itself down and bring the vehicle to a stop in the lane it is currently driving in with the hazard lights on.
I recently had the opportunity to take a prototype Rogue fitted with ProPilot Assist on a short drive in New York City. It quickly locks onto lane markers and engages, but needs two well-defined lines to work. Faded paint will cause it to deactivate, as will the veering lines at exit ramps. It’s at its best in a center lane, where it holds itself dead center, even through wide radius curves. If they're too tight for the speed the vehicle is traveling at, ProPilot Assist will alert the driver to take back full control.
More impressive than its lane-keeping ability is the adaptive cruise control component of the system. This isn’t a new concept, but many cars so equipped apply the brakes abruptly when the car they’re following slows down or one pulls into their lane, often jarring passengers. ProPilot Assist has the same smooth touch as a very alert driver, and works in stop-and-go traffic, as long as the vehicle doesn’t stay stationary for very long.
Overall, ProPilot Assist is a step behind similar systems that Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac and Volvo currently offer, but is far ahead of anything available from Nissan's peers in the mainstream automotive segment. Nissan has sketched out a roadmap toward a fully autonomous car by 2022, however, so the abilities of its technology should increase quickly and dramatically in the coming years.
ProPilot Assist will be available initially only on the top of the line Rogue SL equipped with an optional Platinum Package at a starting price of $34,875.