Nissan's ProPilot Assist Is Big Step In Autonomous Driving

When I tell people I’m test-driving a vehicle that has autonomous driving features like the Nissan Rogue with ProPilot Assist, it tends to prompt a quick and visceral response. Either the person is excited and intrigued, or completely repelled and despondent over the future of driving.

Which is to say that automakers have an uphill battle in marketing these features to the latter.

Even seasoned media members need a tutorial in how to use the system in order to feel comfortable with it, so created a 5-minute video which lives on its website for journalists. The general public can access the site; the video comes up during a Google search for Nissan ProPilot. 

The system is actually quite simple to use, similar to Cadillac’s Super Cruise, which I previously wrote about.

There are three notable differences, however:  the Nissan ProPilot works on roads other than divided freeways, it requires drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel (more on that later) and it’s available in a much less expensive vehicle. The Cadillac CT6 model I drove was nearly $90,000, while the 2018 Nissan Rogue I tested sells for just under $37,000. The system is also available in the 2018 Nissan Leaf EV and 2019 Nissan Altima.

While the system does require that hands be on the steering wheel, and will warn you if it thinks they aren’t, in reality it seems only one hand has to be in use. It will at least let you get away with one hand for a while.

Let’s face it, it’s not uncommon to drive with one hand if you are on a straightaway. Having to drive at all times with both hands at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions would result in driver fatigue. 

While I understand the need for driver attentiveness at this point in the autonomy game, I'm looking forward to the day when the tech is good enough that I can take my hands off the wheel and my eyes off the road. Certainly there are times--like long road trips--when this could really come in handy. The ability to eat more safely while driving comes to mind.

Drivers don't while at the wheel in Europe (the Germans in particular think we are savages when it comes to our abuse of our vehicles) but it’s a common occurrence for Americans during road trips or even normal dally commutes. It’s why there are so many cup holders in today’s vehicles. 

I left the airport in Portland, Ore., and drove to Silverton to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s Gordon house, which is open to the public for tours and is featured in the photo above.

I had the ProPilot up and running (without having watched the video) within five minutes of getting on the freeway. It’s very intuitive to use, much like cruise control. Even if the ProPilot lane assist isn’t engaged, it also has intelligent cruise control, which is to say it slows down if the car in front of you slows down, and then speeds back up to your selected speed once the lane is clear.

This is such a wonderful feature, I long for the day when all cars and trucks have it. It is a godsend in stop-and-go traffic and will all but eliminate rear-end collisions. 

Over the course of a week, I drove upwards of 400 miles and found the Rogue to be very comfortable with all the necessary features, including great seats (8-way power driver seat including 2-way lumbar support) and ample storage room even without folding down the back seats.

My phone connected easily with the car’s NissanConnect navigation and stereo system via Apple CarPlay.

From a design perspective, the lines of the car are aerodynamic and stylish, and the “Monarch Orange” paint job was eye-catching without being over-the-top.

Fuel economy (25 miles per gallon city and 32 mpg highway for an average of 27 mpg) was adequate, but not outstanding. It does have great pickup with its 170 horsepower and 175 lb.-feet of torque, so I’m willing to trade a little gas mileage for decent merging and passing abilities. 

All in all, this is a great car for the money. And even if you're in the “no thanks” camp for autonomous features, I invite you to at least give it a try. What might sound scary and at first induce a little palm-sweating ends up being a wonderful safety feature, since it keeps you from drifting into another lane or rear-ending another car. What’s not to like about that?

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