ProPilot Assist in the 2019 Nissan Rogue

ProPilot Assist in the 2019 Nissan Rogue (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

There are currently zero fully autonomous vehicles on the road today. But a lot of automakers are pushing out semi-autonomous functionality that ranges from adaptive cruise control to full-on hands-off-the-wheel in-lane cruising.

We’ve tested a few of these systems, and in general, the effect is reduced driving fatigue because the car can manage a lot of the stop-and-go acceleration that comes with driving on a highway.

Nissan initially launched its ProPilot Assist in the 2018 Nissan Rogue in the U.S., and we’ve also seen it in the 2018 Nissan Leaf. Previously, we’ve only experienced it in a short test, and it seemed like it worked well.

You must keep your hands on the wheel and pay attention to changing road conditions, but the overall goal of ProPilot Assist is to make highway driving a little less stressful.

How does it work?

Nissan calls ProPilot Assist a “hands-on” driving assistant. And it has two primary functions: to maintain a safe distance between you and the vehicle in front of you as well as keep you in your lane.

ProPilot Assist uses a front radar system and a front-facing camera located behind the rear-view mirror that not only detects the vehicle in front but also “see” the lane lines. This system is a combination of adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist, and it can be engaged once you are traveling on a well-marked highway by hitting the blue ProPilot Assist button on the steering wheel.

It’ll set your desired speed based on the speed you are currently traveling – just like cruise control. And because it’s the radar that detects vehicular distance, you can adjust the spatial relationship between your car and the car in front with a few taps of another button on the steering wheel.

But how does it really work?

I recently had a 6-hour round-trip highway drive to put the ProPilot Assist to the test in the 2019 Nissan Rogue, and I really liked it. Especially in stop-and-go traffic.

The ProPilot Assist system is one of the better systems out there. It’s very sensitive to driver input, and it’s excellent at detecting vehicles in front of you – both as you slow down and speed up.

I’ve been in some vehicles that are good at the slowing down part, but when it comes to taking off from a stop, they accelerate too quickly, only to slam on the brakes later – which sends mixed signals to the driver behind you.

The Rogue with ProPilot Assist, however, came to a smooth stop when traffic also came to a stop, and when it was time to go, a tap of the resume button on the steering wheel had the Rogue smoothly accelerating.

The lane-keep assist was also well done. Unless I was in a construction zone with criss-crossing and confusing lines, the cameras picked up the lane markings very well, keeping me centered in the lane with a minimum tug on the wheel. Even when I was in a construction zone and the vehicle tried to follow the incorrect lane lines, I didn’t feel like I had to struggle against the vehicle to get it to go where I wanted.

I also want to note that I got cut off in traffic a couple times, and while I had my foot hovering over the brake pedal just in case (as any driver who’s paying attention should), the vehicle reacted perfectly. It detected the vehicle that moved into my lane and slowed down appropriately with plenty of space to spare.

The Bottom Line:

Frankly, I worry about systems like this because they might give the driver a little too much confidence.

Want to eat while you’re driving? Set ProPilot Assist, keep a hand on the wheel and chomp away, trusting that the system will keep you in the lane and stop in enough time if someone cuts you off while you’re enjoying the extra pickle on your sandwich. #DontDoThat

This is a complete misuse of the system. Whenever you are operating a vehicle, you should have 100 percent of your attention on, well, driving.

Nissan does have some safeguards in place, such that you can’t have your hands off the wheel for more than 15 seconds. But automated systems are currently no match for human eyes.

So, yes, use these systems to aid, but don’t depend on them to do the driving for you.

Completely autonomous vehicles are still several years off.