The Nissan Altima has always sold well, despite being a mostly utilitarian sedan. But the latest redesign includes an unexpected and welcome treat: ProPilot Assist, the Japanese automaker’s semi-autonomous driver assist system.
Previously, Nissan had included ProPilot Assist in the 2018 Leaf electric car and top-selling Rogue SUV. With the addition of the Altima, Nissan has established itself as a leader, offering highly automated driving in its mass-market vehicles.
ProPilot Assist is a Level 2 self-driving system, which allows the vehicle to control speed, distance from other cars, and keeping the car in the intended lane with minimal input from the driver. Cameras detect lane markings at highway speeds, and then adaptive cruise control, lane-keep, and blind spot detection systems keep you in that lane until you deliberately change lanes.
Nissan hasn’t announced the Altima’s pricing yet, but it’s likely to start in the low-$20,000 range. Compare that to the Cadillac CT6 with Super Cruise (around $71,300) or a Tesla Model S with Autopilot (around $77,500), and you can see why Nissan deserves your attention. It’s a separate question about whether ProPilot Assist can measure up to Super Cruise or Autopilot, both of which set the bar fairly high for driver assist systems. But Nissan’s commitment to making its technology available at a fraction of the price of those luxury automakers is a really big deal.
These types of systems are often dismissed as glorified versions of cruise control, but they’re also a canary in the coal mine when it comes to full autonomy. As more cars are sold with these advanced features, drivers get more experience with letting go of the wheel and trusting their cars to handle some of the driving. And, soon enough, they may feel comfortable enough to relinquish all control, which is where most experts think we’re headed.
The 2019 Altima made its debut at the New York International Auto Show this week, but we got to check it out a few days early, as well as speak to some of Nissan’s designers and product managers.
“What’s really unique about the Nissan system versus the software that’s in the market right now is that we add lane-centering capability to it,” said Derek Kramer, product planner for Nissan. “So instead of this ping-ponging effect you get with a lot of cars, it does a really great job of keeping it in the center of the lane. It’s a hands-on system, but it really does reduce fatigue and stress while you’re driving.”
Kramer seemed to be drawing a distinction between ProPilot Assist and Cadillac’s Super Cruise, which drivers can use to go hands-free, so long as they keep their eyes on the road. Perhaps that’s one advantage Cadillac has over Nissan, but the two are hardly competitors. And given Nissan’s share of the market, more drivers are likely to experience this type of high-tech driving in an Altima or Rogue.
If the ultimate mission is to increase safety and reduce driver fatigue, hopefully more automakers follow suit and begin including their highly automated systems in cars that are accessible to the many, not the few.