A foundational pillar of the initiative is Nissan’s fully electric ARIYA crossover that is aimed directly at the heart of the popular segment. Nissan invited CleanTechnica out to drive the ARIYAs and we eagerly headed out to Nashville, Tennessee to put some miles on the exciting new market entrant. Electric vehicles have become synonymous with technology and a core piece of modern vehicles is their advanced driver assistance system (ADAS). Nissan’s solution is called ProPILOT 2 and includes a new driving mode that allows for true hands free operation on select highways.
Disclaimer: Nissan paid for the author’s travel and accommodations to attend this event.
Driving in the Nissan ARIYA is an intuitive experience. The steering is very comfortable and all of the interfaces are familiar. This is an impressive balance considering how modern and technologically supported the vehicle is features like ProPILOT 2. With new design features like the motorized center console and the powered center console drawer, the ARIYA makes you feel like you’re in a spaceship, but with ties back to all the things that matter from a driving experience standpoint
The user interface for basic operations is, intuitive with the design of the digital center gauge cluster revolving around an e-Step acceleration gauge on the left and a speedometer on the right. Right up the middle, a dynamic display area can display trip information, multimedia details, objects identified by the vehicle’s suite of sensors, notifications from the ADAS and more. The ARIYA is packed with technology that can be used or ignored depending on driver preference.
ProPILOT 2 features three levels of assistance that are offered depending on how much of its surroundings the onboard sensor suite can detect. The first level of ProPILOT control is basic adaptive cruise control. This system detects the vehicle in front and dynamically adjusts the speed of the ARIYA to stay at or below the set speed, with a variable distance that can be set to dictate the gap between the car ahead. The system indicates this system is engaged by lighting up a white color scheme in the in-car ADAS graphics.
ProPILOT level 2 builds on the adaptive cruise control, adding dynamic lane keeping that effectively steers the vehicle to keep it in the lane. In this mode, the driver must still keep their hands on the steering wheel and is responsible for the full operation of the vehicle (hands on, eyes on). The car indicates this mode is engaged with a green steering wheel icon and green accent lights throughout the vehicle. In the image above, the green accents around the vehicle in the center of the display and the twin steering wheel icons on either side are green to indicate this mode is active.
Finally, ProPILOT level 3 is a full blown hands-free adaptive cruise control system that steers the vehicle and allows the driver to take their hands off the steering wheel. This mode is only available on HD mapped, separated highways, of which there are approximately 220,000 mi of in the United States. Nissan uses the TomTom HD maps and more are regularly being added to the system. In this mode, the vehicle can also make transitions through freeway interchanges if a destination is set in the navigation. It cannot unfortunately change lanes yet, but does make suggestions to the driver. This mode is indicated to the driver and passengers with blue ProPILOT icons on the driver’s displays as well as blue LED accent lights throughout the vehicle.
When enabled ProPILOT 2 lets the driver steer into a new lane, taking over control of the steering wheel and control of the vehicle, without disengaging. After the manual maneuver is complete and the system detects lane lines and the surrounding vehicles, it will engage at whatever level it is able to, from white to green to blue. On the gauge cluster display behind the steering wheel, a large steering wheel icon changes color from the white (level 1) to green (level 2) which is hands-on for freeways, all the way up blue (level 3) indicating that the vehicle is performing driving tasks and enabling true hands free driving.
NOTE: Consult your owners manual and read all instructions carefully before trying this yourself. ProPILOT 2 is a driver assistance system and is not meant to and cannot functionally replace the driver. In all cases and at all levels of ProPILOT 2, the driver must pay full attention and be ready to take over at any time. Hands free does not mean that the vehicle can perform all tasks. That is certainly not the case and it can require immediate driver intervention or drop down to green (level 2) at any time. Do not take your eyes off the road regardless of what mode the vehicle is driving in.
At the start of our driving route, we passed through several construction areas and the vehicle not only was able to handle the construction, but it noticed it and notified me that we were in a construction zone, asking me to pay extra attention to the area. Nice. After 10 minutes of driving on the freeway in ProPILOT blue (level 3), leaving it on felt like a very natural way to drive. Looking up at what level it was on made it easy to understand what parts of the driving task the vehicle was handling and conversely what I needed to do is the driver to keep us safe. Because apparently driving alone with an ADAS system is a team effort nowadays.
Farther along our route but still on a separated, mapped highway, ProPILOT 2 randomly disengaged in the middle of a route. It went from blue hands off mode to a big red notification, telling me to take over immediately. While I was paying attention to the road and my surroundings, the immediate disengagement from hands free mode left me with very little time to get my hands up and onto the wheel. Not ideal, but also something we should expect for systems evolving as rapidly as ProPILOT is. In roughly four hours of driving, I only experienced this one hard stop of the system and these were pre-production vehicles, so your mileage may vary.
ProPILOT is much more flexible than other hard-coded systems like Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving systems which are either engaged or disengaged. Nissan built ProPILOT to try to do as much as it possibly can when it’s turned on. If you’re driving on a highway and take an onramp onto the freeway, it seamlessly shifts from your driving onto the onramp into blue hands free mode, assuming it’s a separated, HD mapped freeway.
Overall, the progress Nissan has made from ProPILOT to the ProPILOT 2 system we tested in the ARIYA is significant. The hands free mode will surely make long road trips much, much safer and easier on drivers. Having said that, the inability to automatically change lanes limits its utility and makes the ability to follow freeway interchanges along routes far less useful. What’s the point in letting the system move onto a new freeway if you have to manually change lanes to line things up ahead of time?
ProPILOT 2 seems to always want to try to maximize its contribution to the driving experience when turned on and I find the integration to be extremely helpful and reassuring. Traveling around the rural highways of Tennessee, ProPILOT 2 largely stayed in level 2 mode which is hands-on adaptive cruise control and steering. Progress is made in incremental steps towards the bold future and ProPILOT 2 marks significant progress by the team at Nissan towards a fully autonomous, zero accident future and that’s something we can all celebrate.
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