Deep Dive

Nissan Leaf's ProPilot technology: We let the Leaf do the work

Semi-autonomous driving and self-parking technology will be on offer

KAMINOKAWA, Japan — Earlier this summer, as Nissan was busy readying the 2018 Leaf EV for its grand debut, the automaker invited us out to Japan to get to know the car a little better and take an early crack behind the wheel. Before we headed off on the multitude of simulated roadways throughout Nissan's Tochigi proving grounds, we were able to sample the semi-autonomous ProPilot systems. On the Nissan Leaf, there are two. ProPilot Assist is an adaptive cruise control system combined with lane-keeping assistance. ProPilot Park is a function that parks the Leaf for you.

First, we were able to test out the ProPilot Park system, albeit at empty spaces with perfectly painted lines separating them. The system is fairly easy to use. You activate it, drive alongside the parking space — we sampled both parallel and perpendicular parking — until the car recognizes an empty space. On the central touchscreen, the system overlays a parking logo graphic over the camera's view of the space. The driver selects the space, be it between painted lines or parked vehicles, by tapping it on the screen, and holds down the ProPilot Park button on the center console. From there, the car maneuvers itself into the spot.

The car will perform a multiple-point turn as needed to fit into the spot, and we're told it'll make seven such maneuvers before the system gives up. Another helpful feature is that once the car designates a parking spot on the screen, the driver can adjust it from there by pressing directional buttons in order to place the car more precisely where wanted. For instance, if you want to be further from the car in front of you, you can specify that before the car begins moving into the space.

Unfortunately, ProPilot Park won't be available in the first model year of the new-gen Leaf, but it'll be on offer after that.

The other semi-autonomous feature we sampled was the ProPilot Assist system, which is Nissan's intelligent adaptive cruise control. ProPilot uses a suite of sensors ­— the Leaf has cameras in front, back, and on the side mirrors, as well as 12 sonar sensors, plus radar in the nose — to feel its way through the world. After our parking demonstration, we headed out on a banked oval test track following a lead vehicle. We got in the same lane as the other car and turned on cruise control, set it to a specific speed that happened to be higher than our lead vehicle's, and let the car do the rest. The driver can also choose a number of different following distances, and we picked one in about the middle.

The Leaf kept its distance and adjusted its speed to match the car ahead. When that car slowed, even to a stop, so did the Leaf. At the same time, the ProPilot Assist kept us squarely in the center of our lane. The Leaf tracked well, so the system wasn't doing much work on the straight road, anyway. Despite the pavement being slightly wet, the car had no trouble detecting the lane markings. We were told, though, that engaging the windshield wipers will disable steering assist, leaving the driver to keep in their lane the old-school way.

For more about the Nissan Leaf driving experience, read our full First Drive review. We've provided at-a-glance details here. And if you're wondering how the Leaf can compete against the formidable Tesla Model 3 and Chevy Bolt, we've got an answer for that.

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