Real World Nissan ProPILOT Assist – Level One Autonomy

by Ernie Hernandez on October 31, 2017

Nissan ProPILOT AssistTrue driver assistance technology

Nissan’s ProPILOT Assist is a hands-on, driver assistance system. It is not an autopilot system. The technology basically incorporates two features – vehicle acceleration and braking assistance which Nissan calls Intelligent Cruise Control (ICC). ProPILOT Assist combines this with vehicle steering assistance. Nissan’s claim is that this system will reduce driver stress and fatigue in stop and go commute traffic and on long trips. I’ve been able to experience ProPILOT Assist for an extended period of time in both of these situations and have found that the system does pretty much what it says it does. Here are my observations.

Intelligent Cruise Control

ProPILOT Assist button

ProPILOT Assist button

Just like conventional cruise control, when the vehicle reaches your desired speed, the driver sets the target vehicle speed. Pressing the button with a blue icon on the steering wheel activates the system. Pressing the set button enters the desired speed. This activates the Intelligent Cruise Control, which will maintain the vehicle’s set speed. When approaching a vehicle moving slower than the vehicle set speed, a radar sensor in the grill detects the speed of the slower car, and will slow the vehicle speed to match that of the leading vehicle. When that car accelerates or moves out of the lane, Nissan’s ICC will accelerate back to the set speed.

I’ve experienced ICC on various Nissan products for quite some time now, and it works amazingly well. Many other manufacturers have a similar system, and it goes by many names, such as adaptive cruise control. Following distance can be set to long, medium, or short. This is done with the button with three lines on it. System activation defaults to the long following distance every time you turn it on. The following distance varies with the set speed of the vehicle. The faster the set speed, the more space is provided between the cars. This operates pretty much the way that you would normally allow some room between you and the car in front of you. You can tailor that following distance to your personal preference.

When driving in stop-and-go commute traffic, the system will adjust vehicle speed to maintain a safe distance to the car ahead. As freeway speeds vary, your vehicle speed will vary with the car in front of you. As commute congestion increases and speeds slow, your vehicle will pace the vehicle ahead. If traffic ultimately stops, you will come to a stop behind the car in front of you.  When traffic starts moving again, a press of the resume button will reengage ICC.

If you’ve never experienced an advanced cruise control system like this, I recommend that you start with the long following distance to acclimate yourself to its behavior. Once you get more familiar with it, you may be comfortable in reducing the following distance, which can be useful in more congested driving situations.

Steering assistance

Integrated steering assistance takes the system to the next level. Nissan positions a camera at the top center of the windshield, near the rear-view mirror. The camera is looking for the lane markers on each side of the lane that you’re driving in. If there are lane markers on only one side of the lane, the system will not work. Once it recognizes both sets of lane markers, your target path is the center of the lane.

New ProPILOT display - Non LEAF Image

New ProPILOT display – Non LEAF Image

Once you activate the set speed of the system, the camera will notify you when it acquires the lane markers. It does this with an audible tone and by changing the display on the instrument panel. You will see two green lines indicating the sides of your lane, and a green steering wheel just to the left of the lane marker indicators. Once the camera locates the lane markers, the steering wheel will also provide some resistance to your steering input. You still have steering control to override the system if needed, but there is a distinct firmness to the steering wheel response. You will also feel the steering wheel start to make minor adjustments, just as you would if you were steering the car. If the camera loses the lane markers, you will get a double chime and the green lane markers and steering wheel in the instrument cluster will turn gray. Also, the firmness of the steering wheel response is released, and the steering response will return to its typical light touch.

How does it work?

The system works fine. Nissan benchmarked it against similar systems offered by luxury brands. In several weeks of driving in pretty much every imaginable scenario that the system was designed for, it worked great. So, what driving situations is it designed for? Single lane control on a freeway or major highway. It cannot change lanes. In other words, you can’t use it around town or just say “Home, James” and expect to arrive at home in an hour or so.

Long trips

Let’s start with the simplest scenario. Long distance freeway driving with minimal traffic. Once activated, the system easily maintains vehicle control and centers the vehicle in the lane. It works on concrete freeways with aged white lines which did not provide very good line visibility. It works extremely well on newer paved dark surfaces with freshly painted white lines. In a relatively challenging scenario, where the concrete freeway lanes do not coincide with the lane markers due to freeway expansion over time, the system easily tracked the lane markers rather than the contours of the actual concrete lanes.

One scenario that the system found challenging was a concrete freeway with only Botts dots as lane markers, and no painted white lines. While the system worked fine in good light, when passing through shadows (such as an overpass or trees), the camera would not always recognize the Botts dots. Interestingly, while writing this article I learned that Botts dots may be phased out due to this particular issue.

One other issue that I found was in construction zones. Where temporary K-rails or Jersey barriers were in use there were occasional issues. For instance, if there was no shoulder and the K-rail was adjacent to the lane. With one lane marker in shadow with the other in bright sunlight, sometimes the system could not detect both lane markers.

Finally, with the sun low in the horizon and in your eyes, it is also in the camera lens. In this instance, the system warned that it could not see the lane markers.

Commute traffic

Possibly a more typical scenario would be commute traffic. Stop-and-go traffic while tired at the end of a long day is never fun. Once the desired speed is set, the system once again works great most of the time. It will try to maintain your set speed, but if traffic moves more slowly, your pace will be matched to the car ahead of you. This is where shortening the following distance is sometimes helpful. Other drivers often squeeze into the space left by the system (at least in Southern California) if left in the default long following distance. If traffic creeps along at two miles per hour, you creep along at two miles per hour. When the guy in front of you slows to a stop, you will stop roughly a car-length behind him. The system will hold you in place and when the car in front of you starts moving, just tap the accelerator or hit the resume button on the steering wheel and you will continue with your set speed unchanged. Sometimes at extremely slow speeds, it took the camera a little longer to find the lane markers.

When do you need to take control?

The system is designed to work with gentle curves and relatively flat roads. Driving down a 4,000 foot mountain pass with few straights and many bends, the system just said no. I think there is probably a certain level of torque that the system is capable of providing to turn the wheel, and if this threshold is exceeded it can’t keep you centered in your lane.

Another variable is freeway construction zones. If there is a lot of jogging back and forth and changing lane widths, the system did not excel, although it tried hard to maintain its lane centering function.

Finally, if driving in a large city, it’s best not to be in the far right-hand lane. Frequent on-ramps and off-ramps will have the system losing its way if they have no lane markings. Some states use dashed lines where the on-ramp enters or off-ramp exits, and in these situations the system should work fine.

What happens if you take your hands off the wheel?

If you take your hands off the wheel, you will get a visual warning on the instrument panel. If you don’t put your hands back on the wheel, the warning starts flashing and is accompanied by increasingly annoying audible alarms. The system is designed as an assistant for the driver, not a replacement. The system is looking for the resistance that you provide when holding onto the wheel. There is not a grip sensor built into the rim of the steering wheel.

The verdict

ProPILOT Assist does exactly what Nissan says it will do – reduce stress and fatigue in commute traffic or on long drives. While the driver is still in control of the vehicle, and should be prepared to take full control at any time, it makes for much more relaxed driving experiences. Nissan has announced that ProPILOT Assist will be available on the 2018 Rogue and 2018 LEAF. You can likely look for it to make an appearance on future Nissan models as well.

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2018 Nissan LEAF Review

by Ernie Hernandez on September 10, 2017

3 LEAFs in driveway

The 2018 Nissan LEAF offers enough promise to retain its place as the best selling EV in the world

First, let’s take a look at it.

Front three quarter view

red side view

Rear three quarter view

Grille closeup red

Why the 2018 LEAF raises the bar

[UPDATE: This article was updated 9/22/17 to correct information about the charge cable.]

The design direction of the new LEAF is a great improvement over the existing car. The faux grille has a blue 3D patterned effect matched by blue trim on the rear fascia. The taillights and floating roof design recall the elegant looking Nissan Murano. I must admit that I was as disappointed as the next guy that the 2018 Nissan LEAF reveal confirmed the 40 kWh battery with its 150 mile range. But I was also heartened by the confirmation of a bigger battery along with a more powerful motor coming on the 2019 model year. And that is why LEAF 2.0 raises the bar. Tesla is no longer the only maker that will offer models with different battery pack sizes. In Tesla’s case, you can order a Model S with a 75 kWh battery or a 100 kWh battery. Big or bigger. The price tag on that Tesla comes in at over $70,000 on the low end. The LEAF, the everyman EV, is expected to offer much more affordable 40 kWh or (expected) 60 kWh options. Plus, the 2018 LEAF looks significantly better than it’s outgoing counterpart. So grab a beverage and I’ll walk you through this (mostly) new EV for the masses. Here’s a quick video to whet your appetite.

But the Bolt goes 238 miles!

Yes. Yes it does. It also has a starting price of $36,620. Which is exactly $6,630 more than the $29,990 starting price of the LEAF. Add destination charges of just under $900 to both. I’m guessing that the bigger battery and more powerful motor promised within the next year or so for the LEAF should come in comfortably close to or under that difference. The range, though, is only part of the issue. Chevy chose to go with the SAE combo fast charge port. LEAF can fast charge in over forty percent more places currently. According to the U.S. Department of Energy Alternative Fuels Data Center there are currently 1,158 SAE combo stations with 1,398 charging outlets. The same source currently shows 1,641 CHAdeMO stations with 1,991 outlets. Both styles of connections will continue to grow and many new DC fast charge (DCFC) stations will offer both options, so that divide will narrow. Eventually. Oh, and if you don’t really need that additional range, Chevy doesn’t have a shorter range version available at a lower price.

But the Model 3 starts at $35,000!

If only you could buy one for that! The first thirty deliveries were to employees or investors, and they all came with a price tag of $49,000 or more. All initial production is rolling off of the Tesla assembly line with the big battery and premium options. Tesla isn’t really saying how big that bigger battery is, but with a 310 mile range and based on EPA testing, people smarter than me say that it’s probably around 80 kWh. The smaller battery offers a 220 mile range so it’s somewhere around 60 kWh, perhaps a little less. But Tesla will not even start building that car until November, and they’re not saying anything about how many they’re likely to make. You may recall that the 60 kWh Model S was never really made in quantity and only a handful of 40 kWh cars exist. So don’t hold your breath waiting for the $35,000 version. But if you check off all of the options on the currently available order list you can get your Model 3 up to around $60,000. A performance trim level will be available next year adding even more to that total. Not really the affordable Tesla that many were waiting for.

But what about the 2018 Nissan LEAF?

Alright, now that we’ve got two of the big questions out of the way, let’s dive into the 2018 Nissan LEAF. Let’s start with the things that did not change. It still has three trim levels – entry S, SV, and top trim level SL. It does have more horsepower this year, up from 107 to 147. More impressively, torque improves from 187 lbs-ft to 236 lbs-ft. That should provide quicker acceleration. We’ll find out when we drive it. There is also an all new analog speedometer.

New analog speedometer for 2018

New analog speedometer for 2018

Remaining range and battery state of charge are also represented differently.

Range and state-of-charge meters

Range and state-of-charge meters

According to NissanUSA.com (where you can configure the car for yourself) the $29,990 S will have limited availability and has two option packages available. The charge package for $1,590 throws in a 120 V/240 V charge cable and quick charge port. That additional charge cable is an auto-switching 240 V unit with a 120 V adapter. According to the label it operates at 12 amps when plugged into 120 V and 30 amps when plugged into 240 V. The 240 V plug is a four-prong, fifty amp, NEMA 14-50R connector. Here is a  picture for the geeks.

 

 

 

All S and SV trim level LEAFs will still come with a 120 V charge cable as standard equipment with this upgrade cable replacing it as noted above or below.

There’s also an all weather package that includes heated outside mirrors, rear ventilation ducts, heated front seats and steering wheel for $450. So a fully optioned S comes in at $32,030. New standard features included on the S this year are automatic emergency braking, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. S trims get 16-inch steel wheels and gray cloth interior. The S also gets Nissan’s new e-Pedal which I will talk more about a little later.

New 7 inch touchscreen featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

New 7 inch touchscreen featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

The volume SV model starts just above that at $32,490. Additional features included standard on the SV are 17-inch alloy wheels, Intelligent Cruise Control and a quick charge port. The SV also has an all weather package available but at a higher price of $900. The additional $450 over the S price gets you a more efficient hybrid heater system. Finally, the Technology Package throws a bunch of tech stuff (and not so tech stuff) your way. Included are: 120 V/240 V charge cable, electronic parking brake, LED headlights and daytime running lights, high beam assist, auto-dimming rear view mirror with HomeLink universal garage door opener, a new 6-way power driver’s seat with power adjustable lumbar, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, Intelligent Lane Intervention, and the newest tech – ProPILOT Assist. I’ll talk about that in a bit.

Black leather interior gets contrasting trim for 2018

Black leather interior gets contrasting trim for 2018

Black leather rear seats with contrasting trim for 2018

Black leather rear seats with contrasting trim for 2018

The top trim SL starts at $36,200 and has only one option – the technology package. Upgrades from the SV include the 120 V/240 V charge cable, blind spot warning, light gray or black leather-appointed seats, Bose audio, and LED headlights with LED daytime running lights. The SL also includes what Nissan calls Intelligent Around View Monitor, which has four cameras mounted around the car that give you excellent visibility when parking. Basically, most of those same features that you get with the SV tech package. The SL tech package ($650) provides an electronic parking brake, high beam assist, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, Intelligent Lane Intervention, and ProPILOT assist. Which means a fully loaded 2018 Nissan LEAF SL is just a bit more than the entry level Bolt.

What is an e-Pedal?

e-Pedal switch

e-Pedal switch

Simply put, the e-Pedal allows one pedal driving. Step on the pedal to speed up. Lift your foot to slow down. In addition to providing a much more aggressive brake regeneration capability than is currently available, this can actually apply the brakes just as if you were stepping on the brake pedal bringing the car to a complete stop. And yes the brake lights will come on, even though you didn’t touch the brake pedal. For those that desire less aggressive brake regeneration, Nissan still offers the normal Drive mode and Brake mode (and ECO mode) that have been a part of LEAF for years. With these various drive modes the driver can select the right mode for each unique driving situation. You might not want aggressive regen on the freeway but you could engage the e-Pedal in around town driving. Tailor your drive mode for the moment.

2018 Nissan LEAF ProPILOT Assist

ProPILOT Assist Display (Non-LEAF)

ProPILOT Assist Display (Non-LEAF)

ProPILOT Assist button

ProPILOT Assist button

This is where we get into the beginnings of autonomous driving technology. Nissan is careful to label the technology driver assist, not self-driving technology, although the company is moving in that direction over the next several years. I’ve had the opportunity to drive a car with this technology and it’s pretty impressive. Here is a video if you prefer watching videos.

ProPILOT Infographic

ProPILOT Assist is single-lane driving assistance. That is, press a button to turn the system on. Press another button to set your speed once you’ve reached your target speed. You may adjust your following distance with the press of a third button. Once engaged, the system uses a camera mounted ahead of the rear view mirror to look for the lane markers on the road. If it cannot clearly see these lane markers, the system will not engage. That’s it. When engaged, the vehicle will now speed up and slow down based on the traffic ahead of it. Steering assistance will keep you between the lane markers. Nissan states that it is a hands-on driver assist system rather than a self-driving feature. Indeed, sensors are built into the steering wheel and if you remove your hands for an extended period of time you will receive a visual warning on the dash, followed by an audible chime that beeps slowly, then faster, before disengaging the system.

Looking to model year 2019

Nissan rarely comments on future vehicle technology. The fact that they state the availability of key features right up front is to counter the argument that it won’t go as far as the Bolt or Tesla Model 3. While this is true today, it likely will not be true next year. And today it costs significantly less than either of those two. Nissan has also said that the 2019 LEAF will have a high-power version available for the 2019 model year. While I don’t know that anyone would consider the LEAF to be a performance car, the fact that Teslas are quick certainly works to their advantage. Having a quicker LEAF that looks better than the current car (and arguably, the Bolt) will have appeal for many.

With the car being released in the Japanese home market first, it looks like they are getting some tech that we are not seeing in the early US market cars. The Japanese reveal shows self-parking technology that hasn’t been talked about for US built LEAFs. This is likely a feature that we will see at some point down the road. The home market also gets a pale metallic green LEAF that is not part of the US color palette. That could change in a year.

In summary

After being in the car at the San Diego National Drive Electric Week event, and upon a careful reading of Nissan’s available info, I can confidently say that this is a significant redesign of the existing platform. Regarding the chassis, the company says “Nissan engineers enhanced the car’s chassis for better stability.” They did not say this is an all new car. In essence that means the passenger compartment is the same though it offers an all new dash, seats, and improved materials and features. Virtually the whole of the exterior gets new sheet metal. For this, many of us are happy.

Which brings me to my final point. The (hopefully) 60 kWh battery will have significant chemistry and packaging improvements to fit inside a case that will be very similar in size to the battery case sitting under the car now. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why the one year delay. They need to be able to see how much juice they can fit in a box that size. It needs to be enough to provide a 200 mile EPA range to please the non-EV masses. The question is – which one will you get? Will you get the 40 kWh LEAF now or wait for the larger battery, higher power version coming next year?

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40kWh 2018 LEAF

August 13, 2017
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2018 LEAF range won’t match others According to recently leaked information on the Autobytel website, it seems the new 2018 LEAF will have a 40 kWh battery pack. Given the range of the current 30 kWh pack (107 miles), the larger size of the new battery along with expected improvements in drivetrain efficiencies, the driving […]

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2018 LEAF Preview

August 4, 2017
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Nissan has given us another preview. The reveal of the 2018 Nissan LEAF is slated for early next month. Meantime, Nissan has just released this animated teaser touting the improvements in airflow. I’ll talk more about my observations soon.

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Tesla Model 3 Promise Delivered Halfway

July 30, 2017
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Tesla Model 3 meets delivery goal Elon Musk said that the Model 3 would be delivered by the end of 2017. Very few, including me, believed him because Tesla had never delivered on time before. In fact the Model X was two years late. With the delivery of the first thirty customer cars Friday night, […]

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Nissan’s self-driving cars start arriving soon

July 22, 2017
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2018 LEAF will drive itself – partially Autonomous cars are the new thing. Cars that park themselves. Adaptive cruise-control that maintains a safe following distance between cars. The ability for cars to stop before running into the car that stops abruptly in front of them. Many of these technologies have made their way into everyday […]

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Should I buy a used Nissan LEAF?

June 16, 2017
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Or rather, why you should buy a used Nissan LEAF According to the California Plug-in Electric Vehicle Driver Survey Results – May 2013, 94 percent of EV owners also own a conventional fuel vehicle. Why do I lead with this? Because, the odds are, you are already a multiple-vehicle household. It likely would be very easy […]

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One way to optimize your range

June 10, 2017
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What’s on your wheels? Not long ago I wrote an article about losing the fourth bar on my 2012 Nissan LEAF. When writing that article, I noticed that our fuel economy was 3.1 miles per kilowatt hour, which I had never really paid any attention to before. This is pretty low compared with many EV […]

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What four bars down looks like

May 29, 2017
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Battery degradation in a 2012 Nissan LEAF Battery degradation exists in electric cars, just as it does in mobile phones and laptops, but many people that are not familiar with electric cars have no idea what that is, or what it means. This article will help to fill in that knowledge gap. First, let’s provide you with […]

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On this, we can all agree

May 20, 2017
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Nissan’s first look at 2018 LEAF Easily the most disliked feature of the current generation Nissan LEAF is the headlight design. Nissan’s whole argument behind the large, misshapen and protruding objects was that they were designed to optimize airflow around the side-view mirrors. In fact, they even posted video showing how effective they were at […]

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