While Cadillac’s just-introduced Super Cruise system and Tesla’s Autopilot technology point the way to the totally autonomous vehicles of the future, even with these advanced systems, the driver still has to be ready to grab the steering wheel in case of an emergency. While we still can’t sit back and read a book while our cars do all the heavy lifting, a growing number of cars and crossovers in all sizes and price points are offering what are essentially elemental self-driving systems, though they’re more typically marketed as accident-avoidance safety technology.
The most basic self-driving system is so-called adaptive cruise control, which uses forward facing sensors to maintain both a set speed and distance from the traffic ahead on the highway. Forward auto-braking systems are usually based on adaptive cruise control, but can otherwise determine if the vehicle is closing in too quickly on another car or other obstruction and will apply the brakes automatically full force to help avoid or at least minimize the effects of a collision if the driver isn’t reaching quickly enough. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that auto-braking systems can reduce rear-end collisions by 40%, based on a study of U.S. police-reported crash data, and cut injuries incurred in situations when a crash is inevitable by 30%.
A fewer number of models offer a lane keeping assist system, which is an advanced version of a lane departure warning system that not only sounds an alert if the vehicle is inadvertently crossing the lane markers, but will use auto-braking and/or steering assist to nudge the car back into the lane.
And while this technology was until only recently offered exclusively in high-end cars, we’ve identified 14 compact and midsize cars and crossovers that can be equipped with top-rated forward braking and other autonomous accident avoidance systems for well under $30,000. The least costly of the bunch is the 2017 Toyota Corolla that comes standard with adaptive cruise control, forward auto-braking with pedestrian detection, and lane departure alert with steering assist. It starts at around $20,000.
Not only are these among the most technologically advanced rides on the road for the money, they’re among the safest as well. In addition to earning perfect scores for occupant protection in each of the five IIHS crash tests, when properly equipped each vehicle can successfully avoid a collision or substantially reduce a vehicle’s speed in tests conducted at 12 and 25 mph.
Since only a relative handful of models come standard with such systems at this price point, we’re also noting the availability of self-driving features and what the car costs so equipped (including the destination charge) for the 2017 model year.