When you think of self-driving cars, you probably think of some jellybean-shaped thing navigating itself through city streets without the input of a driver. Sure that’s the vision for the future, but did you know that you can get some semi-autonomous features on new and used cars right now?
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recognizes five levels of autonomy in vehicles. At Level 0 the human driver has complete control of the vehicle at all times. Older cars that predate 1970 generally didn’t have any kind of electronic features like ABS and you had to pump the brakes to get the car to stop on slippery roads. That qualifies as Level 0. Level 1 autonomous vehicles are those that have some electronic features but those features can’t work simultaneously. These would be things like electronic stability control and automatic braking systems. Level 2 vehicles have things like lane departure warnings and adaptive cruise control. These items can be run at the same time and allows the driver to have less input into the operation of the car at all times. At Level 3, drivers can release control to the car completely in certain situations but will be warned well in advance when they’ll need to take control back again. Level 4 autonomy would allow the driver to give over control to the car at all times.
That means that technically any used car with antilock brakes and ESC has some level of autonomy. We’ll ignore that for right now since the features you really want on a long drive or even a short commute, generally fall into the Level 2 and 3 range.
A good general rule of thumb is that anything after 1999 will have some form of adaptive cruise control. Mercedes was actually the first to launch a worldwide car with adaptive cruise back in 1999.
Below we’ve put together a short list of some great and affordable cars that offer at least adaptive cruise control and lane departure warnings—two features that make your new-to-you car a semi-autonomous vehicle according the NHTSA. By no means is this an exhaustive list, but it’s a start. Believe it or not, Wikipedia has a pretty solid list of cars and SUVs with adaptive cruise control that is relatively regularly updated. Like with anything on Wikipedia, be sure you double and triple check their info before you buy. For older cars you have to be sure that the right trim level and packages were selected for the specific models to get what you’d want in a semi-autonomous car.
The lane departure warning and forward collision warning only came available in the Grand Touring package so be sure that the Mazda 3s you are looking at come equipped with it if you want a semi-autonomous car. Also be sure it comes equipped with the tech package for the right upgrade.
Ensure that it has the technology upgrade and you’ll get all the bells and whistles you want and need. It also gets parking assist with the tech upgrade.
The option for adaptive cruise control was only available on the 2.0-L Eco Boost engine but can be on both front-wheel and all-wheel drive versions.
With the tech upgrade it gets Honda’s Lane Watch system, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control.
This one has to be optioned out correctly and fully loaded but you can get adaptive cruise control. It was available across all the engine variants from the 2.5-L four cylinder to the 3.5-L V6.
Go for one with the Safety Package and you’ll get adaptive cruise.
Look for one with the Eyesight package and you’ll be heading to work in style and comfort.
If you’re looking for a specific make and model check out Instamotor and see what’s in your area. For all your new-to-you car needs, check back here regularly.
Digital media content producer/consultant & former CNN senior producer, now running CN'TRL : Cars, Tech, Real Estate & Luxury.