The 6 Best Autonomous Cars to Free Up Your Commute

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The best autonomous cars you imagined as a kid can't compare to what's actually on the road today. 

What a time to be a driver! I must admit, I'm not sure if "driver" is a completely accurate term. Some of the features of the best autonomous cars listed below will make you feel more like a chauffeured VIP in your own car. But not to worry; you'll have the option to reclaim your position as commander of these vehicles anytime you wish. So let's get in the driver's seat and check out some of the best autonomous cars on the market today!

What the best autonomous cars have in common

First things first, let's define the term 'autonomous cars' for the purposes of this list. Don't expect vehicles that allow you to kick your feet up in the backseat and take a half-hour nap during your morning commute. Some are darn close, though. Basically, this array of cars currently on the market has some self-driving capabilities designed to allow you to get more than just driving done during your morning commute.

There are several levels of automated assistance available and new strides being made at a dizzying pace. When shopping for the best autonomous cars, you'll encounter other terms, too. Common descriptions for these smart vehicles include 'self-driving' and 'semi-autonomous' cars. Technically, vehicles range in autonomy from Level 1 to Level 5. The lowest level offers no additional self-driving capabilities while the highest won't yet be available. I'll include some examples of all levels currently in production, since you'll have to decide which level of automation makes makes sense for your commute.

Are autonomous cars safe?

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Concerns over safety when it comes to these vehicles are completely understandable. As a writer of a certain age, I remember hearing about plans for autonomous cars more than a decade ago and scoffing. But technology has now advanced to the point that cameras and computer code can effectively transport people around sans human driver...most of the time.

The technology being frantically pursued and perfected by countless firms has an impressive overall track record. But as with any new frontier, there are understandable fears and unavoidable pitfalls. Given this, new legislation has arisen at state levels to regulate even the best autonomous cars.

Regulating Autonomous Cars

For instance, Arizona banned Uber from testing its autonomous vehicles after a car in its fleet was involved in a fatal crash. The state's governor called it an "unquestionable failure." And it was. Any loss of life is tragic and the technology still has a long way to go before it approaches perfection. But it is also worth noting that the Arizona crash was the first death attributed to autonomous cars after years of testing. And don't forget these vehicles share the road with traditional cars involved in crashes causing about 3,287 deaths per day!

In fact, analysts note that it is humans at the root of many of the relatively few crashes involving autonomous cars. California found that 13 of the 43 collisions reported were caused when a self-driving car was rear ended. This is typically because human drivers aren't accustomed to encountering other vehicles that come to a complete stop at intersections. Almost all of the crashes occurred at low speeds, causing limited damage and no injuries.

None of that is to say you shouldn't consider safety when shopping for the best autonomous cars. In my opinion, safety should be your top priority. Even still, it is necessary to always remember to look at the statistics in context. Just as with cars that require a driver, the best autonomous cars are not without their road hazards.

Which of the best autonomous cars is right for you?

Now that you've decided to take the plunge and trust your car to handle more than cruise control, you'll want to test drive the 6 best of the best. There are a plethora of options beyond that point, so I'll try to give you an idea of the capabilities and cost associated with each. At the end, you'll be the one to decide which suits your needs. Or maybe you'll decide to stick with the old reliable manually operated vehicles until even more progress is made. That's fine too, just try not to rear end an automated car!

1. Tesla Autopilot

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Tesla has been working on its automated technology for longer than many of its chief competitors. In many ways, that added research and development pays off in Autopilot's performance on the road. You can equip your Tesla with the program at the time of purchase for about $5,000. Or, add it to a model you already own for an extra grand.

What you'll get is an essentially hands-free experience, if you choose, in a variety of driving environments. The proprietary technology relies on an array of sensors, cameras, and radars. This gives it a clearer view of your entire car and its position in traffic when compared to some other arrangements. If you still aren't sold, Tesla claims its system is also impacted far less by inclement weather than competitors. 

In the not-too-distant future, the innovative auto maker plans to unveil "Enhanced Autopilot." This new technology promises a further step toward completely autonomous vehicles in the lineup. As it already exists, though, your car can perform numerous functions -- think changing lanes and parking -- without any need for your input. It will give you warnings at certain points, encouraging you to retake the wheel. You can ignore it, though, and eventually your Autopilot will stop nagging you. That is, until the next time you charge up your car's batteries.

2. Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot

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Keeping with the "pilot" theme is the Mercedes-Benz entry in the emerging category. Does it belong in a list of the best autonomous cars? That depends on what you're looking for from the technology. Drive Pilot is pretty honest about its roots, which are really just a collection of driver assistance programs already available from the brand. You'll find features like lane assist, emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control in this system. There are also automatic lane change and steering options.

Don't expect to "drive" one of these cars without your hands for as long as you can get away with it in a Tesla, though. It also might cost a little more. The feature is part of a larger package that will set you back a cool $10,000.

Nevertheless, what it does, it does well. It is a Mercedes-Benz, after all. In reality, the brand might have undersold its capabilities by not focusing heavily on Drive Pilot's capabilities. It's not a truly autonomous vehicle. Yet, on the sliding scale representing what that term means in automotive culture, this system represents its place with near perfection.

3. Audi Traffic Jam Pilot

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Yet another "Pilot" program to consider is Audi's option. Fair warning, though: this one technically isn't for sale yet. The Traffic Jam Pilot will be an option on the 2019 A8, though, so not much longer to wait. And it promises to serve as a worthy placeholder on the continuum between Level 1 driver-focused cars to the dream of Level 5 autonomy. Audi is excited about this technology, saying it will allow drivers to enjoy long periods of hands-free motoring.

As its name implies, Traffic Jam Pilot will work at its peak when driving among other vehicles. Using a combination of ultrasonic sensors, radar, and cameras, the system is expected to set a new standard for the state of the art. With such intricate technology, we're sure the wait will be worth the autonomy!

Unfortunately, release dates, pricing, and other specs aren't quite available. But with the amount of buzz surrounding this new system, look for it to quickly be discussed as one of the best autonomous cars on the road. You'll be reclaiming your commute in no time!

4. Cadillac Super Cruise

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Here's a program that knows what it aims to do and does it well. Everything else, not so much. But if you're looking for a plush ride that you can legitimately drive without your hands on the highway, check out Cadillac's Super Cruise.

With Cadillac's entry in the market, you can legitimately claim to own an autonomous vehicle for price tag comfortably in the five-figure range. The software has an impressive track record of reliability -- and it really works in highway situations. For folks with a long stretch in their daily commute, this could free you up for a largely hands-free experience.

For drivers looking for a sophisticated and intelligent option without the ultra-luxury price, Cadillac delivers. The tried and true technology is perfect for giving you time to savor your breakfast or catch up on current events. No matter what your commute consists of, Cadillac's Super Cruise is one of the best autonomous cars to free up your time.

5. Volvo Pilot Assist

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We couldn't go too long without seeing another "pilot." This time, it's the Pilot Assist, available in the redesigned Volvo XC60. For a car maker obsessed (in a good way) with safety, expect an emphasis on that in its autonomous offering. You can rely on this system to avoid obstacles like pedestrians, animals , or other motorists.

The car brakes, steers, and accelerates on roads, provided they're clearly marked, while traveling as fast as 80 mph. While you put on makeup, catch up on your work emails, or people watch as cars go by, you'll rest easy knowing that your car has it under control. For those taxed by a far commute, this will certainly be a welcome change.

With all that in one of the luxurious packages Volvo is offering these days, it would be hard not to list this as one of the best autonomous cars. The brand has merged luxury and autonomy provide consumers with one of the most competitive and best autonomous cars on the road.

6. BMW Traffic Jam Assistant

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Rounding out the list is perennial contender in almost any automotive list: BMW. It's another brand promising to lend an autonomous hand in a traffic jam. The Traffic Jam Assistant is available on the redesigned 5 Series and offers several clever features.

Using markers including other vehicles and lanes painted on the road, BMW provides a great deal of hands-free capability on the highway. It will also park for you in virtually any spot with a remote located in your key fob. This means you can kick back while your car faces the stress of finding that needle-in-a-haystack parking spot.

With luxury at every edge and BMW's reputation for performance, it's no surprise that the brand's autonomous offering makes the list. If you want to enjoy your coffee while your car does the rest, this is a reliable option!

Like it or not, it's the wave of the future -- and these are some of the best autonomous cars out there. 

Sooner or later, the roadways are going to be filled with cars interacting without driver input. Some motorists are already ahead of the curve. If you're hoping to enter the fray, I hope this list gave you some valuable information in your search. On the other hand, if you're still hesitant to take a test drive, you now know what options exist.

Did you enjoy this list? If so, share it with the car lovers in your life. Is your favorite autonomous car listed? Let us know what it is in the comments section below!

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