2016 Tesla Model X: Testing the Autopilot Function
by Reese Counts, Vehicle Testing Assistant on June 1, 2016
I finally got a chance to take our long-term 2016 Tesla Model X home for a night. My 20-mile commute consists of 19 miles through Los Angeles traffic along Interstate 10, west in the morning, east at night. As terrible as that 80-minute one-way drive may be, it's given me plenty of time to try various new and interesting tech. For the Model X, this meant trying Tesla's Autopilot system.
When the Autosteer is clearly marked as "Beta," it makes me hesitant to hand over full control. While Tesla "requires" the driver to keep a hand on the wheel at all times, I can tell you that I experienced no warnings or repercussions for disobeying. That's counter to other systems that will shut off if they don't detect a hand on the wheel.
When you're driving, the instrument cluster digitally displays the road along with any vehicles that it senses. To to turn the Autopilot on, quickly pull the cruise control stalk twice. When the system is engaged, the digital road is highlighted in blue while lane markers and curbs are made bold.
For the most part, the system works pretty well. The Model X followed the cars in front of me at about the same distance I would if I were in full control. Some radar cruise control systems leave a wide gap, allowing other cars to merge in. That would be fine if the system didn't hit the brakes because it suddenly senses a new object in front of you. The Tesla doesn't have that problem, though occasionally it brakes a little harder and a little later than I would have prefered.
I didn't like auto steering as much as the adaptive cruise control. My biggest gripe is the ping-ponging action that the Model X does as it bounces back and forth between the lane markers. It's not obtrusive, but a human driver's guidance is much more natural. Also, the system doesn't behave well while going through tight corners. There were couple of occasions where I had to take control of the wheel. Going straight, though, it works pretty well.
I only had the Tesla for a night, so I didn't get a chance to try the system out on anything outside of my commute. I may have hit 50 mph at one point, but the rest was a slog so I didn't get a chance to experience it at speed either. For my commute, I'd feel comfortable using it everyday, but it will be interesting to see how my coworkers react as they get more opportunity to use the system as well.
Reese Counts, Vehicle Testing Assistant @ 1,969 miles