The cheapest cars and SUVs with safety-minded self-driving technology
Without doubt, Cadillac's just-introduced Super Cruise system and Tesla's Autopilot semi-autonomous technology point the way to the fully self-driving vehicles of the future, but in the meantime a rapidly 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.
“While there are a number of ways one can define who’s ‘leading’ in the race to autonomy, analyzing the prevalence of active safety features demonstrates just how ready OEMs are to bring this technology to mass production, and how willing consumers are to adopt it,” says Jessica Caldwell, executive director of industry analysis for Edmunds.com. “While some car buyers may view a fully autonomous vehicle as a novelty, a vehicle that has the ability to prevent an accident before it occurs is seen as a safety breakthrough.”
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%.
And to prove one doesn’t have to break the bank to afford the latest vehicular advancements, 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 most affordable 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. “Usually it takes a long time for pricey new technologies to work their way down market from luxury to mainstream vehicles, but because changes in policy are mandating that many active safety features become standard, it’s happening much more quickly,” Caldwell explains.
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.