The cars in our Challenge, from left: Ford Escape, Nissan Pathfinder, Range Rover Evoque and Mercedes Benz GL350.(Photo: Evan Sears, Cars.com)
MCLEAN, Va. - The simple act of parking your car is the focus of extraordinary technology.
cameras and warning beepers are old hat. Surround-view cameras are
slowly arriving, and the big step is in cars that parallel-park
Well, sort of. They find a spot big enough, and do
the wheel work. But you must operate the accelerator and brake pedals
to get out of the traffic flow quickly and avoid whacking the car ahead
of or behind you.
Lexus introduced auto-parking in the U.S.
on its 2007 LS big sedan, but it was cumbersome to use and discontinued
after the 2012 model.
Now auto-parking, mainly found on
luxury vehicles, is moving mainstream. Toyota sells the feature as a
Prius V option. It's also offered as a stand-alone feature ($395) on the
$24,000 Ford Focus Titanium.
USA TODAY and Cars.com wanted to see if today's systems work better and are easier to use than the original Lexus setup.
How do mainstream setups compare with those on luxury cars? And how
do they all stack up vs. doing the parallel parking yourself, with the
aid of 360-degree cameras and warning systems that tell when the car's
too close and you need to stop or maneuver?
We invited seven
automakers to take part in our parking challenge. Four accepted. Ford
sent an Escape SUV, Land Rover provided a Range Rover Evoque SUV and
Mercedes-Benz sent a GL350 diesel SUV, all with auto-park. Nissan
supplied a Pathfinder with surround-view cameras. It was coincidence
that all were SUVs; most systems are available on other types of
Toyota declined because it doesn't believe there's much interest in the feature.
Audi said it did not have an A8 sedan with 360-degree-view camera system available to lend for the test.
said it didn't have a car available with its automatic system, called
Park Assistant. The feature is available on rear-wheel-drive versions of
3 Series, 5 Series, 6 Series and 7 Series vehicles, but not on
Park Assistant is a stand-alone option
priced at $500, but it requires a 360-degree parking warning system
called Park Distance Control, which is $750 (or is included as part of a
"driver assist" package on some models). BMW says roughly 10% of buyers
opt for Parking Assistant.
HOW WE TESTED
of our experts -- veterans of many test drives -- made three timed
attempts to parallel-park each vehicle in a space between two parked
vehicles. Our panel included James R. Healey, USA TODAY Test Drive
columnist; Patrick Olsen, Cars.com editor-in-chief; and Kelsey Mays,
Cars.com industry editor.
The space was adjusted to be 6 feet longer than the vehicle being tested, in order to maintain a uniform gap for all.
The "curb" in this case was a low rock wall, about 21 inches high, and that made the task tougher.
because a conventional curb is low enough that a driver can back in
until the rear wheels bump the curb, letting the rear of the vehicle
extend over a typical low curb during the maneuver. Not so in our test,
making it also an evaluation of how well the auto-park was integrated
with the backup camera and the backup warning beeps.
auto-parking systems work by using sensors to identify a spot big enough
for the car to fit, and signaling the driver when it has found one. The
parking systems then take over steering and use the sensors to guide
the vehicle into place.
The Mercedes-Benz assumes the
driver is searching for a parking spot any time the vehicle is creeping
along. The others require a driver to switch on the parking search
When the car finds a spot and alerts the driver
that the car's properly lined up to begin parking, it's a matter of
shifting into reverse, releasing the steering wheel (not an easy
decision at first), hovering over the brake pedal, and watching the
cameras and listening to the warning beeps to tell when the car is
coming close to the car behind (and the rock wall, in our case). Hit the
brake, shift into drive and let the system use its auto-steering to
edge forward and line up the vehicle within the parking spot.
Scoring was simple. We took each driver's best time for each vehicle
and averaged them to get that vehicle's score. Lower times equal better
HOW THEY FARED
• Land Rover Evoque,
Park Assist and Surround Camera, parked the quickest, at 21.9 seconds,
and was the consensus pick for easiest to use.
The system is
available on most 2013 Range Rovers. Least-expensive with the system:
$48,595, Range Rover Evoque Pure Premium AWD.
• Mercedes-Benz GL350, Parktronic with Active Parking Assist and Surround View, 27.4 seconds.
Two of three elements, Parktronic and Active Parking, are available
on CLS, GLK, M-Class, GL and SL models. But the full-blown setup that
combines those two features with Surround View, as in our test vehicle,
only comes in GL models for 2013.
Least-expensive model with Parktronic and Active Parking: $38,965 GLK350 rear-wheel drive.
• Nissan Pathfinder SUV, Around View Monitor, 30.5 seconds.
Around View isn't an auto-parking system. Instead, it blends views
from several cameras to display on a screen the area near both sides and
the front and back of the vehicle, making it easier to judge how near
or far an obstacle is.
Around View Monitor is available on Pathfinder, Quest and Rogue; Infiniti EX, FX, JX and QX.
Least-expensive version: $29,715, Rogue SL front-wheel drive.
• Ford Escape SUV, Active Park Assist, 31 seconds.
Available on Ford C-Max hybrid, C-Max Energi, Explorer, Escape,
Flex, Focus, Fusion, Fusion Energi, Fusion Hybrid and Taurus; Lincoln
MKS, MKT and MKZ.
Least-expensive version: $24,390, Focus Titanium sedan.
All three auto-park systems we tested will fine-tune the car's
position within the space. The driver brakes to a stop in the parking
spot, shifts to drive and the auto-park resumes steering control as the
vehicle moves forward. The driver stops going forward, shifts back into
reverse and the auto-park again works to place the vehicle just-so in
Eventually the systems decide the car's
positioning is as good as it's going to get and stops steering. The Ford
seems fussiest about lining up the vehicle, continuing the automatic
steering through multiple back-and-forth cycles.
auto-park systems can be set to allow parking on the right, which is
normal, or the left, as on a one-way street.
• Familiarity breeds competence.
Each vehicle's parking times got quicker with more attempts, as the
drivers more easily made the leap of faith necessary to keep hands off
the wheel and let the system execute a smooth sweep into the spot.
Each system's instrument-panel alert is different when it finds a
spot, and each system requires the driver to pull forward a different
amount before beginning the parallel-parking maneuver. The more often
you use a vehicle, the easier it becomes to absorb all those traits
while fighting the stress of getting out of the way of waiting traffic.
• Slow is fast. By taking your time and not rushing,
the automatic systems can place the vehicle more precisely in the center
of the open parking spot. That reduces the number of times the vehicle
has to move back and forth to square-up within the parking space.
• Skill trumps technology, sometimes.
A good parallel-parker using a vehicle without auto-park can beat the
automatic systems, but not consistently. Best time of the test was 16
seconds, achieved in the Nissan with 360-degree cameras. But that was
the exception. No other attempt by any driver came close.
Our panel of parkers:
James R. Healey, USA TODAY auto writer and Test Drive columnist.
Patrick Olsen, Cars.com Editor-in-chief.
Kelsey Mays, Cars.com industry editor.