According to a study just released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 24 people admit that in the past month they’ve fallen asleep while driving. The study covered 147,000 drivers, so that adds up to a lot of metal helmed by the semi-conscious. The truly scary thing about this revelation is that even those overachievers who are fully awake are at any given moment distracted by phones, stereo systems or the futile pursuit of that last McNugget that fell between the seat and the console. You’ll be happy to hear, then, that the Lincoln Motor Company has a solution: the 2013 Lincoln MKZ, a car that drives itself.
I’m not exaggerating. With very little fanfare, Lincoln now produces what might fairly be considered the first autonomous car.
The MKZ (and its Ford cousin, the Fusion) use a new system called Lane Keeper that literally steers the car down the road. A forward-looking camera mounted in the windshield mirror assembly reads lane markings and, if it determines you’re about to drift out of your lane, steers the car back toward the center of the lane. Other companies offer conceptually similar systems that attempt to do the same thing by dragging the brakes on one side of the car, but the Lincoln system is hugely more effective. You start to drift out of your lane, even going around a corner, and the steering wheel magically cranks over and points you back toward the centerline.
The MKZ also has adaptive cruise control that uses long-range forward radar to lock on the car in front of you and match its speed. So with cruise control activated, the MKZ is scanning the road for obstacles and braking if necessary, while Lane Keeper steers. Sure, the steering corrections are a little bit clumsy, but that comes down to programming—the system doesn’t step in until you’re heading out of your lane, but it wouldn’t take much tinkering to just keep you in the center of your lane in the first place.
Lincoln is hyping the MKZ on a lot of different fronts—like its sleek styling and the massive optional sunroof that slides down over the rear window. Years from now, I won’t remember the 2013 MKZ for its Bridge of Weir leather or pushbutton transmission. What I will remember is relaxing my grip on the wheel and witnessing the quiet arrival of the autonomous car.