Hands-off: 2014 Infiniti Q50 can steer for long stretches without your help

The 2014 Infiniti Q50 debuts with a first: Direct Adaptive Steering (or DAS). Known in the industry as drive-by-wire, the Q50 controls steering using an all-electronic method (although there is a back-up mechanical system).

This is yet another steering advance in a year where other high-end cars, like the 2014 Acura RLX and the 2013 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, can practically drive on their own already, using computers and cameras to watch the road. You can even let go of the wheel for short periods, although car companies discourage this, naturally. But unlike the Q50, those cars still use mechanical steering.

Infiniti's Direct Adaptive Steering (DAS) is faster and more precise than mechanically controlled steering.

After a brief hands-off test of Infiniti’s new DAS, it looks like a major improvement over Infiniti's previous lane-keeping measures (such as in the G37), which used light brake pressure to correct lane drifting. The Q50 maintained a lane for four minutes over a few miles—longer than the Acura RLX managed. On a slight curve, however, the system did not maintain the lane quite as long as the Acura RLX did. On a country road, when allowed to go hands-free, the system worked fine as long as road markings were clear.

In a more controlled test, on a private, enclosed course, we drove the Q50 over small road bumpers and noticed the steering wheel barely moved. Instead, the car adjusted the tires automatically and didn't cause the typical jolt to the driver. That could be a boon for safer driving, especially in wintertime, if the Q50 hits blocks of ice or snow mounds.

Adaptive steering is yet another step toward autonomous cars. A computer can think faster and smarter (and in all directions at once) to avoid dangers on the road. The real hurdle, other than the insurance and regulation issues, is whether programmers can equip the car to understand unusual situations, such as lane-splitting motorcycles, slick roads in winter, deer running across the road, and other random events.

Editor's note: This article was corrected to reflect the fact that Infiniti's DAS is the first fully electronic steering system. TechHive regrets the error.

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