For several years Lexus has offered an Advanced Parking Guidance System (APGS; also called Intelligent Parking Assist) option on its Lexus LS 460 and Lexus LS 600h, and the same system is offered in the 2010 Toyota Prius.
The Lexus/Toyota system was, and still is, the first and only system in the U.S. market to automatically steer the vehicle into both parallel and back-in parking spots.
Now Ford is also offering its Active Park Assist feature on several vehicles, including the 2010 Ford Escape, Lincoln MKS, and Lincoln MKT. The system uses ultrasonic sensors, rather than cameras, to make the parking spot identification more accurate, by most accounts.
The Ford system gives a simple command on the instrument panel and uses ultrasonic sensors as well as camera sensors. Ford has shown its system to take 15-30 seconds, but we ended up taking much longer with the Lexus system because of the need to manually adjust the outline of the space itself almost each time.
Originally the Lexus/Toyota feature wasn't universally well received, with a number of reviewers noting that the system didn't work or wasn't as intuitive to operate as it should be. We recently had the opportunity to retest the system in an LS 600h (snapping some pictures of the interface each step of the way) and found it to be straightforward but definitely more involved than the Ford system.
This is basically how it works in parallel parking:
- If you pull up alongside another car just right and come to a stop parallel but just ahead of the other vehicle's nose, the system is supposed to automatically activate and look back to identify the available spot. However it only worked one of the three times we tried that—one of the times we were too close, the other too far away; about three feet seems to be ideal. If it hasn't automatically gone to a screen showing a potential parking spot, you force it into guidance mode with a button on the steering wheel.
- At that point you either approve the spot or, as we had to do one of the times, move the spot with arrows to its proper boundaries.
- Then shift to reverse and the car steers itself, provided you don't touch the steering wheel. It's up to you to modulate the brake, and Lexus has just added the ability to gently press the accelerator if you're backing uphill into a spot.
- Finally, using the normal parking sensors, you can stop and pull forward to a proper position. You'll end up with the curb side of the car roughly aligned with the curb side of the vehicles directly ahead or behind, so if they're eight inches from the curb, so will you.
The Lexus and Toyota system has one feature that the Ford one doesn't: You can use the system to back into a perpendicular spot. But we had a little more trouble with this one on the demonstration (possibly due to reflections) and this is definitely the easier of the two.
While the Ford system might not be as gimmicky as the Lexus one, it's a lot less expensive—and Ford has plans to expand the feature to most of the other cars in its lineups. Though we've only seen a demo of Active Park Assist, we'll pass along firsthand observations as soon as we can get our hands on a car with it.