Driving The Car That Parks Itself



The thrill of driving is all about pushing the pedals, timing your gear changes to perfection and keeping a firm grip on the steering wheel. But how would you feel if that last element was taken away? Would it still be proper driving?

European buyers of the facelifted Volkswagen Touran compact minivan can find out for themselves if they tick the options box marked Park Assist when they place their order.

This is the car that parks itself.


Here’s how it works. You spot a parallel parking bay you reckon is big enough. Before you reach it, push the Park Assist button that’s located near the gearshift to activate the system. Two sensors mounted in the front bumper scan the space as you slowly pass it, and a diagram will appear on the information screen between the dashboard dials. It will either give you the okay, or suggest you keep looking. If the car will fit, you select reverse gear and simply let go of the steering wheel. You need to work the foot pedals — either manual or automatic set-up — but the Touran does the rest. You just have to remember to brake when the rear parking sensors start bleeping.


So is it a gadget or a gimmick? It certainly works, and sitting there with your hands in your lap isn’t as weird a scenario as it sounds. It takes a bit of getting used to, but after the first couple of goes it seems perfectly normal. However, the system isn’t perfect. You’ve got to remember to flick your indicator on so it knows which side of the car to scan, plus it’s not great if the curb is curved and can leave you badly parked. Also, it only works in reverse and not if you need to shunt forwards again.


2007 Volkswagen TouranAt roughly $1000 Park Assist isn’t cheap, if might save you bigger bills because there will be no more dents and dings. My advice is keep your cash, take a few cones to a quiet bit of road and learn how to maneuver the old-fashioned way.


This isn’t complicated technology, and the only bits of extra equipment are the two sensors. Everything else is just software. That means it’s likely to be offered on every Volkswagen as it gets facelifted or replaced, and will also spread to other VW Group brands, including Audi, in due course.


However, the question of whether it will come toAmerica at all is still being debated. It’s all down to that notoriously twitchy bunch, the corporate lawyers. They’ve every confidence in Park Assist, and say it went through 9000 real-world tests as part of the proving process, but they’re nervous about liability issues if there was ever a problem in the ultra-litigious USA .


“Our lawyers have more work than our engineers,” said a VW spokesman, who was only half-joking.

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