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The Newest BMWs Can Back Up Without Your Help

I recently test-drove both the new 2019 BMW 8 Series car and the latest edition of the X5 SUV from the German automaker. One of the points in common of these two otherwise distinct models is the slew of new technologies each features – many of them even impressive! One functionality new to the game is the ability of the vehicle to back up without human help, after having memorized the last 50 metres driven.

The function is part of the park assist suite of systems offered in the latest generation of new BMW vehicles. In a nutshell, the system records and retains in memory the last 50 metres driven by the car moving forward (as long as it’s moving at under 36 km/h). In other words, no matter where you park, your way in has been memorized. When it’s time to leave, your vehicle can extricate itself in reverse by following the exact line borrowed to get in.

Operating the system is child’s play. When the driver is at the wheel and sets the car in reverse gear, a series of icons appear on the multimedia screen, to the right of the backup camera image. The only role the human operator plays then is to control the car’s speed using the gas and brake pedals. The system stays functional only at speeds of 9 km/h or less.

Check out the video above to see how the system carried out a simple manoeuvre.

2019 BMW 8 Series
Photo: BMW
2019 BMW 8 Series

But is it useful?
Whenever I was demonstrating the system to someone willing to be, well, demonstrated to, the question that popped up most often was, What purpose does it serve? After all, the typical BMW buyer is a fan of driving, no? And shouldn’t this kind of manoeuvre be a simple affair for anyone with a driver’s permit?

To that I answer, yup. In fact, when I was first given a demonstration of the system during the Montreal Auto Show this past January, that was precisely my reaction.

But after giving it some thought, and especially after trying it out myself on a few occasions, I’ve come to understand how useful the function could be in certain situations. Plus, when we fork over a ton of dough for a luxury vehicle equipped with all the latest tech, don’t we want to have that tech at our fingertips when we really need it? And then there’s the notion that this makes your ride stand out from the rest, of course…

All reasons we shouldn’t underestimate.

So, when is this system so useful, as I claim?

Imagine, say, you’ve parked your vehicle in a tight spot; you’ve left to go do whatever, and we you return night has fallen and visibility is close to zero. Or maybe it’s pouring rain and you can’t make out a thing. How about in winter, when your windows are frosted or fogged over. Keep in mind as well that in Europe, tight parking spots are much more common than on this side of the Atlantic. This type of system might be very welcome on the Old Continent.

There’s also the reality than in certain vehicles (hello sporty coupe sedans), your view out the back is highly restricted.

2019 BMW X5
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2019 BMW X5

But what happens when another vehicle is now occupying a space on the road on the path your vehicle had taken in the previous 50 metres? Not to worry, the system features a number of sensors that will detect any obstacle and it will simply stop the vehicle and leave the driving to the human behind the wheel.

The future
This function found in new BMWs is a sneak preview of the future, nothing less. The technology it uses will be the basis of autonomous-drive cars yet to be developed.

In the meantime, you can impress your friends by having your car back up without your hands on the wheel.

In any case, whether you like the new self-driving technologies, they're as impossible to try and stop as most forms of progress. The future is taking shape, and it will involve a strong element of autonomous driving.

As for me, well I'll continue to back up the vehicles I'm driving with my head turned backwards, hands on the wheel, though on occasion I may actually check the backup camera image as well. Old habits are hard to change...

Check out also our new test drive of Cadillac’s Super Cruise semi-autonomous driving system.

2019 BMW M850
Photo: D.Rufiange
2019 BMW M850