With Lexus Teammate, Hands-Free Driving Is a(n Occasional) Reality

Lexus Teammate Autonomous

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just let your car do all your driving for you? Lexus Teammate just made that (occasionally) possible.

I say ‘occasionally’ because there are limits. Like the name suggests, Lexus Teammate wants you to be part of its team, with both driver and car working together to create a really easy experience. Your Lexus won’t drive you everywhere, but if you’re on a Lexus-mapped highway, it’s going to do most of the heavy lifting.

Sounds great, right? I had a chance to test it out, and it’s awesome. Let’s talk about what you need to know.

Related: 9 Things I Loved About The Lexus UX 250h, An Urban Hybrid Crossover

Lexus Teammate Autonomous

The system will prompt you take control of the car when Advanced Drive is ending, which is when the system’s mapped ADAS zone runs out. Photo: Lexus

What Are Advanced Driver Assist Systems?

Lexus Teammate is an SAE Level 2 advanced driver assist system, but you may also hear it called a partially-autonomous system. But what does that mean? I’ll break it down:

  • The SAE advanced driver assist system (ADAS) scale measures the level of autonomy that a car has. It runs from 1 to 5, with 5 being a fully self-driving car that needs no human input.
  • Level 2, then is not high up on that scale. That means that, even if you have instances where you can take your hands off the steering wheel or your feet off the pedals, you still need to be engaged as a driver.
  • Level 2 features can steer, accelerate, and brake without driver input, but it can only do so on some occasions. The driver still needs to be alert and paying attention.

As Lexus likes to note, Teammate really does require a team: the system will ask the driver to check blind spots, for example, but it will merge all on its own after that. Teammate uses sensors to ensure a driver is looking at the road and is alert, but it doesn’t need you to accelerate when activated. And, above all, Teammate isn’t going to work everywhere. It will only work on mapped roads that have been well-vetted and tested — highways, not back roads or suburban streets. You, as a driver, still have to do a lot of work.

Related: Driving Etiquette: Tips for Less Stressful Driving

Lexus Teammate Autonomous

As you can see on the right, Lexus Teammate will keep you posted on how far you need to go before taking control of the car or making a move to a different lane. Photo: Lexus

Now, What Is Lexus Teammate?

Cadillac has SuperCruise, GM has BlueCruise, and Tesla has Autopilot — creating ways to ease the burden on drivers has been high in demand in the past few years, and Lexus Teammate is this brand’s answer to assisted highway driving. Here’s what you need to know:

  • It consists of two components: Advanced Drive and Advanced Park
  • Advanced Drive eases the burden of highway driving by enabling automatic steering, acceleration, and braking, along with assisted overtaking, merging, and changing lanes.
  • Advanced Park eases the burden of parking. I did not have a chance to try this feature during my review.
  • It will only be available on certain 2022 Lexus LS 500h models with AWD that hit dealerships this fall.
  • The North American version of this system will only work in the United States.
  • This version only works on limited-access highways, such as toll roads.
  • There’s no official word on what other models will feature Teammate in the future, but Lexus anticipates that this tech will be a core component of its upcoming products.
  • The car uses exterior sensors, cameras, radar, lasers, and GPS to determine lane position and to anticipate the movements of the cars in front of you.

Related: 2021 Lexus 250 AWD: The New ES Mid-Size Luxury Sedan Isn’t Just Smart, It’s Thoughtful, Too

Lexus Teammate Autonomous

The Lexus Teammate head up display keeps you up-to-date with all the info you need to know. Photo: Lexus

How To Use Lexus Teammate

If you’re going to be using Lexus Teammate, your may find yourself asking the professionals and watching videos to remind you of the commands or actions required of you — at least in the beginning. But the great part is that the system consistently prompts you — take the wheel, check your blind spot — so that you don’t have to completely go in blind. Here’s what you’ll see when you initiate the system:

  • On a limited-access highway, a notification will pop up on your dashboard that reads “Vehicle Position Initializing.”
  • Once your car position has been located, you’ll receive another message that says, “Advanced Drive Ready.”
  • When you’re ready, press the Advanced Drive button on your steering wheel. It’s the top right button on the righthand side.
  • At that point, the color of the road will let you know what to do. If the road is blue, you can let go of the steering wheel. If it’s gray, then you need to have your hands on the wheel.

And that’s it. The system is activated, as easy as that!

You can use this system whether or not you have a final destination in mind, but if you don’t have a final destination put in your navigation system, the car won’t merge on its own.

If you have navigation on, there will be a series of instructions on the right-hand side of the dashboard screen. This tells you the next moves the car will make and if you need to put your hands back on the wheel.

And if you’re not paying attention, you’ll receive a visual, auditory, and then physical reminder (tugging seatbelts) to keep your eyes on the road and/or your hands on the wheel. But if you’re on top of things, you’ll receive plenty of warning before the car goes from Advanced Drive mode to needing your help.

It’s also possible to regain control of the car at any time. If you want to end Advanced Drive, you can press the accelerator or the brake, and Advanced Drive will end. If you want to initiate an overtake on your own, press the turn signal all the way down and perform the pass on your own. If you want to prompt Teammate to perform an overtake, press the indicator halfway down, and it’ll do the work on its own. It’s all about what makes you most comfortable.

Lexus Teammate Autonomous

It’ll take some time to get used to a partially autonomous system—nothing feels weirder than having your hands off the wheel! Photo: Lexus

What It Was Like

Lexus gave us a chance to try out Lexus Teammate during a press event at its Plano, Texas headquarters, and I jumped at the opportunity. We were paired up with a Lexus Teammate specialist, who demoed the technology before passing the wheel over to us to try for about 30 minutes.

I found the system very easy to get used to, even as we traversed some early-morning traffic. The Advanced Drive button on the steering wheel is located in the same place as the cruise control in my daily driver, and it feels like it functions in much the same way — except you don’t have to keep your hands on the wheel.

It was a little unsettling, to be honest. The car will change speed without you needing to touch the accelerator based on traffic in front of you, and it automatically slows while taking a curve. It’s strange to feel the car turn without needing to add any input yourself, and to change lanes on its own (at least, only after you’ve checked your blind spot).

But by the end of the drive, I actually found myself really giddy with the possibilities Lexus Teammate could offer. This is going to be such a great feature for anyone with a long commute or for people who love road tripping but may not love how exhausted you can get in the car. I could only imagine how much less sore my husband would be if he could take his hands off the wheel for a little while and stop tensing up in traffic. I climbed out of the car, totally unable to stop smiling.

There were a few little quirks that I noticed. It’s not recommended you wear a mask while driving because the Teammate system uses the position of your eyes, nose, and mouth to determine whether or not you’re looking at the road. You can’t adjust the distance between yourself and the car in front of you.

I will note, though, that the verdict was mixed when it came to other journalists. Some that I talked to struggled to get the hang of it, since their driving habits were so engrained. Others have used similar forms of tech from other automakers, but those other options functioned differently, so it was hard to adjust. Some even struggled to articulate what they had a tough time with; the system just wasn’t intuitive to them. Most folks, though, had no issues.

For now, I think we can chalk it up to the introduction of an unfamiliar form of technology; after all, how many folks struggled with touchscreens when they were introduced? It feels wrong to take your hands off the wheel. There’s a lot to learn and remember before Teammate becomes second nature. But just like Teammate is a collaboration between ADAS and driver, the development of Teammate is a collaboration between its developers and its drivers. There’s always going to be room to improve.

Disclosure: Toyota and Lexus provided me with an opportunity to test drive the Teammate system at its Plano headquarters. All opinions are my own.

Lexus Teammate Autonomous

The hand-on-wheel icon tells you to do just that: put your hands on the wheel. It’s time for you to take control. Photo: Lexus

I'm Elizabeth Blackstock, managing editor of AGGTC, blogger, journalist, novelist, editor, MA/MFA graduate student, wife, motorsport fanatic, and bearer... More about Elizabeth Blackstock