The latest episode of the “Talking Cars with Consumer Reports” podcast hits the road again, but this time we have some help with the driving. Our Tesla Model S P85D is equipped with Autopilot, a suite of sensors and programming that can steer the car to keep it within its lane, as well as controlling acceleration and braking.

We’ve put hundreds of assisted miles on our test car. In fact, Autopilot is one of the reasons we paid $127,820 for this Tesla.

Steps toward self-driving, like adaptive cruise control and self-steering, aren't uncommon. But Tesla's Autopilot takes the technology to another level, and we wanted to be in a position to put it through its paces.

It allows for prolonged driver assistance, adding a feeling of relaxed security on long road trips, and it helps take some the drudgery out of stop-and-go traffic. Still, this is not a true self-driving car, and the system is far from perfect. Most importantly, the driver still needs to pay attention and hold on to the steering wheel. (Read “Latest Tesla Model S Software Update Includes Autopilot and a Taste of Autonomous Driving.”)

Autopilot is a beta-level system, and data from customer cars is transmitted back to the mothership to make the system better for all.

Indeed, one of the most surprising things about Autopilot is that Tesla owners are willingly taking part in the research and development of a highly advanced system that takes over steering, the most essential function of the car. (Those owners even paid extra - $2,500 at time of purchase - for the privilege.) Compare this approach to that of other automakers who struggle to educate the general public about advanced and relatively-proven safety features like forward-collision-warning and automatic braking.

The Consumer Reports team discusses Tesla Autopilot and advanced safety in this latest episode of “Talking Cars.” 

Talking Cars video podcast goes behind the wheel of a Tesla Model S P85D with Autopilot.
Talking Cars video podcast, with Tom and Jake Fisher, goes behind the wheel of a Tesla Model S P85D with Autopilot.