BMW has become the first carmaker to receive approval for combining both Level 2 and Level 3 autonomous driving systems in a single vehicle. The new BMW 7 Series now offers the BMW Highway Assistant (Level 2) and the BMW Personal Pilot L3 (Level 3), marking a significant step in automated driving technology. The BMW Highway Assistant is a Level 2 feature designed to enhance comfort on long-distance journeys. It allows the vehicle to operate at speeds up to 130 km/h (81 mph) and can be used on motorways with structurally separated carriageways. Drivers can take their hands off the steering wheel for extended periods, provided they stay attentive and ready to take control if needed.

Additionally, the BMW 7 Series can also perform lane changes without the driver touching the steering wheel, thanks to the Active Lane Change Assistant. This system handles the steering for overtaking and adjusts the vehicle’s speed as required. Drivers can confirm a lane change suggested by the system by simply looking at the exterior mirror. When it comes to Level 3, the driver gets a bit more freedom allowing them to take their hands off the steering wheel and temporarily focus away from the road. This Level 3 system can fully take over driving in specific situations, such as traffic jams on motorways, at speeds up to 60 km/h (37 mph). There is an important caveat though: drivers must be ready to take control when prompted by the car.

The BMW Highway Assistant and Driving Assistant Professional are part of the optional BMW Personal Pilot L3 package, available exclusively in Germany for €6,000 (including VAT). From August 2024, drivers of cars already equipped with the optional BMW Personal Pilot L3 can add the BMW Highway Assistant to their vehicle’s functions at no extra cost. Last year, we asked BMW whether Level 3 will come to the United States: “We don’t have the pressure to roll out Level 3 to all regions as fast as possible because we have a very attractive, convenient offer with that Highway System,” a BMW spokesperson told us.

How BMW Level 3 Autonomous Driving Works

Like Level 2 autonomy, all BMW’s Level 3 system really asks of you is to press a few buttons when you’re cruising in a zone where the system is allowed to be active. In testing, touching the pedals reassumes vehicle control, but BMW aims to change that. Ideally, only after touching the kick-down switch at the end of the pedal will the vehicle turn over control to its driver. Speed is controlled by the speed limit of the road, traffic, and the system’s limitations (i.e., currently 60 km/h). When active, turquoise lights on the steering wheel indicate that the system is live. BMW used this unique blue shade to separate it from Level 2 systems, which use green. You can watch our demo right below: