A central goal of artificial intelligence in high-stakes decision-making applications is to design a single algorithm that simultaneously expresses generalizability by learning coherent representations of their world and interpretable explanations of its dynamics. Here, we combine brain-inspired neural computation principles and scalable deep learning architectures to design compact neural controllers for task-specific compartments of a full-stack autonomous vehicle control system. We discover that a single algorithm with 19 control neurons, connecting 32 encapsulated input features to outputs by 253 synapses, learns to map high-dimensional inputs into steering commands. This system shows superior generalizability, interpretability and robust-ness compared with orders-of-magnitude larger black-box learning systems. The obtained neural agents enable high-fidelity autonomy for task-specific parts of a complex autonomous system.