Last week, I drove more than 700 miles, and I had my hands on the wheel for maybe 45 minutes during the 11-hour journey from Dallas to Santa Fe.
I was behind the wheel of a 2018 Cadillac CT6 with the new Super Cruise system, which — to be clear — is far from a fully autonomous system. It’s essentially a lane-centering technology and an addition to adaptive cruise control (ACC), which allows you to take your foot off the accelerator and maintain your car’s speed relative to the vehicle in front.
ACC has been around for years and is increasingly bundled with forward-collision warning with emergency autonomous braking; Super Cruise works in tandem with both technologies.
But it’s one thing to remove your feet from the pedals and another to remove your hands from the wheel, which requires more of a mental leap of faith. Cadillac went to great lengths to get the technology right, and if Super Cruise becomes commonplace — which often happens with features that first appear on high-end cars — it will change how we drive on long trips, and how we feel about trusting autonomous technology.
Hands-Free Cadillac Super Cruise
It helps that the system is easy to use and quickly inspires confidence. With ACC engaged and the car centered in the lane, a Super Cruise icon in the instrument panel lights up to alert the driver that the system is ready.
The driver then presses a Super Cruise button on the steering wheel, and when the instrument panel icon and a series of LEDs in a light bar on top of the steering wheel turn green (pictured above), you’re ready to Super Cruise and let the car steer itself.
Super Cruise has a lot of limitations. Operate is restricted to freeways, and only ones that have been recorded using high-precision Lidar mapping that Cadillac says covers 130,000 miles of roadways in the US and Canada. The system can also be affected by adverse weather, poor lighting, and faded lane markings.
GM includes several safeguards and fail-safes as part of the system. For example, an infrared camera on top of the steering column watches drivers to make sure they’re looking ahead and are ready to take control of the car if necessary. The system will also deactivate if it can’t detect lane markings.
In each instance, the light bar in the steering wheel flashes green to inform drivers that the system is about to shut off. The light bar flashes red to tell drivers that the system is deactivating and it’s time to take over steering. The car also issues audible, visual, and tactile alerts (by vibrating the seat). An OnStar operator will even call if the driver doesn’t respond to the warnings to take control of the car.
The system will quickly deactivate and apply the brakes in certain situation, which it did once when another driver cut me off. When you change lanes there’s a slight resistance in steering wheel, which gives way as you gently push against it. At the same time, the IP display and steering wheel LEDs turn blue. As soon as you’re centered in the new lane the IP icon turns green; pushing the Super Cruise button allows for hands-free driving once again.
It took me less than an hour to get used to how the system operates, and only a few hours into the drive to fully trust it — and stop hovering my hands over the steering wheel on a sharp curve or with big-rigs on both sides.
Over the course of 11 hours of Super Cruising, the system performed remarkably well. It got confused only once: It wanted to follow the lines on the road that led to the exit, but it was in a construction zone where the lines had been repainted. Another time the car traveled about five miles before Super Cruise could lock in on center of the lane.
When this happened, it actually felt inconvenient to have to steer for a while. Another time, when the system was deactivated on a road that wasn’t mapped, I’d become so used to hands-free driving that I absent-mindedly let go of the steering wheel — but quickly grabbed it when I realized I needed to steer.
That’s how comfortable I was with hands-free driving after a long day behind the wheel with Super Cruise. And while it’s still is a long way away from full autonomy, Super Cruise will also make others more comfortable with the technology once it trickles down to other vehicles.
Super Cruise is Cadillac’s answer to semi-autonomous features from BMW, Mercedes and of course, Tesla’s Autopilot. But unlike those systems where you’re chastised by the car within moments of removing your mitts from the wheel until you return them, Super Cruise is totally hands-free.
Does Cadillac have a self driving car?
Cadillac Challenges Tesla with a Super Smart Self–Driving Sedan. Cadillac’s new self–driving car isn’t just watching the road, it’s watching the driver. The system it calls “super cruise” is designed to crack the so-called “hand-off” problem.