“I can ride my bike with no handlebars. No handlebars, no handlebars.” Yep, while Tesla is messing about with cameras and trying to do Level 3 stuff with Level 2 hardware, General Motors have channeled their inner Flobots by successfully launching and expanding a hands-free Level 2 driver assist suite called Super Cruise. To find out how it performs, we borrowed a Cadillac Super Cruise-equipped vehicle.
As it so happened, our Super Cruise test vehicle was the new Cadillac Escalade, a vehicle best described as nearly three tons of four-wheeled American hubris. A massive slab of body-on-frame luxury built for rolling up to nightclubs, yacht clubs, country clubs and Sam’s Club.
Activating Super Cruise is as simple as merging onto a Super Cruise mapped highway, setting the adaptive cruise control to your comfort and when a white steering wheel icon appears in the gauge cluster, pressing the button on the steering wheel that has a steering wheel icon on it. At that point, the light bar on top of the steering wheel will go green and you’ll be able to take your hands off the wheel. Of course, there are a few clauses here. Firstly, recently-renovated highways may not have current Super Cruise maps. Secondly, Super Cruise may not work in construction zones. Thirdly, and perhaps most annoyingly, Super Cruise doesn’t work when wearing sunglasses.
See, Super Cruise doesn’t just use the typical external sensors many advanced driving assist suites already use. It’s also communicating with the cloud, downloading ultra-precise LiDAR maps of approved North American controlled-access highways. In addition, there’s a camera on the steering column that tracks the driver’s eyes to ensure that proper attention is being paid to the road. If you take your eyes off the road for 18 seconds or longer, the system disengages until the next ignition cycle.
So how does hands-free driving feel? More natural than you’d think, honestly. Hands-on systems often have a certain degree of steering wheel fidgeting that feels almost like something’s coming loose in the front end. By going hands-free and focusing on the road, the driver pays attention to where the vehicle is actually going and not what the steering wheel is doing. What’s more, GM have actually calibrated Super Cruise following distances for the quirks of North American freeways, meaning that when in rush hour, it’ll follow close enough to the car in front that another car can’t just slip into the gap.
After all, you’re in an Escalade, you’ve made more money than other road users which means you’re more important than other road users which means no plebeian Ford EcoSport should ever be able to cut you off. With this deft confidence, it appears Super Cruise allows you to stretch out, relax, use both armrests and arrive at your destination feeling fresh as a daisy.
However, there are some foibles worth noting. The automated lane-change function is rather slow and not always up to the cut-and-thrust of Toronto’s highways. There’s also the way Super Cruise itself deactivates. If you know anything about humans and automated tasks, you can likely see a problem here. As a species, we are great at paying attention to tasks we are doing but terrible at monitoring tasks being performed.
Even with the high-tech eye-tracking, there’s a delay between Super Cruise starting to deactivate and the driver holding the wheel. After experiencing a few deactivations, I’ve realized there’s a good chance that the built-in delay just isn’t enough for drivers who may have tunnel vision from long highway slogs.
What about cost though? Like any advanced piece of tech, Super Cruise isn’t cheap. This Escalade came with a six-figure price tag and the cheapest new car with Super Cruise will still set you back $46,193. Then there’s the subscription cost once the three-year trial runs out. At around $30 per month, it’s not exorbitant but not peanuts either. That being said, for anyone who actually has to face a hellish commute, it’s a nice thing to have. Isn’t that what luxury is? The unnecessary accouterments that make life just a little bit easier.
In conclusion, Cadillac Super Cruise changes the game for Level 2 driver assist suites, and is quickly becoming available in more General Motors products. It’s more confident than any of the competition with rather deft programming, easy operation and eye-in-the-sky safety. While it doesn’t make the car drive itself, it’s certainly a great feature for making the soul-sucking grind we call a commute that much easier.
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