7 lessons from 2,300 miles in Cadillac's new partial self-driving car
DETROIT -- J. Geils band is playing Detroit Breakdown on the Bose audio, but it’s all good. I’ve got Cadillac’s Super Cruise semi-autonomous driving system under the hood and 1,100 miles of highway ahead of me between the Gulf Coast and the Great Lakes.
Boogie on, self-driving Caddy.
This is my second experience with the Super Cruise, but the earlier drive was much shorter.
Before the engineers and lawyers jump all over me: “Self-driving” is a slight overstatement, but it’s hard not to be excited by Super Cruise’s performance and potential.
The 2018 Cadillac CT6 doesn't quite drive itself, but it comes closer than you can imagine, and I enjoyed the results more than I could have expected. Over the course of 2,300 miles in a recent drive from Detroit to New Orleans and back, Super Cruise showed it’s a major step toward fully autonomous vehicles that require no human intervention. Its radars, cameras and electronically controlled brakes, acceleration and steering allowed the 2018 Cadillac CT6 luxury sedan to virtually drive itself for nearly 90% of the trip.
This is not a dream “someday, cars will drive themselves” feature. Super Cruise is available now. It’s standard on the top-of-the-line $84,295 CT6 Platinum and a $5,000 option on the $65,295 CT6 Premium Luxury.
Expect Cadillac to add Super Cruise to other vehicles quickly, and GM to roll the feature out across its three other brands.
Super Cruise works on restricted access highways in the U.S. and Canada. Essentially, it steers the car from the time you leave the entrance ramp until you’re ready to exit the highway.
Super Cruise accelerates and brakes to keep pace with other vehicles or hold any speed you set up to 85 miles per hour. The driver has to touch the steering wheel briefly to change lanes, and take full control in some construction zones and on surface roads with cross traffic, stop lights, etc. A facial recognition system watches to makes sure you’re not asleep, slumped over or completely ignoring the road.
GM developed effective driver alerts for Super Cruise. The flashing red light on the steering wheel and vibrating driver seat got my attention quickly whenever I looked away from the road too long.
I merged onto Interstate 75 south of Detroit and set the cruising speed. A green steering wheel appeared in the instrument panel and I engaged Super Cruise. The car steered itself about 60 miles, until I reached construction zones that did not match the system’s digital map of Toledo.
If you’ve ever suspected I-75 in Ohio is one big construction zone, interrupted by the occasional rest area or Panera Bread, Super Cruise won’t do anything to change your mind. The Buckeye state’s perpetual construction was responsible for nearly half my total miles without Super Cruise.
The system let me drive farther without fatigue, increasing my distance covered as well as my fuel economy. I found myself enjoying the music on my iPhone more, noticing instruments and arrangements for the first time.
Super Cruise isn’t perfect. Low-angle sunlight in the early morning and late afternoon can blind its cameras, forcing the driver to take over. The car’s pedestrian detection also shut the cruise off and triggered all the alerts several times when there was no person in front of me.
The CT6 is the most nearly autonomous car you can buy today, but it will have to fight to keep that status. The technology is evolving fast. The next edition of the Mercedes S-class sedan will add the ability to autonomously change lanes to pass slower cars. Tesla promises fully autonomous driving, but has missed several target dates.
The big difference between Super Cruise and Tesla’s current autopilot system are that Tesla drivers are supposed to have a hand on the steering wheel at all times. I covered more than 100 miles without touching the CT6’s wheel on several occasions. At other times, I might only touch the wheel for a moment, when poor lane markings confused Super Cruise’s electronic cameras or to navigate a complex highway interchange.
I got used to it fast, and I’ll miss Super Cruise on my next road trip.
Here's seven things I learned from the trip:
1. My fuel economy exceeded the EPA highway rating, despite higher speeds and some driving on surface streets
2. I didn’t get bored letting Super Cruise do most of the driving; I loved it
3. You can go a long way without changing lanes.
4. Drinking from a paper Starbucks cup freaks out Super Cruise’s facial recognition; a plastic Coke bottle doesn’t.
5. Super Cruise increased my personal driving range significantly. So did a massaging driver’s seat
6 I rested my chin on my hands more often than I realized
7. Poor lane markings and low-sunlight in the early morning and late afternoon confused the sensors and cameras.