It has not been a good week for autonomous, ‘Look Ma, No Hands’ driving.
You might have seen scary images on TV of a Tesla Model S impaled in the side of a police Ford Explorer in Laguna Beach, CA. Or, from two weeks ago, another Model S embedded in the rear-end of a fire truck in Utah.
In both cases, the drivers claimed that their Tesla’s Autopilot autonomous driving system was engaged.
So, maybe not a good week for me to be trying-out Cadillac’s $89,000 flagship CT6 Platinum AWD sedan equipped with its semi-autonomous Super Cruise system.
Super Cruise comes standard on the top-end Platinum model, and is a $5,000 option on the mid-range Premium Luxury CT6.
But before we go any further, I need to mention that Super Cruise differs from Telsa’s Autopilot in a couple of critical ways – the main one: Caddy’s big brother is always watching you.
A small infrared camera mounted on the CT6’s steering column looks deep into your eyes and can sense whether you have your peepers on the road ahead. Turn your gaze away for more than five or six seconds, and you’ll get a reprimand from a flashing green light bar on the top of the steering wheel.
Ignore it, and the light bar flashes red, accompanied by zizzy vibrations in your seat cushion. Ignore that, and after verbal alerts, the system eventually calls ‘game over’ by slowing the car to a safe stop.
The other big plus with Super Cruise is that, again unlike the Tesla, it uses super-high-definition maps, not just GPS, to locate the car’s exact position. And when I say ‘exact’ we’re talking accuracy within four inches.
The key here is that General Motors worked with a Michigan company, Ushr, Inc. to map, in minute detail, over 130,000 miles of highways in the U.S. and Canada. And for the system to engage, you have to be driving on a divided, limited-access highway that has been mapped.
If there’s a stretch of blacktop that was made in heaven for Super Cruise, it has to be that endless, arrow-straight section of I-75 we lovingly call Alligator Alley between Naples and Lauderdale.
So as I accelerate away from the Naples-side toll booth, momentarily reveling in the 404-horsepower on offer from the Caddy’s punchy 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, I set my 70mph speed on the car’s adaptive cruise control.
That then summons-up a white Super Cruise icon on the instrument panel allowing you to hit the dedicated Super Cruise button on the wheel. Make sure you’re looking forward and not only should the icon turn green, but also a big, bright green LED strip embedded in the top portion of the wheel.
I say ‘should’ because the system is very picky, almost seeming as if it needs to be be throughly convinced you’re paying attention. But once you get the green light, go right ahead and take your hands off the wheel.
On the lightly-trafficked ‘Gator Alley, it worked an absolute treat, keeping perfectly positioned in between the lane markings and staying perfectly centered through the couple of slight curves.
And you do have to pay attention. The few times I tried looking down to read a text on my phone, I quickly got a pulsation of green LEDs. Extracting a sandwich from its Starbucks wrapper? Ditto.
Coming up behind slower traffic and wanting to pass is when you have to put your hands back on the wheel, let the system disengage, and steer around. But once you steer straight again, Super Cruise locks on to the lane markings, you get a green light and again you can go hands-free.
It’s less impressive when we turn on to I-75 North and hit the Lauderdale cut and thrust traffic. Other drivers diving into your lane, the constant need to keep pulling-out to pass, and constant changes in speed all get Super Cruise a little confused.
In the end, I just disengage and take comfort in having full control of the car.
Yes, it is a ground-breaking piece of technology, and wonderful for getting ooohs and ahhhs from friends and family. But after a week and 300 miles of living with it, and trying to use it as often as possible, I came away feeling it was a $5,000 piece of super-smart technology that really didn’t make my driving any easier.
I cant wait for fully autonomous cars to arrive. Cars that fully drive themselves allowing me to relax, read, work. Yes, Super Cruise lets you take your hands off the wheel. But at a moment’s notice, you better have them ready to take back control.
Truth is, keeping two hands on a steering wheel doesn’t really require that much effort.