Review: Cadillac says hands-free driving with its Super Cruise system is ‘like riding a monorail.’ We try it
Cadillac is in the middle of a massive marketing campaign to introduce its new Super Cruise. The semi-autonomous driving system, available only on the CT6 luxury sedan, is being billed as offering the “first true hands-free driving on the freeway.”
The car company has sent CT6 sedans literally across the country, holding events in multiple U.S. cities, offering auto journalists short Super Cruise seminars followed by a turn behind the wheel.
The system is highly sophisticated. Using a combination of Lidar, high-resolution GPS and a Driver Attention System that monitors the driver, Super Cruise will allow the car — on certain roads, under certain conditions — to travel great distances without any steering wheel input by its operator.
The system is said by Cadillac press materials to offer “comfort and convenience,” and to inspire “trust, confidence and peace of mind.”
“This takes adaptive cruise control to the next level,” Cadillac marketing chief Kurt Ghering told a small group of auto writers gathered in Santa Monica at Shutters on the Beach this month. “It’s like riding a monorail.”
Working in tandem with the CT6’s adaptive cruise control system, the Lidar and GPS watch the road and anticipate turns, obstacles or other changes in the driving surface. Sensors posted on the steering wheel watch the driver to make sure his or her eyes are facing forward and trained on the road ahead.
The driver can turn away for extended periods — up to four or five seconds, in most situations — to adjust the radio, pull something from the back seat or rifle the glove compartment — while the car maintains speed and direction.
If the driver should turn away for longer than that, nod off or fail to respond to certain warning signals, the Super Cruise system will take action.
First, if a driver’s attention wanders from the road for too long, the system will produce a flashing light, audible chime or haptic sensation in the driver’s seat.
Then, if the driver waits too long to acknowledge the warning signals, the system will relinquish control of the car and decline to redeploy for the duration of the drive — exactly what happened to me the first time I drove a Tesla Model X equipped with Autopilot.
Finally, if the driver doesn’t respond at all — because he or she is sleeping, say, or having a medical emergency — the system will slow the car down gradually, bring it to a stop, put on the emergency flashers and call 911.
The restrictions are very specific. Super Cruise works only on “limited access” highways — those that have on-ramps and off-ramps, and don’t have any cross traffic. The system will engage only when the car is in the dead center of the lane, and the adaptive cruise control is engaged, and only above a certain speed.
The system relinquishes steering duties when the driver needs to make a lane change, merge from one freeway to another or exit a freeway.
Under the right conditions, it works pretty well. During a mid-afternoon drive through Santa Monica, West Los Angeles and Marina del Rey, on three different freeways, Super Cruise took the wheel and the adaptive cruise control worked all the pedals as traffic slowed, stopped, stalled and started up again.
“You’re still the supervisor, but you could drive from Santa Monica to Irvine without once having to touch the wheel,” Ghering said.
Unlike Tesla’s Autopilot driver assist program, Super Cruise does not integrate with the onboard navigation system, and can be initiated only when driving conditions are met and the driver, prompted by an icon on the dashboard, pushes a button on the steering wheel.
The Super Cruise system will be standard on the 2018 CT6 Platinum and is offered as a $5,000 upgrade on the CT6 Premium Luxury, as part of a suite of driver assist and safety features. It is not available on lower trim-level CT6s.
Ghering said it was likely the system would be offered on other GM vehicles in the future in the U.S. It will start appearing on CT6 sedans sold in China by 2019.
Cadillac faces a marketing challenge. Super Cruise, as a self-driving system that is likelier to appeal to younger drivers comfortable with cutting-edge technology, must be made appealing to the older consumers who typically patronize the Cadillac nameplate.
The GM division said this week that its September sales were up 16% globally over the same month in 2016, representing a 16-month run of consecutive growth. Year to date, the company has sold 256,613 vehicles.
But those improvements were largely in China, where sales were up 37%. Sales in the U.S. rose just 1.1% during the same period.
Your guide to our new economic reality.
Get our free business newsletter for insights and tips for getting by.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.