More and more automakers are coming to market with semi-autonomous driving systems, but a new report by the influential Consumer Reports magazine finds the Cadillac Super Cruise technology to be the best available.
That’s particularly bad news for Tesla, which was among the first to market with its well-hyped Autopilot system. According to Consumer Reports, however, Tesla’s technology is “a distant second” to the Caddy alternative.
Virtually every major manufacturer is now working up a driving assistance system, some allowing motorists to take their hands entirely off the wheel under strict and limited conditions. But the technology has not yet reached the point where a driver can turn their attention elsewhere, whether to text, read a book or even sleep. All demand a motorist remain at the ready and poised to take immediate control in an emergency – or when a vehicle travels out of a carefully defined route, such as exiting a freeway.
In all, Consumer Reports rated 17 different systems from manufacturers including GM and Tesla but Audi, Ford, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen and others as well. It marked the third year for the annual study and did reveal a number of changes since the study began in 2018.
Automakers claim these technologies not only ease the burden of driving but also reduce the risk of crashes by spotting when another vehicle might be ready to run a red light, for example, or by keeping a motorist firmly centered in their own lane. That said, there is a potential downside.
“The evidence is clear: If a car makes it easier for people to take their attention off the road, they’re going to do so — with potentially deadly consequences,” William Wallace, manager of safety policy for Consumer Reports said in a summary of the new study.
“It’s critical for active driving assistance systems to come with safety features that actually verify drivers are paying attention and are ready to take action at all times. Otherwise, these systems’ safety risks could end up outweighing their benefits.”
That was, in fact, one of the reasons why the magazine gave the thumbs up to the Cadillac Super Cruise, which debuted on the automaker’s CT6 sedan and will this year begin rolling out on other Caddy and GM models.
“Even with new systems from many different automakers, Super Cruise still comes out on top due to the infrared camera ensuring the driver’s eyes are looking toward the roadway,” said Kelly Funkhouser, CR’s head of connected and automated vehicle testing.
Tesla’s Autopilot system has been faulted by safety advocates, as well as government regulators for the fact that it allows motorists to do pretty much anything while it’s active.
There have been videos online showing motorists jumping into the backseat or falling asleep. And both NHTSA and the NTSB have put some blame on Tesla for fatal crashes where motorists failed to retake control.
The ability to monitor a driver was just one of the factors used to compare the various systems, however. Some do little more than help steer a motorist through corners while helping a vehicle remain in the center of their lane. Others work only at slow speeds in traffic, others only at higher speeds.
Super Cruise also won kudos as one of the most advanced of the semi-autonomous systems. Earlier this year it nearly doubled, covering about 200,000 miles, the number U.S. roads on which it could operate – though it still is limited to superhighways and other select roads with limited access.
Tesla’s Autopilot claims to be able to operate in even more situations, and the company recently brought out a beta update of its Autopilot system dubbed “Full Self-Driving.”
The EV maker has taken hits for using that term, however, its own release notes pointing out to drivers that they might remain vigilant and ready to take immediate control. Otherwise, it stressed, it “may do the wrong thing at the worst time.”
Systems included in the CR study had to have both adaptive cruise control, or ACC, as well as lane-keeping assistance, or LKA. They also had to be able to take control of the vehicle’s steering, accelerator and brakes.
The magazine did give Tesla credit for making minor improvements, along with the Volvo system. CR faulted the technology used by Buick, Mazda and Land Rover, however, for not being able to keep their vehicles centered within their lanes.
This isn’t the first time Tesla has taken hits for performance problems. In a study released last month by the European New Car Assessment Program, Autopilot ranked sixth out of 10 systems analyzed, with a rating of “moderate.” There it was also faulted for its inability to monitor a driver’s behavior.
“Unfortunately, there are motorists that believe they can purchase a self-driving car today. This is a dangerous misconception that sees too much control handed to vehicles that are not ready to cope with all situations,” said Matthew Avery, a Euro NCAP board member and research director at Thatcham Research.
In the European study, the Mercedes-Benz GLE came out on top, one of three models rated “Very Good.” The others were the BMW 3 Series and the Audi Q8.