Having launched Super Cruise on the 2017 Cadillac CT6, General Motors is rolling out an enhanced version of the hands-free semi-autonomous driving system even as the automaker expands its availability. In the short term, look for Super Cruise to be offered on the 2021 Cadillac CT4 and CT5, the Escalade and the 2023 Cadillac Lyriq. In all, GM plans to offer Super Cruise in 22 models within two years.
It would appear that the brand has a hit on its hands, given the feedback from owners.
GM’s own research reveals more than 85% of current CT6 owners said they would prefer or only consider a vehicle equipped with Super Cruise. In fact, they’re using it about 50% of the time on roads where it’s available, having racked up 7 million miles of hands-free driving since the option appeared.
“We’re getting really positive feedback from those that are truly living with the feature,” said Mario Maiorana, Super Cruise chief engineer. “And we’re using that as a springboard to really get this into more and more products.”
More importantly, however, the automaker is enhancing Super Cruise for the new model year, adding automatic lane changing to its repertoire.
What is Super Cruise?
Super Cruise is a hands-free driving system that guides the car without driver interaction, using a combination of LIDAR-generated maps, sensors and cameras. The system is available once the vehicle’s cruise control is on. The driver pushes the Super Cruise button on the steering wheel. If the system says Super Cruise is available, the driver can take their hands off the wheel.
However, they must pay attention. A steering-wheel-mounted camera monitors the driver to make sure they’re watching the road. If not, lights and sounds will warn the driver to pay attention. If the driver doesn’t heed the warnings, the system shuts off. The system does allow you to, say, change a radio station or adjust the climate control. But after approximately five seconds, it will start flashing a green light to let you know the system has noticed that you’re not paying attention, allowing you a period of time to return your attention.
Currently, Super Cruise only works on highways, although GM is beginning to map secondary divided highways.
Engineers updated it for 2021
The newest version of Super Cruise provides automated lane changing that’s activated by flicking the turn signal stalk. If the lane is Super Cruise enabled, the car will change lanes. However, if the lane you’re about to move into is going to end, narrowing down or merging, Super Cruise won’t execute the lane change.
“Not only do we know the road geometry and whether lane changes make sense, we also have all the onboard sensors to determine when is the appropriate time to make that change,” Maiorana said.
The system employs a camera mounted behind the windshield by the rearview mirror as the primary input for lane detection since it has the best view of the lanes. However, if you’re in low speed, bumper-to-bumper traffic, surround view cameras and numerous sensors are tapped to get a sense of the lanes to the side and in back, and can speed the car up or slow it down if needed to safely switch lanes. It’s even adept at noticing vehicles that are cutting in front of you. In fact, if you want to change lanes, and a car is coming up at a high rate compared to the vehicle, Super Cruise won’t change lanes.
But those aren’t the only changes. Maiorana said the software has been improved so that the vehicle behaves in a more natural way. Sensors will also notice if there’s a tractor trailer in the lane beside you, ever so slightly moving over, just as you would. “We don’t want it to feel like a car driving itself. We want it to feel like it’s driving like you would, taking the turns like you would, braking or accelerating with the traffic ahead of you like you would.”
The software is also designed to be predictive, not just reactive, slowing down in anticipation of an upcoming corner, or warning the driver that it’s about to shut off when exiting a freeway, usually about a half kilometer before it happens.
However, if you encounter road construction that encompasses significant structural change, GM turns off that road segment until construction is completed and it can be mapped again. And although GM vehicles have traffic sign recognition, mainly speed signs, it’s not input into Super Cruise; the driver sets the speed.
Engineers also made provisions for over-the-air updates, which would include map updates, which the company limits to just a few times a year.
What it’s like
For most people, taking your hands off the wheel at highway speed and trusting the car to transport you on its own takes some getting used to. But once you’ve tried it, you’ll want to use it more and more. Just set your cruise control speed and hit the Super Cruise button on the steering wheel. If the road is Super Cruise enabled, you’ll see a green light appear on the steering wheel and a message that the system is available. Then, take your hands off the steering wheel and throttle and let the car do its thing. It’s almost relaxing.
And unlike previous version of Super Cruise, which would engage only if the vehicle was properly centered in the lane, in the new version, the system comes on, but waits until you’re centered to fully engage.
A camera mounted on the steering column monitors whether you’re watching the road, and it will shut off if you’re not. Using the feature will probably make you a better driver and possibly reduce injuries as drivers become more, not less, attentive.
That said, it didn’t work on I-95 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which is undergoing a multi-year construction project. GM shut off this section of roadway as a result. Super Cruise did work on the construction-free Florida Turnpike, however. So take highway construction projects into consideration if you plan to get the vehicle with Super Cruise, as it won’t work until the project is complete and GM remaps it.
How much does it cost?
On the 2021 Cadillac Escalade, Super Cruise is a $2,500 option, but you must order other options to get it. Still, for those road warriors who spend their lives on the interstate, the added cost may be worth it.