2018 CADILLAC CT6 TEST DRIVE: Move Over Tesla, GM's 'Super Cruise' is the Real Deal

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【Summary】Futurecar got first-hand experience driving a 2018 Cadillac CT6 that was equipped with GM’s Super Cruise hands-free driving system and came away extremely impressed.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Dec 07, 2017 10:37 AM PT
2018 CADILLAC CT6 TEST DRIVE: Move Over Tesla, GM's 'Super Cruise' is the Real Deal

When it comes to self-driving systems, Tesla is arguably the benchmark for the majority of automakers and technology companies with its Autopilot system. Well, we recently spent approximately 12 hours and 900 miles in a Cadillac CT6 that was equipped with General Motors' Super Cruise system and have come away from the experience with nothing but smiles. 

Unlike other self-driving systems on the road, Cadillac doesn't refer to Super Cruise as being an "autonomous" system or even a "driverless" one. The automaker does refer to Super Cruise as the first hands-free driving system on the road, though, and it has a point. Similar systems from other automakers, including Tesla, BMW, Volvo, and Mercedes-Benz, all require the driver to keep a hand on the vehicle's steering wheel in some way or another. Whether that involves touching the steering wheel periodically or resting one's hand on it, others require the driver to be in contact with the steering wheel. But that's not the case with Super Cruise.

The Tech Behind Super Cruise

Super Cruise has the same recipe as other self-driving systems – a suite of hardware that includes cameras and sensors that are plastered on the exterior of the sedan. The hardware suite allows the CT6 sedan to see vehicles, road markings, and other automotive related items 2,500 meters (8,202 feet) in front of the vehicle. The driverless system also has LiDAR Map Data, which required GM to map roughly 160,000 miles of highways in the United States and Canada. Then there's the high-precision GPS that the automaker claims is four times more precise than a traditional system and can location the vehicle within two meters (6.56 feet). 

The tech behind GM's Super Cruise doesn't stop there, as the automaker's Driver Attention System is also bespoke to Super Cruise. The Driver Attention System is comprised of a front-facing camera that's on the steering column that tracks the driver's head and eyes, a unique steering wheel with a light bar, and new graphics in the gauge cluster. 

Getting past all of the technological jargon reveals a vehicle that can actually make good on its promises – not only does it allow driver's to take their hands off of the steering wheel and drive on its own, but it does it extremely well. Super Cruise, though, unlike some of its competitors, can only be used in a specific situation. 

Cadillac CT6 Super Cruise 2.jpg

How Does It Work?

For starters, there's an entire checklist to go through to get the system to work: Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) has to be on, Teen Driver can't be active, the car's Forward Collision System has to be set to alert and brake, the car has to be on a road with well-defined lane markings, and the vehicle has to be on a limited-access freeway. The last part may not be as straightforward as it sounds, as Cadillac defines a "limited-access freways" as having on- and off-ramps. Just because it's a large road and has on- and off-ramps doesn't mean that the car will allow you to turn Super Cruise on. 

Once all of the requirements are met, getting Super Cruise to take over is like a completing a quick-time event in a videogame. Make sure the vehicle is in the center of the lane, wait for a gray steering wheel icon to appear on the gauge cluster, push the Super Cruise button on the steering wheel, and bingo, the process is complete.

If all is well, the gray little steering wheel on the gauge turns green, while the light bar on the steering wheel turns green, as well. When Super Cruise is active, the vehicle steers itself, even around turns, and, thanks to ACC, handles braking and acceleration, as well. It doesn't handle lane changes though. Changing lanes requires taking control back from Super Cruise, which can be done with a simple tug of the steering wheel. After completing the lane change and finding the center of the lane, Super Cruise automatically takes control of the vehicle again. 

With the car in control and your hands off of the steering wheel, taking some time to enjoy the scenery or to check one's phone are no longer dangerous tasks. Instead, they can be done safely, but not for more than five seconds. Peering away from the road for five seconds sends the system into Escalation 1 mode, which makes the light on the steering wheel flash green. The flashing light is a warning for the driver to pay attention, which can be solved by placing one's hands on the wheel or by looking forward. Easy enough.  

Fail to prove to the vehicle that you're paying attention and it goes into Escalation 2 where the steering wheel icon turns red and the bar on the steering wheel flashes red, as well. A chime is also emitted, which can be exchanged for a haptic alert through the seat. Super Cruise disengages during Escalation 2 and requires the driver to go through the process of finding the center of the lane and pushing the appropriate button when ready all over again.

If the driver fails to take control of the vehicle after 10 seconds into reaching Escalation 2, Super Cruise goes into Escalation 3 mode, which is essentially Defcon 1 where the light bar flashes red, a chime is discharged or the seat vibrates, and a voice command comes on to tell the driver to take control of the car. During this time, the vehicle does an emergency stop with the four way hazards kicking on. OnStar is also contacted, as Cadillac sees Escalation 3 as an emergency situation where someone has lost consciousness behind the wheel. 

We asked and asked Cadillac to let us see what happens during Escalation 3, but the automaker refused. What we did get to do, though, is put Super Cruise through its paces on multiple freeways and in various weather conditions, including direct sunlight, overcast, and a light drizzle. Through it all, Super Cruise worked well. 

Cadillac CT6 Super Cruise 4.jpg

Yes, It Really Is Hands Free

There were long stretches of road, approximately an hour and a half, where we didn't have to make any steering inputs. And the CT6's ACC handled all of the braking and acceleration. One could theoretically text and drive, read, or even watch a movie, while Super Cruise is on – especially as the system doesn't require the driver to touch the steering wheel periodically. Strategically place your phone near the camera on the steering column and it tricks the system into thinking you're paying attention. 

Clearly, we loved the system and found it to be marvelous at allowing drivers to gain some time back from sitting in traffic. It made the 900-mile trip much easier and we were noticeably less fatigued than we would've been in a normal car at the end of the trip. But there were a few instances where the Super Cruise system gave us a good scare. 

On freeways that don't have lane markings for off-ramps, the CT6 decided to veer into the off-ramp and once it realized that it was heading in the wrong direction, would jerk back into its original lane. That situation only occurred when the vehicle was driving itself in the right lane, but it happened multiple times. 

The second issue only occurred once, but it was a bit alarming. A driver in a crossover was attempting to merge into the right lane on a two-lane freeway, which was the same lane the CT6 was in. The sedan's set of sensors or cameras didn't detect the crossover merging and when the driver cut us off, the sedan made use of its Emergency Braking System. Luckily, it only happened once and the vehicle did avoid an accident – if only just barely. 

Super Cruise's Limitations

Cadillac did put some safety things in place to make sure that drivers stayed out of trouble, as Super Cruise will only work at speeds of up to 85 miles per hour. While it'll let the driver set the pace, don't expect to go faster than 85 mph and be able to take your hands off of the steering wheel. The second thing is that the system only works on freeways – there's no leniency in that. 

The high-precision GPS system that the Super Cruise system utilizes provides a geofenced area for the vehicle to operate in, which means that the vehicle knows when it's approaching an off-ramp and will move to Escalation 2 automatically. And the gray steering wheel icon, which signals Super Cruise's availability, doesn't even illuminate on roads other than freeways. So there's no way of tricking the car into thinking it's on a freeway. 

Construction zones are also a no-no, as the Super Cruise system isn't programmed to detect cones or barrels. The system also gets caught out by the unmarked lanes. Take our advice, and Cadillac's, and take control over the vehicle while going through a construction zone. 

The good news about construction, though, is that Cadillac will keep up with local transportation departments and update the vehicles' maps to include the new construction roads. Updates, like those, and other ones will happen over the air and when the car's on. Unlike the updates that are provided by other automakers, owners won't know when the updates happen, but Cadillac claims that they will take place on a quarterly basis. 

Cadillac CT6 Super Cruise 3.jpg

A Nearly Flawless System That's Actually Affordable

It's obvious to see that General Motors has thought this through. And we wouldn't expect anything less as Super Cruise has taken the automaker five years to perfect. Reports and rumors indicated that the system was going to come out last year, but was delayed for some strange reason. Cadillac wasn't willing to give us a straight answer, but, as one of the engineers behind Super Cruise told us, the automaker wasn't interested in having drivers act as beta testers. Things had to be perfect. Well, we're happy to report that they're close to being flawless.  

Super Cruise is standard on the top-of-the-line CT6 that costs $85,290 and is available as a $5,000 package on the Premium Luxury trim that starts at $66,290. After extensively testing the piece of tech, we can definitively state that Super Cruise is worth the money. The system really does allow for hands-free driving, which is something no other automaker can claim, and is darn good at it, as well. 

A Super Cruise-equipped CT6 showed us what a self-driving future would be like and it's marvelous. Cadillac won't provide any details on what other vehicles will come with Super Cruise, but regardless of what car the system's on, it'll be a thing of beauty. Simple to use, takes the hassle out of driving, and makes traffic enjoyable. Who knew the future would be this agreeable?  

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