Recently, I wrote about Ford’s dive into hands-free driving with its BlueCruise technology, which is slated to debut on the 2021 F-150 and 2021 Mustang Mach-E models later this year, but the Blue Oval is not the first Detroit automaker has to make a big bet on technology.
Rival General Motors has been publicly dedicated to semi-autonomous technology for almost a decade, and likely much longer behind the scenes.
The company first acknowledged the existence of Super Cruise when it released a statement in April 2012 that it was road-testing semi-autonomous technology capable of driving hands-free on the highway. According to the press release, the technology developed by Cadillac “is able to steer, brake and center the lane fully automatically on the motorway under optimal conditions”. The release went on to say that the technology could be ready for production by the middle of the decade and, yes, the term “Super Cruise” was mentioned by name as well.
In the end, GM executives were slightly behind in their projections, as the first production car equipped with Super Cruise didn’t happen until the 2018 Cadillac CT6 arrived. The CT6 is a full sedan. grandeur GM has announced that it will cease operations in North America shortly after the first model equipped with a Super Cruise goes on sale. It became a China-only car in 2020, but Super Cruise lives here because GM cross-pollinated it into other Cadillac vehicles.
For 2021, Super Cruise is offered on the CT4 and CT5 sedans with the Escalade full-size SUV, which is all-new as a fifth-generation model. This year will also mark the first time Super Cruise will be available on a non-Cadillac when it rolls out in the 2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV, a battery-electric crossover that goes on sale this summer.
These vehicles are just the start of GM’s Super Cruise offensive that will see all four GM brands deliver the technology for years to come. Earlier this year, GM said it would be available on 22 models by 2023, including the highly anticipated 2022 GMC Hummer EV and 2023 Cadillac LYRIQ, both battery-electric.
Recently, I was one of a handful of Canadian automotive journalists invited by GM Canada to spend a week testing Super Cruise in the 2021 Escalade.
Before discussing my impressions, a few notes on Super Cruise. Currently, there are over 321,000 kilometers of compatible roads in the United States and Canada. These roads are defined as “divided and compatible roads that are separated from opposing traffic,” according to the Cadillac Canada website.
For the Toronto area, the qualifying roads are confined almost exclusively to the 400 series highways, although Route 115, which connects the eastern boundary of the Greater Toronto Area to Peterborough, is also included.
Second, Super Cruise works through two main pieces of the underlying technology: a driver attention system and precision LiDAR map data. The former uses a driver-facing infrared camera mounted on the steering column that uses head and eye tracking to determine if the driver’s attention is on the road. If diverted for too long, the system uses prompts (seat haptic vibrations, chimes and the steering wheel light bar) to prompt the driver to refocus on the road.
As for the latter, without getting too far into the technical weeds, LiDAR (light detection and telemetry) is used to collect precise mapping data. It works in conjunction with the vehicle’s GPS, sensors, and a host of front and rear mounted cameras and radars to keep the Escalade on track.
Super Cruise is classified as a Level 2 Semi-Autonomous System, which means it is a driving aid, not an automated self-driving system. It’s also not standard equipment on the Escalade ’21, but an option that costs an additional $ 2,875. My tester, an ESV Sport Platinum, has a starting MSRP of $ 121,298 which comes to $ 134,343 before taxes.
During my test drive, I took the 401 East from Oshawa to Port Hope, which is approximately 100 kilometers round trip. I have run shorter distances, like Oshawa to Bowmanville and Newcastle, on a few other occasions. I drove day and night in dry conditions.
On this stretch of the 401, Super Cruise performed impressively. Once the adaptive cruise control was engaged, I simply picked up speed and centered on the lane, waited for the white notification in the steering wheel light bar to light up and pressed the button. Super Cruise on the wheel. Almost immediately the steering wheel indicator light turned green, I took my hands off the steering wheel and barely touched it the entire time I was driving down the highway.
While this section of the 401 is not deserted, it is much less crowded than the part that runs through Toronto, which made for a smooth and cohesive experience. I maintained a constant speed and didn’t change lanes often, but with Super Cruise on, it only took a push of the turn signal lever to do so. Driving a vehicle that can change lanes with precision at freeway speeds without driver intervention is truly something to see.
Some other notes to pass on before concluding. First of all, special attention should be paid to the road when Super Cruise is engaged. During my test, it only took a few seconds of inattention before the system reminded me to focus on the road. GM engineers have tuned the system to a high degree of sensitivity, so if you want to load a podcast or switch radio stations, you better be quick.
In addition, the presence of new sidewalks and road markings does not guarantee that Super Cruise will work. For example, there is a section of 401 between Courtice and Bowmanville that was redone a few years ago during the construction of Highway 418. I drove over it several times during my day and night test, in east and west direction, and the steering wheel flashed blue when I tried to engage Super Cruise, meaning it was not available. This isn’t a big deal, as it’s only a few miles long and will likely be patched with software updates, but it’s something to keep in mind for newer blacktops.
In summary, Super Cruise is impressive technology and it will be interesting to see what additional GM vehicles receive the technology in the next few years. And with Ford on the verge of entering the hands-free driving market, more will likely follow. The big questions that remain now are how much and for how long.