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Mark Phelan: Cadillac reinvents driving with system that steers car for long distances

Mark Phelan, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Automotive News

I merged onto Interstate 75 south of Detroit and set the cruising speed. A green steering wheel appeared in the instrument panel and I engaged Super Cruise. The car steered itself about 60 miles, until I reached construction zones that did not match the system's digital map of Toledo.

If you've ever suspected I-75 in Ohio is one big construction zone, interrupted by the occasional rest area or Panera Bread, Super Cruise won't do anything to change your mind. The Buckeye state's perpetual construction was responsible for nearly half my total miles without Super Cruise.

The system let me drive farther without fatigue, increasing my distance covered and my fuel economy. I enjoyed the music on my iPhone more, noticing instruments and arrangements for the first time.

Super Cruise isn't perfect. Low-angle sunlight in the early morning and late afternoon can blind its cameras, forcing the driver to take over. The car's pedestrian detection also shut the cruise off and triggered all the alerts several times when there was no one in front of me.

The CT6 is the most nearly autonomous car you can buy today, but it will have to fight to keep that status. The technology is evolving fast. The next edition of the Mercedes S-class sedan will add the ability to autonomously change lanes to pass slower cars. Tesla promises fully autonomous driving, but has missed several target dates.

The big difference between Super Cruise and Tesla's current autopilot system are that Tesla drivers are supposed to have a hand on the steering wheel at all times. I covered more than 100 miles without touching the CT6's wheel on several occasions. At other times, I might only touch the wheel for a moment, when poor lane markings confused Super Cruise's electronic cameras or to navigate a complex highway interchange.

I got used to it fast, and I'll miss Super Cruise on my next road trip.

 

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Mark Phelan is the Detroit Free Press auto critic. He can be reached at mmphelan@freepress.com.

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