INDIANAPOLIS — General Motors envisions an automotive future filled with autonomous electric vehicles. A certain California-based automaker has shown that can be a perilous road, but the big automaker from Detroit is taking a more pragmatic approach with its hands-off Super Cruise system that will be deployed widely in the near future.
Super Cruise enlists Google Maps, LIDAR mapping, and adaptive cruise control for hands-off driving on pre-cleared divided highways. The system debuted in 2017 on the Cadillac CT6 sedan, but six 2022 model year vehicles will feature it: Cadillac Escalade, Cadillac CT4, Cadillac CT5, Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Hummer EV Pickup, and GMC Sierra. By 2023, availability will be extended to 22 vehicles that include the Chevy Bolt EUV, Cadillac LYRIC EV, and Cadillac XT6 crossover.
New capabilities arrive with the new model year as driving hands-free extends to those trailering boats, campers, and classic cars behind their enabled pickups and SUVs. Automatic lane change commands the vehicle to move over automatically. Navigation screens will more clearly indicate on which of 200,000 miles of roads the system can be activated. All in, much appreciated upgrades.
“We’re excited to expand Super Cruise to even more new models with additional capabilities to provide our customers with even more opportunities to go hands-free,” said Mario Maiorana, Super Cruise chief engineer. “The additional Super Cruise-enabled vehicles and new features are an important step toward our goal of enabling hands-free driving 95% of the time and getting people more comfortable with letting go of the wheel.”
GM Super Cruise coming to more models
On a recent getaway with my family, I had the chance to test the latest system on a 2021 Escalade. Given all of Super Cruise’s technical sophistication, it’s disarmingly easy to use. Turn on the adaptive cruise, set a safe speed, and press the steering wheel button on the steering wheel. Green lights illuminate the top of the steering wheel to let you know it’s active. Lift your hands off the wheel and relax…but not too much.
We rode 60 miles on an Indiana interstate without touching the steering wheel. A camera on the steering column employs facial recognition to ensure drivers are looking ahead and not reading a novel, but it’s unobtrusive. Want to change lanes? Just click the turn signal. The system will wait until safe, then move over and center itself. I worried I be unnerved by the experience, but it all felt surprisingly natural. Like the pilot of a jetliner, I let the big Caddy drive itself while I kept a watchful eye on it all, ready to take command should the green lights turn red.
Even without Super Cruise, the Escalade is an impressive luxury ride with its 38” of OLED infotainment screens, cherubic 36-speaker AKG audio system that includes speakers in the roof and headrests, large head-up display, and rear captain’s chairs with their own infotainment screens. A 420 horsepower 6.2-lliter V8 works with a 10-speed automatic transmission and air suspension that can be raised for off-roading and provide smooth cruising no matter the road. With or without Super Cruise, it’s impressive – as it darned well should be for nearly $109,000.
The progression from regular cruise control to adaptive cruise control and lane-centering steering has taken 20 years, but it will not take that long for drivers to get comfortable riding with their hands off the wheel. Super Cruise is an impressive system that I’d readily welcome if offered on my next ride.
Casey Williams is former auto correspondent for WFYI and the Indianapolis Star plus a contributor to the Chicago Tribune’s Sunday Auto Page. He has reviewed vehicles and covered the auto industry for over 25 years. He lives with his family in Broad Ripple. E-mail him at AutoCasey@aol.com; check his reviews on YouTube at AutoCasey.