Super Cruisin': 550 miles hands-free in a 2018 Cadillac CT6
I was about 40 miles outside of Barstow, sitting behind the wheel of a 2018 Cadillac CT6 on my way to Las Vegas. It'd been about 100 miles since I'd last touched the steering wheel, brakes, or gas, and Cadillac's new Super Cruise system had completely won me over. "I thought I'd be nervous, grabbing at the wheel all the time," I said in my voice notes. "But the car works really well. It's keeping in its lane, it compensates for the occasional crosswind, it really doesn't do anything to make me nervous."
It continued like that for another 50 miles until, finally, I had to take a bathroom break and get off the Interstate 15 at a rest stop. When I resumed my journey, I got back on the freeway and resumed Super Cruise, letting the car take the controls while I tapped my hands on the dash to the music.
Los Angeles to Las Vegas is a trip I've made dozens of times, but this was by far the most interesting. The inescapable feeling that I was driving the future left me with an inescapable thought: When it comes to the mind-numbing slog of travelling hundreds of miles of Interstate, I for one welcome our new robotic driving overlords.
How it Works
Super Cruise is Cadillac's name for an advanced semi-autonomous driving mode. It makes the CT6 a "Level 2" autonomous car, that is, it can handle steering, braking, and acceleration on its own under certain circumstances, but the driver needs to be paying attention and ready to take over when needed.
Using it couldn't be simpler. Once you're centered in the lane on a limited-access highway (think Interstate), an icon appears on the dash in gray, letting you know that you can engage Super Cruise. Press the button on the steering wheel, and a light bar at the top of the steering wheel turns green, meaning you can take your hands off the wheel and your feet off the pedals. If you need to change lanes, simply take the wheel and turn on your signal; the green light turns blue, indicating that you're in control, and once you're done changing lanes the light turns green again and you're in the clear. If the system needs you to take over for whatever reason, the light turns red and a warning tone sounds. If you ignore the warning tone, the car will slow to a stop. When the system shuts off, it switches to regular active cruise control with lane-keeping assist.
There are caveats. Super Cruise currently limits itself to roughly 130,000 miles of limited access highways LIDAR-mapped by Cadillac. That list will be updated over the air to the system every quarter, or when needed. It also uses a combination of cameras, radar, a driver monitoring system, and super-accurate GPS tracking. The driver monitor makes sure you're keeping your face forward, so you're not allowed to text or watch a movie. It's also programmed for drivers to take over at complicated interchanges.
That may sound limiting, but in practice it's not. While you can't get into a CT6 and tell it to drive you to work while you browse the internet, I can't think of a better way to chew up Interstate miles than being behind the wheel of this car.
Super Cruise uses a lot of technology we're familiar with: active cruise control and lane-keeping assist taken to the next level. Interstate 15 between L.A. and Vegas offers some good challenges to those systems. There's constant construction for starters, resulting in an ever-changing roadscape to test the Cadillac's ability to cope with pavement changes, blends, road markers, and seams that can trip up other systems. There are many interchanges with other highways as well. This route also suffers from inexplicable traffic tie ups, which would test the system's ability to cope with heavy traffic. Honestly, that's true of a lot of freeways outbound from Los Angeles, but there's something about driving a Caddy to Vegas that just feels right.
I left town during the morning commute, and the Cadillac coped with the varying speeds of Los Angeles traffic without difficulty. As long as I was traveling north or south in the early morning light, it stayed in its lane like a pro. But heading east directly into sun, the light dazzled the cameras and Super Cruise prompted me to resume manual control. Cadillac's working on a solution, and we've experienced similar difficulties in other camera-based systems. Once the sun had climbed higher in the sky, Super Cruise worked just fine regardless of the direction of travel. Cadillac also programmed the system to shut off at highway junctions because of the unpredictable nature of drivers executing last-minute ‘I'm-gonna-miss-my-exit’ maneuvers. Can't say we fault Caddy's logic there.
The takeaway: If you want to use Super Cruise to ease your daily commute it'll work fine, provided you don't drive into direct sunlight, and you're ready to grab the wheel on a somewhat frequent basis as you pass by freeway intersections and other blacked-out zones.
About 75 miles into my journey I reached Interstate 15, encountering fierce winds. But Super Cruise shrugged off this challenge, performing like a champ until I reached the Interstate 215/15 interchange. Through that junction and most of the Cajon Pass, Super Cruise cut out and remained unavailable for about 10 miles. It repeated that behavior on my return trip that evening, suggesting the area may have been blacked out from the internal mapping because of the heavy construction that only recently finished. My guess is that much of it will be added in a future update.
At the top of the pass near Victorville, Super Cruise took over again, and that's when the system began winning me over. I set the speed to the system max of 85 mph, took my hands off the wheel, feet off the pedals, and relaxed. Except for lane changes, I didn't touch any controls until the bathroom break I mentioned at the outset. So it went, for the next 200-plus miles through the desert, across the border, until I exited the highway and made my way to the famous Welcome to Las Vegas sign.
Over that 200-mile stretch, there were numerous pavement changes, dark tar seams, hard-to-see lines, and even a transition where Interstate 40 split off from the 15 a little east of Barstow. Super Cruise didn't waver once, even on a transition from concrete to asphalt that cut diagonally across the lane. It stayed true to its lane, with nary a wiggle of the steering wheel.
The driver attention system gives you enough time to change a radio station or take a sip of water, but you can't look away for long. After a few seconds of looking at the radio, the green light on the steering wheel began flashing, the Caddy's way of saying, "Eyes up, stupid!" The same thing happens if you look up at the ceiling, or down, as if you were looking at a cell phone. You can't cheat by holding your phone at eye-level because the system detects when it can't see your face clearly.
In practice the nanny rarely intervened because, where else are you going to look than straight ahead? Resting my head on my hand against the door didn't cause Super Cruise to slap my wrist, and that was good enough for me. So I listened to the radio, let my brain intrude from time to time, had a few lengthy phone conversations, and generally just enjoyed the heck out of what's normally a tedious drive.
The Journey Home
I killed some time in Las Vegas, waiting for the sun to get lower in the sky in order to try the system in the pitch-black darkness of the desert. Nighttime posed little challenge to Super Cruise, with the known exception of the setting sun dazzling the camera's view from time to time. Once it was fully dark, the CT6 maintained its path admirably, the only difference being a slight overcorrection from time to time compared to daylight. As I mentioned in my notes, it was "nothing scary, nothing disconcerting." Impressively, the Big Brother cam focused on my face worked just as well at night as it did in the day; credit the infrared sensors that are part of the system. Except for passing through the agricultural inspection station near Yermo, the system stayed on from Vegas until the blackout area in the Cajon Pass.
Once back in the larger metropolitan area around Los Angeles, and with no sun dazzling the camera, Super Cruise worked better than it had been earlier in the day. The CT6 navigated traffic slowdowns and speedups without difficulty, again demanding my attention only when I was changing from one freeway to another.
My round trip was about 620 miles, and my back-of-the-envelope calculations show that the Cadillac drove roughly 550 miles of that unaided. During that time, the system impressed me with its accuracy and simplicity. I also came away with an appreciation of its self-imposed limits. This is new technology and bound to be a little scary for some people. Keeping it limited to certain roads, and requiring driver attention, makes sense.
One of the best parts of Super Cruise is that it comes wrapped in the 2018 Cadillac CT6, one of the better driver's cars out there. At an as-tested price of $89,290, our CT6 Platinum came standard with Super Cruise, plus other high-end luxury touches like semi-aniline leather, a twin-turbo V6 engine, massaging front and outboard rear seats, and a ton of other features. Take the Cadillac CT6 to your favorite mountain road, and you'll be astonished at the agility of this big 4-door. Super Cruise is also available as a $5,000 option on the less expensive Premium Plus.
The reality is that no matter how nice a car may be, long-distance driving can be a slog. I arrive in Vegas feeling fresh and relaxed, and not the slightest bit fatigued. If you do long-distances frequently, the 2018 Cadillac CT6 with Super Cruise should be at the top of your shopping list.