The self-driving revolution is nigh ladies and gents, and I am pleased to announce that we were there to experience it firsthand when it all began in earnest. Cadillac recently equipped top trim versions of its 2018 CT6 sedan with something it calls “Super Cruise,” a system that allows drivers to relinquish steering, acceleration, and braking controls for prolonged periods of time while on certain interstate highways. It’s the first vehicle of its kind to offer true hands-free driving, and in order to see how well it works we were given the chance to cruise autonomously for two days from Cleveland to Chicago and then, after a night in the Windy City, all the way down to Memphis.
Our first day on the open road came with a police escort, photo shoots along the lake, cups of caffeine, some driver trial and error, and the discovery of a massive glaring issue with Super Cruise which actually encompasses all meanings of the word “glare.”
It was day one, and I was perturbed beyond words, glaring heatedly out the windscreen for damn good reason. I had been on the road for less than an hour and the system was already refusing to work. Unbeknownst to yours truly, glare from the sun occasionally prevents Super Cruise from engaging properly, something that engineers are working on as we speak. Fortunately, as the sun shifted skyward everything suddenly engaged, leaving me to cruise hands-and-feet-free most of the way to my destination.
Once you get on an interstate all you need to do is set the adaptive cruise control to a desired speed, center up the vehicle in a lane, and wait for the little grey steering wheel symbol to illuminate inside the gauge cluster. Once it’s lit mash the Super Cruise button on the steering wheel, make sure that the LED bar embedded toward the top of the steering wheel lights up green, and voila! You are driving hands free.
No need to continuously nudge or tug on the wheel in order to keep the car tracking true. Super Cruise will take you safely through mountain passes and across desert plains alike, all without the need to manually take over. It’s an incredibly smooth and strange feeling, knowing that the vehicle you are in is driving itself, with the knowledge that you can manually take over at any point serving as reassurance.
In the grand scheme of things, Super Cruise isn’t the final say in the self-driving race to the finish, but merely a starting point for Cadillac. We hesitate to even call Super Cruise semi-autonomous because it’s really not. Yes, the car is steering, accelerating, and braking by itself. But it’s not really thinking. It’s using the inputs from all its sensors to hold the relative position you’ve set in the lane you choose. You still have to manually change lanes in order to pass anything, construction often forces the driver to take over, and the system will disengage if you appear too distracted. There’s a slew of components at play here, and to truly understand what is going on behind the scenes one must dive inside an engineer’s mind.
Broken down to the fundamentals, this system relies upon five key elements: operational domain (it doesn’t work everywhere), blue line (sensor inputs for trajectory purposes), adaptive cruise control, a driver attention system, and redundancy for additional safety. Things like GM-exclusive HD maps, a GPS setup that can pinpoint your exact location within 2 meters, external cameras, and some of the most advanced LiDAR map data on the planet make the remainder of the Super Cruise experience a reality.
The driver attention portion of this puzzle is intriguing, too. There are cameras and infrared emitters focusing on the driver’s face and eyes at all times, ensuring that you are indeed still paying attention to the road. If you look away for too long the system warns you with a flashing red lights on the wheel and other triggers like seat vibrations. If you are still not responding to any of the warnings, the car will come to a complete stop, the hazard lights fire-up, and OnStar is notified. Fortunately, I didn’t have to experience this scenario, and every time the steering wheel flashed at me sensors in the steering wheel notified the computer that I had taken back control. Even if the green LED flashes, turns blue, or goes red, after re-centering the vehicle you can re-engage Super Cruise when that light in the dash illuminates, meaning you only have to turn off the car and restart everything after a full lockout.
Venturing out onto the open road for the first time you may feel a bit nervous about engaging this system, but after a day of Super Cruising it almost becomes second nature. Of the 548 miles I traveled from Chicago to Memphis on the second day, Super Cruise was active for more than 400 miles of it, performing flawlessly almost the entire time. Sure, there are times when you have to or should take over manually, like when faced with road work, lane shifts, or when passing a swaying semi, but that shouldn’t be an issue for most buyers. The assured nature of the system and lack of driving fatigue make for a strong selling point when ticking the Super Cruise option box on your next Cadillac, just remember that for now this setup only comes on the 2018 CT6.
But buying a CT6 is by no means quandary-inducing, because quite frankly this platform kicks ass. Overall, the CT6 is a stellar machine, even without the $5,000 Super Cruise upgrade. With its silky-smooth CVT, AWD authority, sharp manual paddle shifts, and twin-turbo V6 upgrade packing 404 horsepower and almost the same amount of torque, upper end models provide a near flawless drive experience. Passenger’s get a lot of perks too, like real wood and carbon fiber trim accents, massaging seats, a revised and easy-to-use CUE infotainment system, and all of the seat adjustability, space, and soft touch materials one expects in a Cadillac.
Driver assisted, sharply styled, snappy under acceleration, and opulent as all hell, the Super Cruise-equipped Cadillac CT6 is without question one of the world’s premier luxury sedans, even with its setbacks. Super Cruise does occasionally falter, especially when under the sun’s glare and unmapped road construction challenge the system. But if that’s the worst of our woes right now I think we’re going to be golden by the time these machines hit the market.
Oh, and in addition to Super Cruise, your five grand also gets you things like adaptive cruise control, night vision, forward/reverse automatic braking, a 20-inch all-season wheel/tire combo, active rear steering, and Magnetic Ride Control adaptive dampers. It’s a package built for cruising, and I can’t decide what’s more super, the way in which everything performs, or the insanely affordable asking price for all that additional tech.
My suggestion when you test the $71,300 Super Cruise equipped CT6 is take the time to truly understand how the system works, find a stretch of highway, and give it a run. Then if you do decide to buy it get the dealership to tint the windows in order to reduce glare. After all, what’s a big daddy Caddy without some tinted windows and and a banging 34-speaker Panaray sound system? Stay tuned, because from the looks of things we’re about to explore that side of the tech equation too…