Culture / Cars

The No Hands Car — Cadillac Races Into Self-Driving Rides: But Beware, You Won’t Want to Go Back

BY // 11.08.17

Zooming down the freeway without even a single finger on the wheel is surprisingly easy to get comfortable with — in no time, you’re wondering how you ever drove any other way. But it takes a little longer for everyone else on the road to adjust.

You get more double takes than Kim Kardashian on a jaunt through a Des Moines Walmart. It’s the drivers around you who get a little freaked out. And who can blame them? Seeing someone drive down the freeway while conducting an interview, scribbling down notes with both hands on the pad, isn’t a usual everyday occurrence.

That’s what I did while testing out Cadillac’s Super Cruise automated driving system. Others might eat a steak behind the wheel — after all when you don’t need a finger on the wheel, using a fork and knife becomes a doable (if still not maybe a Cadillac endorsed) experience.

When you’re using Super Cruise — which only works on the highway — the car does pretty much everything for you. It adjusts to the cars ahead of you, automatically slowing down and braking when they do. You will not be rear ending anyone while on Super Cruise. It takes turns with seeming ease. It maintains your speed — when it’s safe to do so.

The whole driving experience is something like being on rails. It’s like tracks were laid out on the highway and your Cadillac is faithfully following them.

At first, it’s freaky. Then, it’s soon downright glorious.

That daunting nine-hour trek to El Paso doesn’t seem so dreadful when you realize your car can do most of the driving for you. It’s not just no hands — it’s no feet on the pedals too. It’s amazing how less tense that can make you feel — even through you’re still technically behind the wheel.

There are some sensible limits. You cannot just doze off at the wheel. There’s absolutely no sleeping (a tiny camera in the steering wheel tracks the “driver’s” face — and if you look away from the road for close to 10 seconds, the steering wheel will start flashing. If you don’t look back at the road, you’ll be prompted to take back control of the wheel. If you keep ignoring the warnings, the flashing will eventually turn red and the car will automatically slow down and stop in the lane, turn its hazards on and OnStar will start reaching out for help).

You also have to take control to do any lane changes. This is a self driving car with strict limits. Consider it a vital baby step on the long road to completely self-driving cars.

“It makes driving a more relaxing experience,” Cadillac marketing manager Eric Angeloro says.

Angeloro and a Cadillac team came to Dallas to show off the new Super Cruise to reporters. This isn’t just the future — it’s the present. Super Cruise is already at dealerships, available in 2018 CT6s. The CTG Platinum Package includes Super Cruise in its $85,290 base price; otherwise it’s a $5,000 upgrade option separately.

On this day, a small convoy of Super Cruise CT6s left from the Joule Hotel and headed for the freeways. Yes, double takes were sure to follow.

A Super Cruise First Timer

Engaging Super Cruise requires getting on the highway and paying attention to the bar on the top of the steering wheel. When the bar turns green, which means you’re actually in the center of the line, you can hit the button to turn on the automated driving. Getting into the center of the lane is not as easy as it sounds. One thing Cadillac’s Super Cruise quickly teaches is how few of us actually drive in the center of the road.

You’re probably not as good of a driver as you think you are. Few humans are. That’s where Super Cruise comes in.

Once you do get the green light on the steering wheel and turn on Super Cruise, you can take your hands off the wheel. When you’re ready. It takes a few minutes to start feeling secure in what your self-driving car is doing. But after 10 minutes, forget it. You may never want to go back to your regular car.

Cadillac’s engineers spent years driving around and mapping out more than 160,000 miles of freeways in North America. This gives Super Cruise an edge over some other automated driving systems — and it becomes apparent in how smooth the ride can be when your CT6 is driving itself. It turns out that the feeling of driving on rails takes hundreds and hundreds of man hours to be put behind it.

“It’s a driver convenience feature,” Angeloro says.

It certainly is that. Just don’t lord it over your fellow highway drivers stuck in more pedestrian cars. Don’t look too smug when you look over at another car with both hands raised to the ceiling.

No need to rub it in.

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