The 2018 Cadillac CT6 is the first hands-free car thanks to Super Cruise.
The Cadillac CT6 sedan was introduced for the 2016 model year and hasn't changed much since, at least not on the surface. But take a closer look and you'll discover the 2018 CT6 is rather special.
That's because it's equipped with General Motors' new Super Cruise autonomous technology, making the 2018 Cadillac CT6 the first car you can "drive" without your hands on the wheel. Curious to see how the system performs in the real world, we ordered up a new CT6 for evaluation. For the purpose of this review we'll be focusing primarily on Super Cruise, but if you're interested in what we think about the CT6, you can read more here.
What is it?
As its name implies, Super Cruise is essentially a super version of a cruise control system. It works a lot like most modern adaptive cruise control and lane keep systems, but Super Cruise is much more robust. When engaged it can pilot a car for hours on end without any human involvement. But let's cover the details before we get into the big picture.
The system itself relies on a number of different sensors and cameras located throughout the CT6. But there is another element to Super Cruise — in addition to those vehicle-mounted systems, Super Cruise also relies on a detailed mapping database so the CT6 always has a full understanding of its surroundings.
For now, Super Cruise only works on limited-access, divided highways. That makes sense since steady state driving on roads without intersections is the easiest place to start for an autonomous driving system. Super Cruise won't engage on smaller roadways, but you can still use the CT6's adaptive cruise control system.
It should also be noted that Super Cruise doesn't work on every highway. Super Cruise needs mapping data to work, and that's not available on all stretches of highways just yet. We should also mention that even with that mapping data, Super Cruise still needs visible lane markers to function. If the system loses track of those markers, the system will shut off.
How does it work?
Once you merge onto a GM-approved Super Cruise highway, the system is really easy to use. Like a normal cruise control system, you have to first make sure the CT6's cruise control is set to the 'on' position. Then it's just a matter of centering the CT6 within its lane (there's an indicator in the gauge cluster for this — it's a little car between two lines that turns green once you're centered) and pressing the Super Cruise button on the steering wheel. Once active, Super Cruise takes over and you can just sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.
Unlike a few other autonomous driving systems on the market, like Tesla's Autopilot, Super Cruise doesn't yet have the ability to change lanes for you. So if you need to get over, you have to take hold of the wheel and maneuver the CT6 manually. Super Cruise is actually pretty good about letting you take over — you don't really have to fight the wheel gain control from the computer. Once you're centered in the next lane over, Super Cruise automatically reengages.
There are a few other elements of the Super Cruise system we need to cover. The first is that the driver must be focused on the road ahead at all times — sorry, you can't nap behind the wheel just yet. In order to ensure driver attentiveness, the CT6 has an infrared sensor located on the top of the steering column that monitors the driver's gaze. Look away for too long and the system will actually begin to shut down. At first it will just slow the vehicle, but if you don't get your eyes back on the road, the CT6 will actually come to a complete stop.
The second element of Super Cruise to cover is a light bar integrated into the CT6's steering wheel, which is how the driver keeps tabs on what's going on with the system. When illuminated green, that means the Super Cruise system is active and working. A flashing green light bar is an indication that the driver's eyes have wandered from the road ahead. Super Cruise will still function when the light bar is flashing green but, as mentioned earlier, it will start to shutdown if you don't get your eyes back on the road. Once Super Cruise sees that your eyes are looking forward again, the light bar will go back to green.
If you take over manual control of the wheel when Super Cruise is engaged (like when changing lanes, for example), the light bar will flash blue as an indication that the driver is in control of the vehicle. Super Cruise will automatically reengage and turn the light bar to green once the vehicle is centered within its lane.
Finally, a flashing red light bar is an indication that the driver needs to take control immediately. Some situations that might prompt the flashing red light include an upcoming construction zone, an unmapped section of highway or when the system loses track of the lane lines. Although Super Cruise deactivates when the light goes red, adaptive cruise control remains active so the driver doesn't have to worry about plowing into the vehicle ahead.
What's it like to use?
Simply put, pretty amazing.
Just as Cadillac says, Super Cruise is a truly hands-free driving system. Once engaged on a Super Cruise highway, you can just sit back, relax and let the stress of driving melt away. Which is why the CT6 is the perfect place to introduce Super Cruise — in addition to a Cadillac-comfortable ride, you can also enjoy the CT6's sumptuous heated and cooled leather seats, pick from a number of different massage settings and enjoy some tunes from a 34-speaker premium audio system. Highway cruising in the CT6 might be even more relaxing than sitting in your favorite armchair at home.
But this is the early days of Super Cruise so there are a few minor issues. The first is that it's just not available everywhere. We fully understand the logic of limiting Super Cruise to certain highways, but having such a wonderful system on the highway only makes us miss it that much more on a boring stretch of two-lane road through the middle of nowhere. Super Cruise for all roads is coming, but we'll just have to be patient.
Another issue we noticed is that the system can wander a bit when lane markers are wider than normal. It's nothing pronounced, but on certain stretches of highway we could feel the CT6 gently swaying from lane line to lane line. Such an event was a rarity, but we thought it was worth noting.
And lastly, since Super Cruise partially relies on cameras, it can be affected by inclement weather. We drove through a pretty decent downpour, and Super Cruise actually handled it with aplomb. But there was one stretch of particularly hard rainfall (think wipers on full power) that caused the system to lose track of the lane lines and therefore deactivate Super Cruise. Obviously that was a rare situation, but it makes us wonder how the system would handle a snowy winter.
Leftlane's bottom line
The 2018 Cadillac CT6 with Super Cruise is our best glimpse yet at an autonomous future, and a pretty good sneak peek at that. During our week with the CT6 Super Cruise worked just as advertised, making hands-free driving a reality.
Cadillac recently announced that it's rolling out Super Cruise to its entire lineup starting in 2020, and other GM brands will receive the autonomous tech in that year as well. Although a long way from a fully self-driving car, Super Cruise is a welcome stepping stone on the road to autonomy.
2018 Cadillac CT6 Platinum AWD base price, $88,295. As tested, $89,290.
Photo by Drew Johnson.