Different Strokes For Different Folks: A Super Cruise Discussion

Illustration for article titled Different Strokes For Different Folks: A Super Cruise Discussion
Image: Erica Lourd

GM’s Super Cruise system is, by some accounts, the best semi-autonomous system on the market today. If safety is part of the consideration, and it should be, then it is certainly the best. But it isn’t without its flaws, such as that little problem about direct sunlight throwing the system into total confusion and kicking control back to the driver.

Although we reviewed Super Cruise on this website a few years ago, we thought it was time to take it out for another spin, given the news that GM is planning to expand the system to all U.S. brands in the next few years and the fact that that review was written by Ryan Felton who no longer works here and therefore doesn’t exist.

So, my colleague Erica Lourd and I each took a 2019 CT6 Sport for a spin on the highways around New York City and Connecticut. Did we actually like using Super Cruise? Find out below.


Aaron Gordon: OK, Erica, we tested out Super Cruise recently. Before we get to what we thought, I’m curious if you had any expectations going in. What did you think Super Cruise would be like?

Erica Lourd: So, I only had limited experience with cruise control before trying out Super Cruise. I always avoid it because I trust myself more than a machine. Maybe it is misplaced trust, but I like being in control (it’s also why I hate flying). I looked up some videos but still didn’t believe it would work that well. I thought for sure, it’s gonna turn off after something like, two minutes.

AG: Having just spent weeks researching the pitfalls of semi-autonomous driving technology, I was very much thinking about its limitations before I even tried it.


I knew Super Cruise is one of the more cautious semi-AV systems out there, for reasons I’m sure we’ll get to soon, but to summarize in a word, I was apprehensive. But also I was about to sit in a car that was basically going to drive itself for the first time, which was pretty damn cool. I did have some difficulties, though, which we’ll get to in a bit.

So your cruise control-less self used the ultimate cruise control. How did it feel? How long did it take you to take your hands fully off the wheel?


EL: That’s the funny part, I took my hands off pretty much immediately. Sure, they hovered NEXT to the wheel, but they weren’t on it. My feet also hovered over the pedals. Mind you, I was on I-95 in Connecticut in the rain doing this, so naturally I was a little bit afraid. I thought, there’s no way the sensors can keep up with this between the weather and the insane drivers in that area. I know it isn’t all based on the sensor on the front of the car, but still. As a anything-with-an-engine control freak, I was nervous for at least the first two minutes, but then my hands found their way to my lap.

You also drove it to Connecticut. Did you have sort of the same experience?

AG: Not really, because I did a lot of reading up beforehand on how the system works—again, because of that research I had just done—so I felt confident that once enabled it would be able to handle basic road and weather conditions. It was more the five, ten, 20 minutes into operation where maybe I let my guard down and something weird as hell happened that neither I nor the car could handle that concerned me.


Like you, I tried the system on I-95 in Connecticut, BUT unlike you I couldn’t get it to work on my outbound trip. Every time I pressed the Super Cruise button, it just said “Super Cruise Unavailable” but wouldn’t tell me why. I obviously wasn’t going to fiddle with it much while driving, but before heading back I moved the steering wheel up about four inches, which is where the camera is mounted that monitors your eyes to make sure you’re paying attention to the road. As soon as I got on 95 again, the option popped right up. I didn’t realize the camera position was so finicky.

EL: Oh good call, maybe I got lucky in that respect because it never had an issue finding my (beautiful, brown) eyes. The thing was finicky at the same time though, it would say I wasn’t centered in the lane sometimes even though I definitely was. So that would be kinda annoying.


AG: Yeah I had that experience too. Once I got it working and activated, though, I was simultaneously mesmerized by its technological achievement—the damn car is driving itself and everything!—and also....extreeeemely bored. Because you have to look at the road at all times (safety first!) but also you’re not actually DOING anything. It took approximately seven seconds to be overcome with boredom.

I suppose I just don’t see what the point of Super Cruise is, practically speaking, over, say, adaptive cruise control. If I’m going to be sitting there, doing nothing, but also not allowed to do anything else, I might as well steer.


EL: Totally, I took my dad for a ride in it, and he also didn’t get the point beyond just really powerful ACC. Like you, he also wants to steer.

AG: I basically am an old man in every respect except my actual age, so this checks out.


EL: It is kinda boring, sure, but I also feel like its like a game: you figure out when its going to be available, then let it go, and then take over again if it deactivates. It makes long drives a little less monotonous, and gives a little less stress on your foot. Recently, I drove around California in a non-semi-AV car, and it took so much longer than expected. I can’t lie to you and say that I didn’t wish I was back in the CT6 to rest my foot once in a while. It was starting to cramp.

AG: Couldn’t you have just used cruise control?

EL: There was cruise control, which I did utilize, but it’s not adaptive. As soon as I gained on anyone in front of me I would have to disable it again and take over.


AG: Fair enough. I don’t know, though, for me Super Cruise would only make a long drive more monotonous by giving me nothing to do.

EL: Hey, different strokes for different folks. I was also driving for something like eight hours. Even if I had to be staring straight ahead, it still would’ve divided up the time a little bit nicer.

Illustration for article titled Different Strokes For Different Folks: A Super Cruise Discussion
Image: Erica Lourd

AG: Did Super Cruise struggle with anything you didn’t expect it to?

EL: For one, I think it’s pretty picky about if it works well depending on how closely someone moves into your lane. Realistically, people end up cutting in a lot closer than the sensor wants you to be following (I’m guessing the two second rule which I was taught at the prime age of 15) and so it will quickly disable. I sort of wish that that wasn’t the case.


AG: Related, I found it disengaging every mile or so on the Henry Hudson Parkway, which is both unfortunate and also completely understandable given what a bendy, insane, poorly-marked nightmare that road is. I was surprised it even allowed Super Cruise to be activated on it. Because I wanted to test the feature I kept re-engaging it but if I was driving for any other purpose I wouldn’t have bothered.

EL: Definitely. I didn’t get to test it on the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut, but same sort of deal. I would’ve rather driven it myself on a windy road like that but could’ve been fun to test it. For science.


AG: It wasn’t great! I had the speed set to 58 and at one point the speed limit drops to 50 before a sharp curve. Because I wasn’t going wildly over the speed limit I figured I’d see how Super Cruise handled it. Instead of gradually slowing before the curve, it seemed to only register the curve a few hundred feet in advanced and braked pretty hard while it turned. I would never let it handle another sharp curve again.

Not to keep bringing up my semi-AV article but this is a situation the car doesn’t handle particularly well, and even potentially dangerously, but you’d never know from the instruction manual or any tutorial. It’s all trial and error. And that scares the hell outta me.


Any final thoughts on Super Cruise?

EL: I think it’s cool but at the same time I don’t see how people would incorporate it frequently in their daily lives. It’s fun to show off to your family and friends but as far as the future goes it needs a few more reworks to include more roads, anticipate better, and recognize eyes more easily. Also, the CT6 specifically feels like a car you are driven in, would you really want your limo driver to be super cruising? But again maybe that’s my control issues speaking.


AG: Sounds like you’ve got some shit to deal with.

The only time I see it being a feature of regular use would be if your commute often includes traffic on a highway. Being able to just sit back during that stop-and-go mess would be quite nice.


EL: Oh, duh. You’re right. Especially around NYC or LA.

AG: So there we have it. Super Cruise: a cool feature neither of us would want to use much except if we lived in the two biggest cities in America. Which we do.

Video Producer for Jalopnik. In a committed relationship with her 2007 Nissan Sentra named Layla.

Former Senior Reporter, Investigations & Technology, Jalopnik

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I continue to be a proponent of systems that augment the driver, rather than supplant them. Don’t give the driver less to do, give them more precise, detailed information to make decisions with.  Automation that goes “hey, do you see that deer off to the side?” is more useful than automation that compensates incorrectly for the threat.

Partial autonomy is a bad idea for the simple reason that people are generally not good at remaining alert if they don’t have enough to keep them paying attention to the task, and we’re generally really slow at getting back on task.