General Motors’ Super Cruise, one of the best advanced driver assistance systems on the market, is getting a major upgrade for 2022 and will be available on many more vehicles, including, for the first, the Chevrolet Silverado and the GMC Sierra half-ton pickup trucks.
To test the new stuff, GMC took me on a tour of GM’s test grounds in Milford to play with the new Super Cruise on the facility’s 4.5 mile inclined circular track. Security in the facility is tight and our cameras were either confiscated or, in the case of my iPhone, covered in obnoxious red security tape.
I quickly understood the need for security when I spotted what appeared to be the next mid-engined Corvette Z06 2023 under test, a whole bunch of GMC Hummer EV pickups and, oddly enough, a Tesla Model Y. (GMC wouldn’t say why, but I guess it was to check out the competition.)
There are three new main abilities in the 2022 variant of Super Cruise, and I was able to test two of them:
- Fully automatic lane changes, which means the car can determine when it is safe to pass a slower car in front of you and perform all lane changes without involving the driver at all.
- Towing support, allowing hands-free towing (but you cannot tow and have automatic lane changes, it’s one or the other).
- Navigation upgrades, to display Super Cruise compatible routes on the in-car navigation system when selecting the route.
I took the Sierra on the facility’s “highway” and a GM engineer followed in a chase car. After setting Super Cruise to 70 mph, I settled in for some nice hands-free driving in a big circle.
Super Cruise, which debuted in 2017 in the Cadillac CT6 sedan, is capable of completely hands-free driving over 200,000 miles of divided highway across North America. It compares the vehicle’s position, taken by both GPS and on-board cameras, to its location in a lidar scan of the world. Once the vehicle knows where it is and can be safely activated, Super Cruise will take over both steering and acceleration.
The driver is always required to be very careful. The car uses an infrared vision system to make sure the driver’s eyes stay on the road. Watch your smartphone for too long and the system boots up with warnings before fully disengaging. But if you keep your eyes on the road, you won’t need to touch the steering wheel at all unless there is a situation the system cannot handle.
And with the updates, you’ll be able to touch the steering wheel even less. After I got on the freeway and adjusted my speed, the chase car raced past, moved into my lane, then slowed down to less than 70 mph. My Sierra noticed it and slowed down to match, but then started scanning the left passing lane to see if it was safe to move.
After a while the car beeped at me and displayed an impending lane change warning message and the vehicle quickly moved into the left lane while simultaneously accelerating back to my set speed of 70 mph. It wasn’t a dramatic move, but it was impressive to see him in action. After passing the slower car, she returned to the right lane and continued.
The truck has four new wide-angle, long-range radar sensors to support the system, one at each corner of the vehicle. GM has upgraded both existing rear / side radars to enable existing blind spot monitoring features. The existing long-range radar for the adaptive cruise system is retained. Between the seven different radar sensors, the car has 360-degree long-range coverage of the world around it.
The 2021 Cadillac Escalade models have an older version of the lane change system where the car would change lanes if the driver activated the turn signal (although this did not require any interaction with the steering wheel), but this is an improvement. significant compared to that. Just keep an eye on the road and the car should be able to get around slower cars and trucks in your path.
The new towing option is more complicated than it seems at first glance. When you first attach a trailer, the truck asks a series of questions such as the length of the trailer. This helps the truck to calculate the overall length and weight of the vehicle.
In a normal curve, Super Cruise will stay closer to the inner lane line, which is how most humans drive. Instead, with the trailer attached, Super Cruise will operate to keep the vehicle and trailer neutral in the lane. It will also leave more space between you and a vehicle in front of you (since the truck and trailer will take longer to slow down).
All versions of Super Cruise use map data to determine if it should slow down for an upcoming curve. But he’ll be more careful with a trailer attached, slowing down earlier and at a lower speed than without.
A Sierra can haul 10,000 pounds without breaking a sweat, and that’s a big weight to put on the computer, but GMC engineers say it really works. In my 15 minute demo, I’m inclined to agree with them, even though that was the definition of a controlled environment.
Company representatives would not specify the prices or trim levels on which Super Cruise will be available. Phil Brook, GMC vice president of marketing, said the addition of Super Cruise to Sierra was a “democratization of technology” and that they didn’t want to keep it buried at exclusively high trim levels. We’ll see on that, but expect Super Cruise to be an expensive option anyway.
GM says the new Super Cruise will be available on a number of different vehicles, including the upcoming GMC Hummer electric pickup, GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado pickups, Cadillac Escalade and XT6 SUVs, and Cadillac CT4 sedans. and CT5. The Chevrolet Bolt EUV 2022 will receive an older version of Super Cruise that does not include lane change functionality. Owners of 2021 Escalade vehicles equipped with Super Cruise will also receive the new features in a future live update.
Of course, this was an artificial test on GM’s own test track. But, given Super Cruise’s performance in our own real-world testing and the company’s cautious and slow approach to rolling out the feature across its range, we expect the new features to work as advertised.
Not too early either. Big rival Ford plans to launch its own Level 2 hands-free driving system, BlueCruise, later this year starting with the 2021 versions of the Ford F-150 pickup and the Mustang Mach-E electric car.
And, of course, there’s Tesla’s autopilot and the new beta of its Full Self Driving features that also support automatic lane changes on the highway. However, the Tesla system requires the driver to keep their hands on the wheel to confirm that they are paying attention instead of the fully hands-free driving that Ford and GM’s camera-based driver surveillance systems allow.
Although Super Cruise and Autopilot have been around for a while, they weren’t available in any pickup – by far the most popular vehicles in America. Adding Super Cruise to the Silverado and Sierra, and BlueCruise to the F-150, will bring these technologies (which could be an old hat for Tesla owners) to a whole new market of fly-by truck buyers.