By on October 4, 2018

2017 Cadillac CT6 - Image: Cadillac

Now that new car buyers have a decent selection of semi-autonomous driving systems to choose from, Consumer Reports felt it would be a good idea to put them to the test.

Expect to see much consternation expressed on Tesla forums. The rankings, which pitted Cadillac’s Super Cruise against Tesla’s groundbreaking Autopilot, Nissan’s ProPilot Assist, and Volvo’s Pilot Assist, shows GM’s luxury marque in the lead.

What propelled Cadillac’s system to the top of the heap? The same element that gave Tesla’s system a black eye two years ago: safety.

The GM-developed system won the comparison test hands-down, and did so because it gives the driver a short leash — preventing its operation under unsafe conditions. Super Cruise literally watches the driver, and won’t let up with the nagging. We’ve lauded its usefulness in preventing incidents like this.

Tesla’s system ranked second, with the Nissan and Volvo systems coming at third and fourth, respectively. Consumer Reports said semi-autonomous systems have been on its radar for a couple of years now, but now that they’ve entered the mainstream, the publication felt it was the right time to alert buyers to the pros and cons of individual systems.

Tesla Model S Grey - Image: Tesla

“Stacked up against each other, you can really see significant differences,” said Jake Fisher, director of auto testing. “The best systems balance capability with safeguards—making driving easier and less stressful in the right situations. Without proper safeguards, over-reliance on the system is too easy, which puts drivers at risk.”

CR also doesn’t like some of the messaging being sent to would-be buyers. It slapped Volvo for listing Pilot Assist as an “autonomous” system on its website, a falsehood the automaker quickly removed.

With Super Cruise and Autopilot, CR liked how the systems kept the vehicle centered in its lane on varying types of roadways, while the Nissan and Volvo systems couldn’t corral wandering on twisty stretches. Autopilot was judged the easiest to use, and the system makes it clear whether it’s turned on or off.

GM only lets drivers use Super Cruise when on a divided highway mapped by the automaker, while the other systems offer more freedom of use. This in itself can be a safety issue. Super Cruise also provides early warning for looming roadway changes.

“Super Cruise is the only system that provides ample warning to the driver as it approaches merging lanes, off-ramps, and difficult traffic patterns,” CR wrote. “All the other systems lack early warnings and can be used in places they’re not designed to be used. On some secondary roads, Tesla’s Autopilot limits how fast the car can go but still allows the system to be used. It even allows use on small, curvy roads with poor lane markings—and operates erratically in these situations rather than locking the system out. While bad weather can disable all the systems, Nissan’s ProPilot Assist and Volvo’s Pilot Assist lock drivers out in moderate rain.”

In terms of driver monitoring, Super Cruise — the only system to use eye-tracking technology — won handily. As each of these systems demand that the driver stay alert and be ready to take the wheel at any time, preventing cabin shenanigans is key.

2018 Volvo XC60, Image: Volvo Cars

“We saw significant differences among the systems in how long they waited to warn the driver to respond, ranging from 4 seconds for the Super Cruise to 24 seconds for Autopilot,” CR wrote, noting that the other three systems base their warnings on the time elapsed since the driver last placed a hand on the wheel. Cadillac’s system utilizes a seat-shaker mechanism to jolt drowsy or inattentive drivers. It also locks out the system if it feels you’re misusing it.

“This is an insufficient way of measuring driver attention,” CR said of the non-Super Cruise systems, “and it provides little assurance that the driver is even awake. Because of the impressive ability of Tesla’s Autopilot to keep the vehicle centered in its lane, it’s easy for drivers to become over-reliant on it. Pilot Assist from Volvo and Nissan’s ProPilot Assist are far less capable, and that forces drivers to stay involved with steering, or risk leaving the lane on all but the straightest roads.”

Each system behaves differently in the event the driver doesn’t respond. While the Cadillac system, after a series of audible and visual warnings similar to Tesla’s system, turns off until the next time the vehicle is restarted (a features also shared with Tesla), it will also brake to a stop in its lane, flashers on. It then calls an emergency number. A Tesla will not. Nissan’s system initiates “sudden, hard braking” after the driver fails to respond to a series of prompts. If Volvo drivers fail to respond to warnings, “the system shuts off completely and does not apply braking or any lane assist. Only if the driver has previously enabled the lane-keeping system, which is separate from the Pilot Assist system, will the vehicle detect lane departure and provide some steering.”

The takeaway from these tests is pretty obvious. Safe operation of this kind of system demands the vehicle pay close attention to what the driver is doing, and most automakers need to step up their game in this area. At a bare minimum.

[Images: General Motors, Tesla, Nissan, Volvo Cars]

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22 Comments on “Hands Off: Cadillac’s Super Cruise Beats Tesla’s Autopilot in First Consumer Reports Ranking...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    All of these systems are a drug I do not wish to begin taking.

    • 0 avatar

      I haven’t used the fancier systems, but the Adaptive Cruise and Lane-Following has been really great on my ’17 CR-V, and I think they’ve made me a safer driver.

      I find the system strikes a good balance of being useful, while not taking so much of the duty of driving off my hands that my attention wanders. Instead, the car does a wonderful job with the close-up work (lane-keeping and following-distance maintenance) while I get to instead divert my attention to longer-distance tasks like watching for stopped traffic way ahead, coming up on a slowly accelerating 18-wheeler that’s soon going to move to my lane, etc.

      (I never use the system on any road with stop signs or traffic lights; highways only.)

  • avatar

    Cadillac and Tesla represent the best of the US auto industry. You could add the Corvette and Mustang to the list.

    I still think this technology has a limited future.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      It it like Hybrids. Just as they were/are transitional tech between ICE and full electrics, these semi autonomous systems will go away when full automation happens. With any luck you’ll still be able to switch them off.

  • avatar

    “GM only lets drivers use Super Cruise when on a divided highway mapped by the automaker”

    This seems like a good idea. Have some humans drive the road to determine its overall safety level and give input to the mapping/software team for approval. Makes sense that self driving should only occur on wide, major highways with clearly defined exits and gradual turns. For example a twisty 2 lane mountain road or a busy city street are no place for these system at their current development level.

    However what happens when the road changes? Or is just location aware? IE: it knows you are on an “approved road” and thus lets the system engage? What about construction? I’ve seen exits that often no where near where my GPS thinks they are due to lane closures and rerouting. Also of worry would be complex interchanges where multiple overpasses crisscross each other.

  • avatar

    I am on autopilot 90% of the time when I drive my Model S. It is wonderful. I put over 30k miles of challenging driving per year on my Model S. Would have been much more difficult without the autopilot.

    Do I prefer to drive my M Sport manual rear wheel drive V-8 BMW with hydraulic power steering and active anti-roll bars? In very, very limited conditions, when I push the car to its limit. In vast majority of driving I find it far more difficult to drive than the Model S. Mostly thanks to the autopilot.

    • 0 avatar

      Sorry this doesn’t make much sense. Whenever the driving is challenging is exactly when the autopilot is least able to help ie a twisty road with perhaps blind corners and elevation changes. If by challenging you mean driving in traffic in a freeway then our definitions of travelling are quite different

      • 0 avatar

        Challenging means time constrained and not straight highways. And you have obviously not driven Tesla autopilot lately if you think that it is least able to help on twisty roads with blind corners and elevation changes. A year ago it had some problems with some twisty roads. Now — set it and forget it. Just watch the road.

        • 0 avatar
          Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

          Regardless of your justifications, the notion of letting your Tesla drive you (and your family?) through tight, blind corners does not sound like a good – or smart – idea. Good luck, I guess.

      • 0 avatar

        You should test a recent Tesla on “side roads”, it works very well in most cases. Even on roads with only a center line (no white line to the right of the lane), it works pretty well. Even when I can barely see the lane lines due to sun glare or heavy rain, Tesla’s Autopilot can find them.

  • avatar

    I think this technology is a game changer, and its trickling down to cars that more of us can afford as daily drivers. I purchased a fully loaded Hyundai Elantra GT Sport for less than $25k, which comes with active lane keeping and adaptive cruise w/ stop and go. I use both of these to make my highway commute almost completely stress free. I can let the car do all the tedious work, allowing me to pay more attention to what is happening further down the road (stopped traffic, speed traps, etc.). I love driving on a nice twisty road as much as the next guy, but the fact is that 95% of my driving is on a congested highway, with speeds moving between 25 and 75 regularly. These features make my drive better and I am glad that they are now available to mid-entry level buyers.

  • avatar

    If I have to be near 100% attentive, I think I would prefer just to do the driving myself. Call me when I can get some work done on the computer while my car drives me to the office.

  • avatar

    “… it will also brake to a stop in its lane, flashers on. It then calls an emergency number. A Tesla will not.”

    This is not true — Tesla vehicles will automatically slow down with flashers on and come to a stop if the driver ignores the warnings (e.g. the driver is dead or incapacitated). Please fix this in the article, thanks!

  • avatar

    Funny that part of the reason Tesla didn’t get #1 is because of how well it works in most cases (e.g. highway use), and that makes people “too comfortable”….hmm…

  • avatar

    What about the orange test? or photo printed on a piece of paper?

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Ya gotta give GM kudos for coming up with tech that works. Sadly, since GM brass drools and engages in acts of self-pleasure in front of Alfred Sloan’s portrait on a daily basis; this will remain a “Cadillac Exclusive!!!” item for the next three to four years. Hyundai/Kia will develop something similar in the same time frame. For half the price.

  • avatar

    “It slapped Volvo for listing Pilot Assist as an “autonomous” system on its website, a falsehood the automaker quickly removed.”

    It’s not a falsehood. Any system that intervenes has met the minimum requirements for autonomy.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    The only autonomous driving tech I really lust after is how my Dad’s new F150 will back his trailer up for him. Sure, I am competent enough to do it myself, but I think it is really cool and I do it frequently enough that it would be nice.

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