It’s a crisp winter’s afternoon, and we’re cruising along the highway at a brisk 75 mph. Entering a gentle bend in the road, we don’t think twice about taking our hands off the wheel to change the radio station and check the weather. In fact, for a while we just rest our shoulder muscles and let the Cadillac CT6 and Super Cruise do the steering. And braking. And accelerating.
We’re more or less staring ahead, awkwardly unsure of what we’re supposed to do with our hands. Wonderful and futuristic as this feels, it’s important to remember that even with Super Cruise—Cadillac’s most advanced driver-assistance tech package—working its magic, an attentive driver needs to be present.
Self-driving cars are on the horizon, but they’re not here just yet. Yes, many automakers offer impressive automated systems such as Cadillac’s, but these technologies are meant to assist a present human driver. Even Tesla’s much-hyped Autopilot is far from a fully autonomous system, despite its name and popular reputation suggesting otherwise.
The highest level of autonomy currently offered on the market is Level 3, or Conditional Automation, wherein the car accelerates, brakes, and steers by itself but expects that a human driver is there to immediately take over if prompted. (Level 4 means the car can still drive itself even if a human being doesn’t respond to prompts to intervene, while Level 5 is the full-on pod without a steering wheel that requires no human input to operate in all conditions.)
Tesla Autopilot is the most well-known and, by many accounts, best executed of the Level 3 systems, but Cadillac’s Super Cruise is notable both for its LiDAR-scanned map database and unique driver attention system.
Super Cruise is available on CT6 models equipped with adaptive cruise control, night vision, forward and reverse automatic braking, active rear steering, and Magnetic Ride Control suspension. Super Cruise, which is available only on highways you can access via on- and off-ramps, uses a mix of cameras, radar sensors, and GPS to let the CT6 accelerate, brake, and center itself in its lane. In this respect it functions like many other advanced driver-assistance systems, the best of which can be found in Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo cars. Where the CT6 stands out is with its map data, which Cadillac engineers gathered by driving every mile of limited-access highway in the U.S. and Canada and laser-scanning it with LiDAR.
In practice, Super Cruise works surprisingly well. You need to first turn on adaptive cruise control on the highway, wait until the steering wheel icon in the instrument cluster turns from white to green, and then press a button to turn on Super Cruise. Once the light bar built into the top of the steering wheel rim turns green, you’re good to remove your hands and enjoy the ride. Although it’s not quite intuitive how to activate it at first, once active the car really does completely drive itself. And unlike Mercedes’ or Volvo’s systems, Super Cruise will not alert you to take over after a certain amount of time, which means you can go several minutes without really doing anything at all as the car barrels down the highway at 75 or 80 mph, including through bends in the road. “I like how the wheel makes little corrections,” notes digital content director Mike Austin. “Seems reassuring. And the steering wheel light bar gives clear directives.” Where Super Cruise could improve is with its instrument cluster display, which is more basic and less helpful than Tesla’s, which can show the driver a feed of what the car is seeing ahead.
The CT6 cannot autonomously change lanes, and when you do take over steering to move over a lane, the light bar will turn blue to signal that Super Cruise is on but suspended due to driver intervention. Once you’re centered into a lane again, it’ll turn green to signal that Super Cruise can steer itself again.
If road conditions were no longer suitable for Super Cruise—say, if the lines in the road get covered in snow or the sensors are somehow blocked—the steering wheel light bar will turn red and the seat will vibrate, signaling the driver to take over. (If you don’t, the alerts will escalate until the car will bring itself to a controlled stop and use OnStar to contact first responders, if needed.)
The light bar will also turn red and demand intervention if the CT6 senses the driver is no longer paying attention, which is a feature unique to Cadillac. Using infrared lights and a small camera that sits on top of the steering column, the CT6’s systems can actually detect whether the driver is looking ahead. And when we look down at a cell phone, out the window, or to the side too long, the system reacts accordingly every time.
Super Cruise is offered standard on the top-trim CT6 AWD Platinum, which is the version we tested, totaling $88,295 including destination fees. The only other way to get Super Cruise is on the CT6 AWD Premium Luxury with the $5000 Super Cruise package, ringing in at $71,290 with the 3.6-liter naturally-aspirated V-6.
Amazing as this technology would make any commute, the winter storm that hit Hagerty editorial offices in southeast Michigan only days before our test drive was enough to render Super Cruise inoperable. It might seem autonomous with Super Cruise active, but it’s critical to recognize that the CT6 still needs an active human driver in most situations. The good news is that the CT6 is a joy to drive, yourself, with a punchy 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 engine good for 404 hp and a healthy 400 lb-ft of torque available at just 2500 rpm. Even better than the engine is the chassis, which rides beautifully and is both responsive and agile, especially for a full-size luxury sedan weighing 4400 pounds.
The time of fully autonomous pods is not yet upon us, but even with Super Cruise’s limitations, it’s hard to deny that the Cadillac CT6 seems to offer the best of both driving and being driven. As a stepping stone, it’s a brilliant one.