I feel like I'm in detention all over again. Sit up straight, stare straight ahead and wait for a bell to ring. That's GM's Super Cruise driver aid in a nutshell. Cameras work in conjunction with radar and the steering and braking systems to give drivers a hands-off highway experience that no other automaker can match, as long as you're willing to play by the rules. For 2021, this tech finally makes its way to Cadillac's biggest boy, the Escalade.
Operating the system is about as simple as it gets. Hop onto any of the numerous highways that GM has already mapped, engage the usual adaptive cruise control, then press the Super Cruise button and wait for the top of the steering wheel to turn green. At that point, you're free to… well, stare straight ahead.
In fact, that's about all you can do; an eye-tracking camera just above the airbag will monitor for distraction and provide a warning to retake control if the driver is deemed too capricious. Continue to ignore the warnings and the car will eventually pull over, brake to a halt and contact OnStar under the assumption of a medical emergency.
The hefty majority of my time spent with theand Super Cruise are as chill as can be. There's something pleasant about sitting back and simply monitoring traffic while the car takes care of everything else. A couple hundred miles melt away in no time at all, and I feel a little less tired than I would after driving the same distance while in full control of the vehicle. I don't splay out across the front row like a goon or anything; vigilance is super important at speed, so keeping a foot near the pedals and arms near the steering wheel isn't just good insurance, it's the smart thing to do.
The Escalade introduces some operating cases that might not apply to other vehicles equipped with this technology. It's the size of a small celestial body, which means it occupies an expressway lane with very little lateral leeway. While Super Cruise is generally smooth, there are points in its operation -- mostly changing-radius curves, but it can happen on straights, too -- where the vehicle will stray so far toward the dotted line that I am genuinely concerned I might bonk a car in the adjacent lane. It's especially harrowing when I'm next to a semi-truck or a vehicle that's a little too close to the white line itself. The Escalade tends to favor the right side of the lane by default, too, exacerbating my concern.
Super Cruise picks up a new trick for certain 2021 models, including the Escalade: automated lane changes. Again, operation is dead simple; while Super Cruise is active, hit the turn signal stalk and the vehicle will check for an opening before changing lanes. Execution is almost always smooth, but I'd recommend only using it on straightaways. It will work in curves, but there are times when the system gets caught with its pants down and seemingly pauses the turn halfway through, leaving you in god's hands (metaphorically) while straddling the dashed white line. In those situations, I merely nudged the thing into its intended lane and waited for the steering wheel lights to turn green again before removing my hands.
Everything related to Super Cruise operation is clearly laid out in the Escalade's digital gauge cluster with both images and text, including an explanation in the event of a disengagement. It tells me when the lane change starts and ends, and the speedometer has obvious markers that let me know when the vehicle is ready for the computers to take the wheel. It's pretty idiot-proof.
That's the beauty of Super Cruise right there: It's just so darn easy to use, and in an overwhelming plurality of situations, it performs precisely as expected. Yes, there are a few edge cases, some of which are unique to the 2021 Escalade's footprint, but by and large, adding this driver aid to Cadillac's biggest SUV makes a serene highway cruiser feel even more effortless.