Ford’s bluecruise ousts GM’s super cruise as CR’s top-rated active driving assistance system

It’s equal parts eerie and amazing to experience Ford’s BlueCruise hands-free driving feature, as it takes over your car’s steering, braking, and acceleration while you travel down the highway.

The eerie part is watching the steering wheel turn back and forth on its own, making micro-adjustments to keep the car in the center of its lane, while the system also slows down or speeds up to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle ahead. The amazement soon follows: With your hands off the wheel and relaxing on the armrests as the automated systems take charge, you might start to believe that the age of the self-driving car is finally upon us. 

But while BlueCruise’s capabilities are impressive and can make driving more relaxing, cars that can truly and safely drive themselves remain a long way off.

BlueCruise is what’s known as an active driving assistance (ADA) system. In the simplest terms, ADA is the simultaneous use of a car’s adaptive cruise control (ACC) to control speed and lane centering assistance (LCA) to control steering. ACC is an advanced form of cruise control that brakes or accelerates to keep the car a set distance from vehicles traveling ahead of you in your lane. LCA provides steering support to keep the vehicle at or near the center of the lane.

“Systems like BlueCruise are an important advancement that can help make driving easier and less stressful,” says Jake Fisher, CR’s senior director of auto testing. For instance, it can allow drivers to relax their grip and even periodically let go of the steering wheel, while the car maintains a safe distance from other vehicles when driving on a straight, boring section of highway, or when stuck in a traffic jam. ADA systems can also have safety benefits, such as potentially keeping you from crossing over a lane line into opposing traffic during a moment of inattention.

“But they don’t make a car self-driving at all,” Fisher says. “Instead, they create a new way of collaboratively driving with the computers in your car. When automakers do it the right way, it can make driving safer and more convenient. When they do it the wrong way, it can be dangerous.”

Though still relatively new, ADA systems are already available on more than 50 percent of 2023 model-year vehicles, according to CR’s data. So it’s likely that the next new car you buy will come with an ADA system as an option, if not as a standard feature. 

Of the 12 ADA systems we just finished testing, Ford BlueCruise came out on top, followed by Cadillac Super Cruise and Mercedes-Benz Driver Assistance. Tesla, once an innovator in ADA with its Autopilot system, fell from its second-place showing in 2020 to seventh this time around—about the middle of the pack. That’s because Tesla hasn’t changed Autopilot’s basic functionality much since it first came out, instead just adding more features to it, says Fisher. “After all this time, Autopilot still doesn’t allow collaborative steering and doesn’t have an effective driver monitoring system. While other automakers have evolved their ACC and LCA systems, Tesla has simply fallen behind.”

Systems That Help Keep the Driver Safe

Not all ADA systems are created equal. Fisher and other safety experts say that many of them are designed in a way that may lull drivers into complacency, giving them a false impression that the car is handling everything on their behalf. That can be dangerous if the ADA system encounters something it can’t handle, such as road construction or an emergency vehicle, and the driver is not prepared to take back control of the car quickly. In order for any ADA system to be used safely, the driver always needs to remain attentive. 

Pnina Gershon, a research scientist at the MIT AgeLab and the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics, points to data showing that drivers often develop overreliance on driving assistance systems after a relatively short period of use. “We observe frequent situations where the level of attention placed on the road is below what one would traditionally expect a driver to have, especially with the known limitations of these systems, which require drivers to be ready to regain control in a safe and timely manner,” Gershon says. The data also shows that distracted driving is more common when using driving automation systems. “Automation aims to free resources and, not surprisingly, drivers use these ‘freed-up’ resources to do other things than driving,” Gershon says. 

The two ADA systems that CR rates highest, Ford’s BlueCruise (and Lincoln’s ActiveGlide) and General Motors’ Super Cruise (Chevrolet/Cadillac/GMC), use direct driver monitoring systems (DDMS) that require drivers to keep their eyes on the road even while the systems are automating steering, acceleration, and braking. Both point infrared cameras at driver faces and sound an alert if the driver stops paying attention to the road, even if just for a few seconds. If drivers don’t turn their eyes back to the road, the system soon begins to slow the car.

CR safety experts believe that this type of DDMS is key to the safety of any ADA system—and, in fact, CR awards extra points to the Overall Score of tested models whose ADA systems are adequately equipped. Starting in the fall of 2023, we will deduct points if an ADA system doesn’t have adequate DDMS. Right now, only Ford and GM’s systems meet our criteria for earning additional points, but others could be available soon.

Most ADA systems, however, do not adequately monitor drivers. Instead, they simply require occasional hand pressure on the steering wheel to indicate that the driver is paying attention. This makes it too easy to just give the steering wheel a quick tug without actually looking out at the road. “If an automaker is going to equip a car with an ADA system, they should put in adequate safeguards—or not include both lane centering assistance and adaptive cruise control at all,” says Kelly Funkhouser, CR’s manager of vehicle technology. 

Also of concern to CR’s safety experts are the ADA systems from some automakers that allow their vehicles to be driven for an inordinately long amount of time without requiring the driver even to apply any pressure to the steering wheel, let alone make sure the driver is actually paying attention to the road. “In our tests, both Mercedes-Benz and Tesla allowed the vehicle to drive down the highway hands-free for about 30 seconds before the first audible alert was given to the driver to put a hand back on the steering wheel,” says Funkhouser. “That means the car could travel more than half a mile on a highway with hands off the wheel and the driver not paying attention at all—that’s a risky situation.”

What We Tested

We only included vehicles in our testing that were equipped with a system that allows for the simultaneous use of ACC and LCA at highway speeds. Because Mazda, for example, doesn’t have an ADA system that operates at the speeds and parameters of our test, it was not included. Models from Jaguar/Land Rover, Lucid, Porsche, Stellantis (Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep, Ram), and Subaru were not included because we didn’t have a vehicle equipped with these features in our fleet when the test was conducted.

How We Rated the Systems

The 12 active driving assistance systems we tested were put through their paces around the track at our 327-acre Auto Test Center in Connecticut and on a 50-mile loop on public roads between September and December 2022. Each system was rated for its performance in 40 separate tests, such as steering the car, controlling the speed, and keeping the driver safe and engaged with the act of driving. Additional features such as automatic lane changes or reacting for traffic lights were not evaluated in this test.

The specific vehicles we tested generally reflect the performance of other models within each automaker’s lineup equipped with the same systems, but there can be differences among models, model years, and packages that could affect some parameters of how the system operates. 

CR testers evaluated the way each of the 12 systems performed within five specific categories: capability and performance, keeping the driver engaged, ease of use, clear when safe to use, and unresponsive driver.