Consumer Reports: Tesla Autopilot a “distant second” to GM Super Cruise

The dashboard of the 2021 Cadillac CT4-V.
Enlarge / Super Cruise will be available on the 2021 Cadillac CT4-V.

Cadillac

Cadillac Super Cruise has retained its title as the best driver assistance system on the market, Consumer Reports declared in a new ranking. Super Cruise also won CR’s last ranking in 2018. While Super Cruise started out as a Cadillac-only feature, GM is planning to bring it to 22 vehicles by 2023.

Tesla’s Autopilot came in second place—a “distant second” according to Consumer Reports. The group says it saw “minor improvements in lane keeping performance” from Tesla’s offering since the system was last evaluated in 2018.

Those minor improvements were enough for Autopilot to get the top spot in the “lane keeping and performance” category of CR’s report. CR ranked Autopilot 9/10 for performance, while Super Cruise scored 8/10. Tesla also got top marks for Autopilot’s ease of use.

But Cadillac got a much better score—seven points versus three for Tesla—for its driver monitoring system. Cadillac Super Cruise uses a driver-facing camera to verify that the driver has their eyes on the road. The system uses lights and sounds to aggressively alert the driver if they stop paying attention. By contrast, Tesla uses a steering wheel torque sensor to determine whether the driver is holding the wheel. As CR points out, having hands on the wheel “does not necessarily mean the driver is actually looking at the road ahead.”

CR also gave Cadillac credit for limiting the use of Super Cruise to pre-mapped highways. GM has made detailed maps of thousands of miles of highway across the US. The maps help Super Cruise understand the road and allows the vehicle to alert drivers ahead of time if they need to take the wheel. Tesla got dinged for allowing the use of Autopilot in residential areas—areas where drivers need to pay especially close attention to avoid hitting pedestrians or other obstacles.

Finally, CR found that Super Cruise did the best job of safely bringing the vehicle to a stop if the driver became unresponsive—for example because she fell asleep or had a heart attack.

Different design philosophies

GM took a safety-first approach in designing Super Cruise. Limiting Super Cruise to pre-mapped areas and aggressively reminding users to pay attention to the road minimizes the chances that Super Cruise will cause a crash. However it might annoy users who don’t like their cars limiting what they can do.

By contrast, Tesla has prioritized driver convenience and autonomy. Tesla allows drivers to activate Autopilot on a wide variety of roads. Early versions of the technology were even more permissive about driver engagement, allowing drivers to take their hands off the road for long periods. Tesla began tightening up rules requiring hands on the wheel after the first fatal Autopilot-related crash in 2016. But Tesla’s system has remained less restrictive than GM’s. The lack of aggressive driver monitoring systems may have been a factor in more recent fatal crashes involving Tesla cars.

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