Best Automated Driving System? Cadillac

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In its first-ever test of autonomous driving systems, Consumer Reports (CR) magazine rated the General Motors Co.’s (NYSE: GM) Cadillac Super Cruise system at the top. Second in the rankings was the Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) Autopilot system, while Nissan/Infiniti’s ProPilot Assist ranked third and Volvo’s Pilot Assist system finished in fourth place.

CR noted that the Cadillac system did “the best job of balancing high-tech capabilities with ensuring that the car is operated safely and that the driver is paying attention.”

The features being tested were not self-driving (autonomous) systems. Rather they included systems like lane-keeping and collision-avoidance. The tested features depend on cameras, radar and other systems, and the magazine made the distinction abundantly clear:

CR experts stress that the systems are not intended to be self-driving features. However, in the right circumstances, such as on long highway drives or in stop-and-go traffic, they can help relieve driver fatigue and stress.

The risks come if automakers allow the systems to operate in situations where they can’t do so safely and if the systems make it easy for drivers to feel like they don’t need to pay attention.

The four systems were tested on five metrics: capability and performance, ease of use, clear when it’s safe to use the system, keeping driver engaged and unresponsive driving. Here are the scores for the four systems along with their scores on CR’s five-point scale of worse to better.

Cadillac Super Cruise
Overall rating: Slightly better than average (4)
Capability & Performance: Average (3)
Ease of Use: Slightly worse than average (2)
Clear When Safe to Use: Better (5)
Keeps Driver Engaged: 4
Unresponsive Driver: 4

Tesla Autopilot
Overall rating: 3
Capability & Performance: 4
Ease of Use: 3
Clear When Safe to Use: 2
Keeps Driver Engaged: Worse (1)
Unresponsive Driver: 3

Nissan/Infiniti ProPilot Assist
Overall rating: 2
Capability & Performance: 2
Ease of Use: 2
Clear When Safe to Use: 2
Keeps Driver Engaged: 3
Unresponsive Driver: 3

Volvo Pilot Assist
Overall rating: 1
Capability & Performance: 1
Ease of Use: 1
Clear When Safe to Use: 1
Keeps Driver Engaged: 3
Unresponsive Driver: 1

One of CR’s most consistent criticisms of these automated systems has been the manufacturers’ marketing claims for what these systems can and cannot do. The magazine’s engineers let the automakers know when they are delivering messages that suggest that these systems have self-driving (autonomous) capabilities. CR director of auto testing Jake Fisher said:

We have been evaluating these systems on a case-by-case basis for a few years, but we are at a tipping point where they are now going mainstream. Stacked up against each other, you can really see significant differences. The best systems balance capability with safeguards—making driving easier and less stressful in the right situations. Without proper safeguards, overreliance on the system is too easy, which puts drivers at risk.

The full report is available at the Consumer Reports website.