More than half of new cars can be equipped with a semi-autonomous driver assistance system.
Ford’s BlueCruise beats out GM’s SuperCruise in every category except “Unresponsive driver”.
Hyundai/Kia’s Highway Driving Assist doesn’t make it to the top 10.
Consumer Reports has just published its test of twelve of the most advanced driver assistance systems currently on the market, and the results are interesting to analyze.
Alongside the move towards electrification, the automotive industry is seeing another technological push with the goal of achieving totally self-driving cars in the near future.
As of now, no vehicle sold in North America is capable of driving completely on its own without driver supervision, but this could be coming quite soon with the first Level 3 systems having been cleared for use on public roads in the last few months.
Nevertheless, level 2 systems have become more and more capable and more than 50% of all new cars sold in the US and Canada can be ordered with such a system.
Typical driver assistance technologies combine adaptive cruise control (ACC) and lane-centring assist (LCA) to keep the vehicle in the center of its lane and at a safe distance from other road users with minimal input from the driver.
Here is a list of the 10 best according to 5 criteria that were tested by Consumer Reports:
1. Ford BlueCruise / Lincoln ActiveGlide
Beating out GM’s SuperCruise, Ford’s driver assistance technology claimed 84 points out of a possible 100 by being the best in two of the five categories and second in all of the others.
This is because the Ford system uses a driver monitoring camera that makes sure the driver is paying attention to the road ahead, thus making its operation safer than systems that only require pressure on the steering wheel. Also increasing safety is the fact that this feature prompts the driver to put their hands back on the steering wheel before tricky situations such as sharp curves and merging traffic. In addition, BlueCruise provided smooth steering inputs and kept the car in the center of its lane even on curves. Furthermore, testers liked that this technology makes it very clear to the driver when it is activated and when it is safe to use by incorporating geofencing measures.
Where Ford loses some points is in the “unresponsive driver” category because the system will only slow the vehicle to 6 mph (10 km/h) and keep driving in its lane indefinitely, without activating the hazard lights or calling for help, if the driver becomes unresponsive by falling asleep or suffering from a medical emergency.
2. General Motors SuperCruise
The SuperCruise system found in some Chevrolet, GMC, and Cadillac vehicles is similar to Ford’s BlueCruise in many ways, such as its geofencing and its driver monitoring technology, but it loses to its rival by being slightly less competent in every category except “unresponsive driver”.
Indeed, GM’s SuperCruise uses its driver monitoring camera to allow continued operation in traffic even when the vehicle stops for over 30 seconds as long as the driver is looking at the road, but its lane-centring capability was found to be less polished than in the Ford system. In the “keeping the driver engaged” category, SuperCruise gets a lower grade simply because it doesn’t allow for collaborative steering (when the driver wants to avoid a pothole or give more space to a cyclist), instead turning off as soon as a driver input is detected. In addition, this system was found to be one of the most confusing except for its large green indicator on the steering wheel that lets the driver know the system is active.
Where GM scores some points over Ford is in the “unresponsive driver” category, however, since SuperCruise is capable of stopping the vehicle in its lane, activating the hazard lights and calling for medical assistance if the driver doesn’t respond to its prompts.
3. Mercedes-Benz Driver Assistance
The Mercedes system entered third place despite obtaining a perfect score for its capabilities due to a number of deficiencies, especially not making it clear when it is safe to use.
Indeed, testers found the Mercedes technology to be the best at keeping the vehicle centred with smooth steering movements while also having well-tuned following distance settings that allow the vehicle to remain at a comfortable distance from the vehicle in front while not leaving so much space that other drivers feel entitled to cut in. Drivers can also choose the force with which the vehicle brakes and accelerates. In addition, this system permits collaborative steering and the car’s displays give a clear indication of the system’s status at all times.
However, Driver Assistance gets knocked for having a driver monitoring camera that can be switched off and for continuing to operate even when the driver is found to be inattentive. Furthermore, the vehicle can drive for 30 seconds before an audible warning is issued if the driver is not paying attention. Also, its settings can be more confusing than other systems and the automaker makes it more difficult to know when Driver Assistance can be safely used.
In the case of an unresponsive driver, however, the Mercedes-Benz system performed just as well as SuperCruise.
4. BMW Driving Assistance Professional
Coming in only three points behind Mercedes’ system, BMW’s Driving Assistance Professional takes fourth place due to its strong capabilities and its slightly confusing layout.
Indeed, the BMW system earned 9/10 for its capabilities because of its driver monitoring camera that allows it to keep working even in a traffic jam, just like SuperCruise. In addition, its ability to perform collaborative steering and its clear displays placed it higher in the ranking.
Holding it back however, were its average ease of use and management of an unresponsive driver, as well as its ability to communicate when it is safe to use, which earned only 3 points.
5. Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 / Lexus Safety System + 3.0
Despite scoring 9 out of 10 for its capabilities, this system only managed to get 65% overall due to its difficulty in letting the driver know when it is safe to use and its lax approach to monitoring the driver’s attention.
In terms of performance, this technology compares with Mercedes’s Driver Assistance by keeping the right following distance to discourage other drivers from jumping in front while leaving a large enough gap to be safe.
On the other hand, its ability to function when only the center lane marking is detected can lead drivers to use this system in unsafe situations. Indeed, testers noticed that in these cases, Toyota and Lexus’ system tries to determine where the center of the lane should be but often ends up driving too close to the unpaved shoulder. The driver monitoring function can also be easily defeated by keeping a hand on the wheel without looking at the road.
6. Volkswagen Travel Assist / Audi Adaptive Cruise Assist
Scoring 62%, this system places behind Toyota and Lexus due to its slightly lower capabilities and ease of use, despite being slightly better at monitoring the driver and communicating when it is safe to use.
The Volkswagen and Audi system didn’t stand out enough in any category to receive either positive or negative comments from the testers, but it scored 8/10 for capabilities while only receiving 3/10 in the “clear when safe to use” category.
7. Tesla Autopilot
Considering Tesla was one of the first to introduce an advanced driver assistance system, it is surprising to see its Autopilot technology being ranked so low.
Scoring 61%, this system stood out for its smooth inputs and its ability to keep the vehicle centred on curves, but also due to its ability to work in unsafe situations. Similarly to the Toyota / Lexus technology, Autopilot will try to find the center of a lane when only the median line is detected, which causes it to wander toward the edge of the road. In addition, Tesla does a poor job of making sure the driver pays attention by only monitoring pressure on the steering wheel and allowing the vehicle to restart after coming to a stop for an indefinite period of time without any driver input. Just like the Mercedes system, the first audible warning given to an inattentive driver is heard close to 30 seconds after their hand left the steering wheel, which means that the car could have covered half a mile at highway speeds while the driver is not looking at the road.
8. Rivian Highway Assist
Rivian’s driver assistance technology placed behind Tesla’s Autopilot with 59% despite being safer and easier to use as well as managing an unresponsive driver better, due to its lower overall capabilities.
Testers didn’t have much to say about this system, except that it clearly displays its status to the driver and its geofencing helps make sure it is used only in safe environments such as divided highways.
However, complaints included the inability to allow collaborative steering and the lack of camera-based driver monitoring which allows more inattention than ideal.
9. Nissan / Infiniti ProPILOT Assist
The ProPILOT Assist system used in Nissan and Infiniti vehicles is one of the most disappointing ones that were tested this time, mainly due to a lack of effective driver monitoring.
In addition, testers found the system’s one-touch operation to be confusing and not as easy to use as it would seem since drivers have to navigate menus in the center screen to change some of its settings.
9. Honda Sensing / Acura AcuraWatch
Scoring 58%, Honda and Acura’s technology obtains the same score as Nissan and Infiniti’s despite having different strengths and weaknesses.
For example, Honda’s technology proves more capable and easier to use due to its separate controls for adaptive cruise control and lane centring assist that lets the driver easily switch the system’s mode of operation.
However, the way in which this system deals with an unresponsive driver is concerning. Indeed, Honda Sensing and AcuraWatch will simply deactivate if the driver takes too long to touch the steering wheel, without stopping the vehicle or activating the hazard lights. This means that a driver suffering a medical emergency would likely run off the road or smash into another vehicle.
10. Volvo / Polestar Pilot Assist
Earning only 53%, Volvo and Polestar’s Pilot Assist system rounds out the top ten and is only the second worse system out of the 12 tested in this round.
This is because it is among the least capable and it scores the lowest in the “clear when safe to use” category. This poor result is due to the system regularly and seemingly randomly switching to stand-by mode without warning the driver. In this mode, the adaptive cruise control remains active but the vehicle won’t take control over the steering system, which could lead to an accident if the driver hasn’t noticed this partial deactivation.
To be fair, this problem could be fixed with the addition of a driver-facing camera, which will be done in the upcoming Volvo EX90 and the Polestar 3.
The worst system by far tested by Consumer Reports this time around is Kia, Hyundai, and Genesis’ Highway Driving Assist, which only scored 47% overall.
Complaints included an inability to keep the vehicle inside the lane on some curves and its ping-pong action on some straightaways, and its response to an inattentive driver, which is the same as the Honda system, meaning it simply turns off without making sure the driver will be safe.
This technology did come first in terms of ease of use due to its separate controls for each function, at least.
Source: Consumer Reports