Cadillac Super Cruise auto lane-change added - but there's a catch

Cadillac's Super Cruise system is gaining the ability to automatically change lanes, with the latest iteration of the driver-assistance tech no longer demanding total human intervention for overtaking. Super Cruise is a relative rarity in the advanced cruise control space, offering a hands-off system unlike most rivals. However early-adopters are unlikely to be pleased with this new update.

Though a Level 2 system in autonomous terms, Cadillac's assistance tech uses methods familiar from more advanced self-driving vehicles. Specifically, while the cars themselves don't have LIDAR laser rangefinders, they do use special high-resolution maps with greater detail than most navigation mapping.

That, paired with a high-accuracy GPS, allows Super Cruise to keep the vehicle – until now only the Cadillac CT6 sedan – centered in its lane, keeping pace with traffic ahead, and leaving the driver free to take their hands off the wheel. An eye-tracking system mounted on the steering column is used to ensure they're still paying attention to the road ahead. Most recently, Cadillac updated the mapping with broader availability for Super Cruise to be active, though it's still limited to divided highways in the US and Canada.

The lingering feature request was the ability to change lanes automatically. Currently, if you indicate to change lane, Super Cruise temporarily deactivates and only resumes operations when you're centered in the new lane again. Now, GM is adding the ability to have the car change lane for you.

It'll still require the driver to indicate – either tapping or pressing the stalk completely – but, after Super Cruise assesses that the respective lane has a sufficient opening, the car will move across on its own. We've seen similar systems from BMW and Mercedes-Benz, among others. Unlike Tesla's Navigate on Autopilot, however, Super Cruise won't automatically change lane of its own accord. If the system deems the situation too dangerous for the car to merge by itself, it'll prompt the driver to do so manually using messages on the dashboard.

Bad news for CT6 Super Cruise early-adopters

Cadillac – and GM more broadly – has been criticized in the past for not making more of Super Cruise. After all, though the system has been available for several years now, it's only on a select few trims of one model of car. Caddy has long promised to change that, and sure enough several models being launched this year will also offer Super Cruise. Problem is, in the process they'll leave the CT6 behind.

This new version of the system, with lane changing functionality, will be offered on the upcoming 2021 CT4 and 2021 CT5 sedans, and the 2021 Escalade. It'll be an option, Cadillac says, though pricing has not been confirmed yet. Those models are expected to launch in the second half of 2020.

What it won't be is an upgrade for existing CT6 owners. Indeed, they'll be left with the old version, changing lanes manually. That's down to hardware limitations.

"The enhancements were made possible using GM's all-new digital vehicle platform, which provides more electrical bandwidth and data processing power," Patrick Sullivan, Product & Brand Communications for GM, confirmed time SlashGear. "The CT6 is not built on this platform."

In addition, Cadillac updated its rear-facing sensors, and added new software algorithms to better identify traffic approaching from the rear. The automaker says it has also enhanced the map data to accommodate lane changing, and how Super Cruise handles turns and highway interchanges. There's improvements to the software controlling steering and speed control, and to make engaging and using Super Cruise more intuitive.

The downside to updates

Cadillac's approach here is unlikely to go down well with existing Super Cruise users. Though the company made no promises that they could expect added features over the lifespan of their car, the fact that the automaker pushed out a big mapping update recently certainly gave the impression that the CT6 would be kept up-to-date with the latest functionality.

Instead, having been early to the Super Cruise party, they're now seeing their cars get left behind, at least when it comes to new features. Cadillac will continue to provide map updates to CT6 owners with Super Cruise, GM's Sullivan confirmed to us.

It's a move that's likely to draw criticism, and again highlights the fact that, even as cars get smarter, more connected, and add support for over-the-air updates, they're still at the mercy of the hardware manufacturers opt for on day one. That's not just a Cadillac problem, of course. Tesla owners have grown used to waking up and discovering new Autopilot talents have been added to their cars, but that's assuming they're on the latest iteration of the company's hardware. Those with cars reliant on earlier versions eventually reach a dead-end for new functionality.

Certainly, for Cadillac, having Super Cruise on more vehicles is going to be a positive thing. The Escalade is a much stronger selling vehicle than the CT6, even so close to its big generational upgrade, while the CT4 and CT5 should be more affordable than their full-size luxury sibling. Just how well this enhanced Super Cruise performs on those cars, we'll have to wait to see later in 2020.