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How the driver-assist systems of Tesla, BMW, Ford, GM, and Mercedes compare

The automobile industry has transitioned into a new age of vehicle safety, where in-car technology originally developed for life-saving purposes is now being promoted as an enhancement to quality of life. The technology that used to be limited to discussions with your insurance adjustor is now something you would want for your next commute.

Although most cars on the road today have some kind of advanced driver assistance system (ADAS), only a select handful surpass the standard offerings. No longer offered simply to worried parents, they’re being positioned as next-generation aides, onboard luxury assets for stressed-out business professionals with the promise of decreasing blood pressure at the touch of a button.

In North America, we now have a Level 3 automatic system that allows the automobile to drive itself under certain conditions. The car manufacturer is responsible for any accidents that may occur.

However, among various rival technologies, such as Super Cruise and Full Self-Driving, which one is more effective in simplifying your daily commute? Moreover, do any of them justify their substantial cost?

The automobiles.
The following systems were subjected to testing, along with the corresponding vehicles used for the tests:

The BMW Highway Assistant is a feature included in the 2023 BMW i7 xDrive60.
The Chevrolet Super Cruise feature will be available in the 2023 Chevrolet Suburban 4WD High Country model.
• Ford BlueCruise: 2023 Ford Mach-E Premium AWD
The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS is equipped with the Mercedes-Benz Active Distance Assist Distronic, which includes Active Steering Assist and Drive Pilot.
Tesla’s Full Self-Driving feature is available in the 2021 Model Y, which is equipped with the FSD beta software version 11.4.2.

Testing
Except for one, all the automobiles underwent testing on a predetermined circuit in New York State. This circuit included several types of roads, including country roads, single carriageways, and split highways with two to four lanes.

The navigation was consistently operated via the car’s integrated system rather than using external platforms such as Google Maps via Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. Additionally, the driver consistently wore a single pair of polarized sunglasses to evaluate the effectiveness of the driver monitoring system. The weather consistently ranged from good to gloomy.

An exception to this routine is the Mercedes-Benz system, which was evaluated on a distinct circuit in the vicinity of Los Angeles. Presently, the use of the Drive Pilot technology is only permitted in California and Nevada, hence requiring the relocation of the event.

Each scenario included assessing automobiles based on their ability to adhere to the road and navigate through traffic, as well as the ease of engaging and disengaging their systems. Additionally, their responsiveness to driver inattentiveness and subsequent actions were examined.

One important point to mention is that, with the possible exception of the Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot, all of them are driver assistance systems. Although you have the freedom to release your grip on the steering wheel, you remain fully accountable for the actions and behavior of the vehicle. This entails maintaining visual focus on the roadway.

BMW Highway Assistant
Price: $2,100
Hands-off: Affirmative

BMW’s Highway Assistant represents the latest advancement in enhanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). It enables hands-free driving on highways and provides enhanced lane-keeping assistance on rural roads, ensuring that the vehicle remains in the middle of its lane regardless of the circumstances.

When not on the highway, you will need to keep your hands on the wheel, but because BMW depends on capacitive touch sensors, you won’t have to worry about giving the wheel a shake every few minutes to remind it that you’re there.

The functionality of Highway Assistant is dependent on a set of icons shown on the gauge cluster and the heads-up display. If a speedometer symbol is green, it indicates that the active cruise control is now activated. The appearance of a green steering wheel signals the activation of the lane-keep feature. In addition, the technology displays green lines on the gauge cluster’s augmented reality image to indicate the car’s identification of the way ahead.

Upon entering a section of the roadway where drivers may relinquish control, the car’s gauge cluster displays the word “ASSIST PLUS.” This sentence serves as a signal to let off the steering wheel. Currently, the automobile autonomously navigates, monitoring the road ahead using a blend of radar and optical image sensors. Additionally, it is monitoring the driver using an infrared camera.

The camera is integrated into the upper part of the gauge cluster, which compelled me to adjust the steering wheel to a higher position than I desired. If I did not, the upper part of the wheel would have obstructed my vision, rendering the machine inoperable. When properly aligned, the system promptly and reliably identified any lack of attention within a time frame of six seconds. It then alerted me via both visual and audible signals to focus on the road ahead.

The activation of the hands-off Assist Plus mode in Highway Assistant sometimes had delays, lasting more than 30 seconds after I had merged onto the highway. However, once activated, it successfully stayed inside its designated lane without any problems.

The present version of Highway Assistant does not have the capability to autonomously change lanes in response to traffic or navigation. This functionality will be included first in the 2024 5 Series and subsequently in other models. After the implementation of this function, Highway Assistant will initiate a request for a lane change, which the driver may easily verify by directing their gaze towards the corresponding mirror.

Currently, all it takes to change lanes is to tap the turn stalk in the desired direction. The vehicle will activate the indicator, search for a gap, and thereafter execute the maneuver. During my testing, the process was executed seamlessly, with the program accurately detecting spaces and successfully finishing the modification. The process of assuming control and executing a manual lane change is also executed seamlessly. There is no need to exert excessive force on the system. Simply rotate the wheel in the usual manner, execute the turn, and thereafter release the wheel.

BMW’s assistance system performed well, whether in manual mode on country roads and single carriageways or in autonomous mode on split highways. The absence of automated speed limit adaptation is a drawback, as is the absence of automatic lane changes. However, it is worth noting that the latter function is expected to be included in the future. BMW’s Driving Assistance Pro Package costs $2,100 and is one of the more affordable options in this category. The package covers the lifespan of the car.

The Chevrolet Super Cruise
Price: Starting at $2,200 (varies based on the car), followed by a monthly fee of $25 after 3 years.
Hands-off: Affirmative

Following that comes the technology that introduced automated driving to the general public: GM’s Super Cruise. The feature was first introduced on the 2018 Cadillac CT6 and has gradually been included in more mainstream vehicles, like the 2023 Suburban that I had the opportunity to test. Super Cruise is available on the Bolt EUV, priced at $30,000; however, availability is limited.

The Suburban showcased Chevrolet’s most recent Infotainment 3 Premium system, which is built on the Android Automotive platform. Google Maps is the source of the pre-installed navigation system, also known as baked-in navigation. However, since Super Cruise does not execute lane changes in order to anticipate forthcoming exits, the choice of navigation system becomes irrelevant.

The Super Cruise is not functional on country roads; hence, the Suburban depends on its less advanced active safety features in such areas. The adaptive cruise feature effectively maintains speed in accordance with traffic conditions. However, the lane-keep assist system in this vehicle is of a rudimentary nature, gently guiding you back towards the center if you deviate too far from the intended lane.

Upon entering the highway, Super Cruise promptly displays an emblem of a white steering wheel in both the gauge cluster and the heads-up display, signaling the system’s availability. Activate the Super Cruise feature by pressing the designated button located on the steering wheel. As a visual indication, green LEDs embedded at the top of the steering wheel will illuminate. At that juncture, it is permissible to remove your hands from the steering wheel.

The process of engaging is very immediate, and disengaging is equally simple. To manually change lanes or maneuver around an obstacle, just grasp the steering wheel and rotate it. The wheel’s lights transition to a blue color to signify that you have assumed control, but Super Cruise remains accessible. After you are finished, just release your grip, and Super Cruise will continue its operation.

During my testing, I seldom had to manually control the steering wheel, particularly since Super Cruise has the capability to execute lane changes autonomously. The task was consistently executed with caution and hygiene, even under heavy vehicular congestion, with my only grievance being that the Suburban sometimes prolonged its stay in the left lane after overtaking other vehicles. If you dislike the concept of lane shifts, you have the option to deactivate the function.

The Suburban always maintained a safe distance from the tractor-trailer when passing, ensuring a nice driving experience without any discomfort. Regarding driver monitoring, the device emitted a sound after 9 seconds if my focus remained in any direction other than directly ahead. Following many admonitions, the mechanism autonomously disengaged.

In summary, Super Cruise proved to be an excellent driving companion throughout my tests, consistently demonstrating impeccable road manners and exhibiting a seamless, self-assured performance. The system successfully functioned on all split highways and even on a few undivided single carriageways.

The pricing for Super Cruise varies based on the specific car. For instance, on the Bolt EUV, it is available as a separate option priced at $2,200. On the Suburban I used for testing, it is included as a component of the $2,700 Advanced Technology Package. These expenses include a duration of three years of use. Subsequently, the monthly cost amounts to $25.

Ford BlueCruise
Cost: $2,100 upfront when purchasing the car, then $800 yearly or $75 a month after three years.
Hands-off: Affirmative

Following that is Ford’s BlueCruise, which bears resemblance to GM’s counterpart and functions in a similar manner. I conducted a trial of BlueCruise version 1.3, which had enhanced capabilities for handling sharper curves and tighter lanes compared to its previous version. Additionally, Ford claims that this update has many additional pleasant features that significantly enhance its practicality in real-world scenarios.

The Mach-E’s active safety features performed well, even on narrow, countryside roads. While limited to manual operation, the Mach-E’s lane-keep system autonomously regulated speed, even in school zones, and maintained the vehicle’s position, only disengaging on very tight turns.

However, the hands-off BlueCruise feature is limited to divided roads, and it activated itself only a few seconds after I merged into my lane. Upon arrival, BlueCruise operated without any issues. While the driver must approve them using the turn signal stalk, the system will autonomously execute lane changes to overtake slower vehicles, seamlessly blending in and out of traffic without any problems. Additionally, it will subtly adjust its position inside the lane to provide space when other vehicles approach too closely.

To override the system and manually change lanes, just rotate the steering wheel. There was no opposition or hindrance to this, resulting in a seamless experience for passengers. Additionally, the system was able to resume control within a very short period of time, often one or two seconds, after executing a manual lane change.

Although BlueCruise does not have the capability to autonomously position the vehicle according to navigation, it will provide notifications about forthcoming exits if Ford’s integrated navigation system is being used. Eventually, it will ask you to assume control and maneuver the car into the exit lane.

In relation to driver monitoring, the system promptly responded within a duration of four seconds by displaying a visual warning on the gauge cluster. Subsequently, a few seconds later, it supplemented this with a courteous chime. Despite receiving many warnings, the system failed to disengage.

BlueCruise functioned impeccably on divided roads, although the Mach-E’s other assistance systems performed quite well on rural routes. Priced at $2,100 for the first three years, the system is comparable in price to Super Cruise. However, beyond the first three years, the price increases significantly to a staggering $75 per month, or $800 for an annual membership.

The feature is called Mercedes-Benz Active Distance Assist Distronic with Active Lane Change Assist.
Price: Included as a standard feature on some models, but available as part of the $1,950 Driver Assistance Package on others.
Not allowed: No

I am categorizing the Mercedes-Benz systems into two distinct groups based on their operation inside the same vehicle and their use of some shared sensors. Although both systems are complimentary, the most recent iteration of Distronic has a greater level of sophistication compared to Drive Pilot in many aspects, even though Drive Pilot is purportedly designed to provide Level 3 autonomy.

Active Distance Assist Distronic sets itself apart from solutions offered by other manufacturers primarily due to its complete reliance on manual control. Fortunately, similar to BMW, Mercedes-Benz has a capacitive steering wheel, allowing you to effortlessly place one hand on the wheel.

The innovative lane-keeping system of Distronic effectively maintains the car’s position in various scenarios, while its adaptive cruise control seamlessly adjusts the car’s speed to match the traffic, including the ability to come to a full stop. Active Steering Assist will autonomously perform lane changes on the highway.

The vehicle will signal an imminent lane change on the instrument panel by displaying a green arrow pointing either to the left or right. An audible chime rings to warn you of this change, allowing you time to stop it using the steering wheel controls. However, if the driver doesn’t take any further action, the vehicle will autonomously indicate and carry out the lane change successfully.

The car’s purpose is not limited to bypassing slower traffic; it also aims to position you in the most advantageous lane for impending exits and other navigation instructions. While you will still be responsible for leaving the highway, the automobile essentially takes care of circumstances when the highway divides or when it is necessary to be in a certain lane.

Although the newest Distronic system is interactive, it effectively and confidently navigates through even very congested traffic, seamlessly blending in and out without any hesitancy. The Active Distance Assist Distronic feature is included as a standard feature on some models, such as the S-Class. On other vehicles, it is available as part of the Driver Assistance Package, which has an additional cost of $1,950. The first implementation of the automated steering assist system will have automated lane change functionality as its primary component in the 2024 E-Class model.

The Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot system
Price: $2,500 for a duration of 12 months
Hands-off: Affirmative

Drive Pilot is the next advancement in driver assistance and is the only technology available that offers a glimpse of autonomous driving. Nevertheless, that flavor is now just a small portion. The operational design domain (ODD) of Drive Pilot is quite restricted, which diminishes the system’s overall appeal.

Currently, Drive Pilot is only accessible in California and Nevada, specifically on split roads that have been accurately mapped in high resolution. Drive Pilot operates in traffic conditions, when there is a visible vehicle ahead, and at speeds of up to 40 mph. Additionally, it is imperative that you use the vehicle only during the hours of daylight and under favorable weather conditions.

If you satisfy all of these requirements, you will be rewarded with an icon shown on the gauge cluster and a set of white lights illuminated on the buttons integrated into the steering wheel. Currently, the automobile has concluded that it is capable of securely performing driving tasks. The vehicle’s ability to see the road ahead is unobstructed, thanks to many optical and radar sensors, as well as a single forward-looking Lidar sensor. Additionally, a high-precision GPS antenna enhances the accuracy of the sensors.

Depress any of those buttons, patiently await a transition to a blue hue, and thereafter, you may remove your hands from the steering wheel. The automobile is autonomously operating within the bounds of the law and performing its intended functions without human intervention. Nevertheless, you are not at liberty to engage in unrestricted actions. The car’s infrared cameras, integrated into the lower part of the gauge cluster, continue to monitor your activities.

If you keep your eyes closed for more than 10 seconds, the system will activate lights, whistles, and even pull on the seatbelt to alert you. Additionally, it is prohibited to engage in prolonged observation of any individual seated in the back of the vehicle.

While you have the ability to choose and play movies on the car’s infotainment panels or browse the internet using the integrated browser, you are unable to ignore or disregard the surroundings. During my time driving, the automobile often urged me to demonstrate my presence and attentiveness. I was informed that the use of a smartphone is technically and strictly prohibited.

The permissible circumstances and driver conduct are subject to a very limited range. The capabilities of Drive Pilot are also restricted. The system lacks the capability to autonomously change lanes, whether it is to avoid traffic or in response to navigation instructions. However, you may effortlessly take control and manually change lanes without encountering any resistance from the system.

While Drive Pilot’s current limitations may be annoying, it is important to recognize that it is only a first step in the right direction. Mercedes-Benz assures that its features and ODD (Object Detection and Avoidance) capabilities will progressively increase, ideally with frequent upgrades that justify the $2,500 yearly cost.

Tesla’s full self-driving technology
Price: $199 per month, or $12,000
Not allowed: No
Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) stands apart from the others in two distinct ways. Tesla is the only manufacturer in this context that does not provide any kind of autonomous highway driving, and their Full Self-Driving (FSD) technology is the only one that does not impose any use limitations. There is no implementation of geofencing or any other kind of monitoring in this context. While it is technically possible to use FSD on any roadway, I strongly advise against doing so. The FSD beta software used for this test was version 11.4.2.

During my experience with the FSD beta software, I saw that it regularly exhibited confusion while navigating both urban and rural roadways. It tended to overly decelerate before bends and had unpredictable behavior at crossings, particularly on roundabouts. Frequently, I found it necessary to assume manual control in such circumstances, a task that presents some difficulty.

To override Tesla’s autosteer capability, one must firmly grasp the wheel and make a quick turn. The situation is disconcerting for the driver and unpleasant for the passengers.

On the roadway, conditions have greatly improved. The technology navigates through traffic smoothly, autonomously transitioning between lanes with selectable levels of assertiveness: chill, average, or assertive. The one issue I encountered was that, on roads with three lanes, the system tends to remain in the middle lane, but I personally like to stay on the right unless overtaking. However, the technology autonomously adjusts to variations in speed restrictions and will switch lanes to position the vehicle correctly for forthcoming exits.

Tesla’s driver monitoring system exhibited the least stringent level of scrutiny among the ones that were evaluated. During the majority of my gaze tests, which included prolonged gazing at the center display, extended periods of glancing out the side window, and even complete closure of my eyes, the Full Self-Driving (FSD) system seemed to exhibit indifference. It only reminded me to focus on the road once, when I glanced at the passenger footwell for a duration of seven seconds.

Nevertheless, the system strongly emphasizes the need to maintain your hands on the steering wheel. As there is no capacitive touch sensor, it is necessary to periodically move the wheel slightly.

Tesla’s technology provides a somewhat proficient hands-on experience on the highway, but it is more of an annoyance in all other situations. Furthermore, it is worth noting that this particular system is the most costly among its counterparts, surpassing even the Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot system in terms of price. The Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot system has an extensive range of cutting-edge sensors, including Lidar.

However, the absence of radar in this Model Y raises significant uncertainty over its potential for future autonomous driving.

The conclusion
The purpose of this round-up was not specifically to choose a victor; nevertheless, it is rather straightforward to identify a loser. Despite being in beta for three years, Tesla’s purported full self-driving feature still fails to meet its claimed capabilities. Being the most costly choice of the other options, it stands out prominently.

Mercedes-Benz’s Drive Pilot is currently unsatisfactory. The product’s severe constraints and lack of functionality compared to the company’s level-two system make it difficult to market. The promise, however, represents forthcoming events or outcomes. Drive Pilot, equipped with several onboard sensors and processors, has the potential for significant advancements in functionality.

The hands-off systems from BMW, Ford, and Chevrolet are the remaining contenders competing for top honors. BMW’s present version of Highway Assistant lacks automated lane changes, which diminishes its perceived level of advancement. However, it is worth noting that this function will be included in the near future.

Both Ford BlueCruise and Chevrolet’s Super Cruise exhibited exceptional performance, about equal to each other. Super Cruise’s ability to do lane changes without the need for human intervention and its wider operational design domain (ODD) provide it with a modest advantage. However, the fact that Ford has rapidly developed its system to reach this level in only two years, while Super Cruise has been available for almost five years, indicates that Ford has the advantage in terms of progress and growth in this area.

Regardless, if these manufacturers want to earn the monthly fees tied to most of these systems and therefore generate that delicious recurrent income, they’re all going to have to keep growing better. Consequently, it implies that every one of us is triumphant in this situation.

Eltrys Team
Author: Eltrys Team

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