If HBO’s Entourage ever comes back on the air—and hopefully it won’t—there will likely be a new character in the lineup along with the boys: a semi-sentient Cadillac Escalade. Because no vehicle could be better for wandering between parties than a glitzy-glamor seven-seat SUV that can handle the highways of Los Angeles all by itself.
Well, kind of. The 2021 Escalade, unveiled this week in Los Angeles (where else?), will carry the latest version of Super Cruise, Cadillac’s much-lauded competitor to Tesla Autopilot. On the highway, the feature lets drivers take their hands off the wheel but uses an infrared camera to ensure they keep their eyes on the road. Super Cruise, which debuted in 2017 on the CT6 sedan, uses cameras and radars to monitor traffic and road conditions, follow turns, and adjust speed based on terrain. And its arrival on the Escalade marks a move toward the mainstream: While the CT6 is a relatively niche product, the big SUV is one of Cadillac’s best sellers.
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The version of Super Cruise arriving on the Escalade, due on dealer lots later this year (with pricing TBA), features a bevy of upgrades. First off, it’s simpler to engage, and thus enjoy. “You used to have to precisely position the car in the lane and wait for the car to switch modes once it was happy with the conditions,” says Mario Maiorana, the system’s chief engineer. “Now that happens much more easily and quickly.” He also promises a more intuitive interface—the colored icons in the instrument cluster and LED bar on the steering wheel in the CT6 didn’t always make clear when the system could be engaged.
Second, the system will now change lanes on command. If you’re stuck behind a semi going 55 mph, hit the turn signal and watch your car check the adjacent lane, then slide over when its safe. To keep the driver apprised of its “thinking” and progress, the system flashes animated graphics on the Escalade’s hi-res, curved OLED display (an industry first), which measures a whopping 38 inches from corner to corner.
As ever, Super Cruise will be limited to roads that Cadillac has mapped with lidar laser scanners, which include more than 200,000 miles of asphalt in the US and Canada. That coverage has grown 35 percent since 2017, and now includes divided highways along with interstates.
The new version has boosted processing capability and fine-tuned handling. “The steering, acceleration, and braking are all improved,” Maiorana says. “And it’s better at detecting road hazards like construction cones and alerting the driver to take over.” That work included tuning how the system brakes, accelerates, and turns to account for the difference between the sporty CT6 and hulking Escalade.
As General Motors moves to bring Super Cruise to more than 20 models over the next three years, that kind of adaptation will be key, says Jeremy Carlson, the autonomy analyst for industry research firm IHS Markit. “The amount of work to do so will vary, but overall it’s an exercise they’ll need to work through to make the ongoing expansion to more models as efficient as possible, and to capitalize on the brand cachet that Super Cruise can yield.”
And if you want to build up that kind of cachet, getting a leather-packed Escalade to drive your entourage across Los Angeles is a pretty good place to start.
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