Discover more from PRNDL by Jordan Golson
2023 Chevrolet Suburban Review
Super Cruise steals the show: A road trip game changer
LAS VEGAS — The drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas is not particularly memorable, scenic, or fun.
It's a four-hour rip through the desert surrounded by terrible drivers, half of whom seem perfectly content to sit in the passing lane going slower than everyone else and then act bewildered when passed on the right. It is perhaps best experienced behind the wheel of a 2023 Chevrolet Suburban equipped with Super Cruise, GM's terrific hands-off driver assist feature.
Super Cruise is a mind-blowing technology that allows the driver to take their hands off the steering wheel entirely and trust the car to manage steering and throttle inputs. It might sound like a self-driving car, but it very much is not — the driver is fully involved and monitored the entire time by eye-tracking cameras to ensure they're paying attention.
This might seem counterintuitive: Super Cruise allows you to drive without touching the wheel or the pedals, so isn't the car driving itself? No.
It's relatively simple (at least compared to other driving situations) to have a computer manage steering and throttle on a mostly-straight highway where there isn't likely to be much cross traffic or pedestrians. But when things get weird, the driver is there to step in.
Sitting atop the steering column is a small nub with an infrared camera that monitors the driver's eyes to ensure they aren't wandering away from the road and down to a smartphone. Look away for more than a few moments, and Super Cruise disengages with an audible beep, flashing red light, and seat vibration to get your attention.
The reaction is always the same when I tell people about Super Cruise. Do you trust that thing? While the first five minutes behind the wheel with Super Cruise turned on are bizarre, you fall into a rhythm after a little bit. Many vehicles are already equipped with lane tracing or active lane centering technology, and I've heard far too many folks describe that as their car "driving itself."
Those systems — including ones from Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, and countless more — require constant input on the steering wheel to confirm that the driver is paying attention, and they are not in any way designed to be "hands-off" even though you might be able to do that for 10-15 seconds at a time.
Super Cruise, and similar technologies like Ford's BlueCruise, are specifically designed to operate without any direct steering input from the driver. Adaptive cruise control uses sensors to monitor how fast the car in front of you is driving and adjusts your speed to match, so imagine that but for steering.
So, how is it not self-driving if I don't need to touch the wheel or the pedals as we drive down the interstate? Though the car does most of the work, you must still supervise everything. It's like watching your teenager use a chainsaw. As long as nothing weird happens and nothing goes wrong, the car is perfectly capable of handling the steering. But if another driver suddenly cuts you off, jumping in and taking over would be prudent as the car won't necessarily react quickly enough.
Even more exciting is the latest update to Super Cruise that adds an automatic lane change function. The car can recognize when the person in the lane ahead of you is going below your set speed, and it will automatically — without any intervention on your part — activate the turn signal, check that it's safe, and move left into the passing lane. All you need to do is keep an eye on things.
At many points on the journey, I didn't touch the steering wheel for twenty or thirty minutes at a time. I'll admit that resisting the urge to trust the system and reach for your phone is tricky. After a while, you begin to trust Super Cruise more and more, and it's easy to believe it can handle whatever is coming your way — but it's essential to pay attention to what's happening. That's why eye-tracking is so important. An actual self-driving car would allow you to take a nap. This does not.
That's Super Cruise, and it's incredible and must be seen to be believed. But what about the rest of the car? My fully-loaded Suburban High Country runs well over $90,000 and is a highway-cruising monster with endless leather, legroom, and luxury.
Seat-mounted screens allow back-seat passengers to stream Netflix or YouTube from their captain's chairs, while even third-row passengers have copious amounts of legroom. The driving position and sightlines are terrific, while the 6.2L V8 creates a more than adequate 400 horsepower — though I'd much prefer the more fuel-efficient Duramax Diesel option.
But Super Cruise is the star of the show. If you drive long distances and want to use technology to make your life easier and more comfortable, you can't do better than to buy a Suburban or one of the other full-size GM trucks and SUVs equipped with Super Cruise.