What Is Adaptive Cruise Control? Is It Worth Paying For?


The coolest luxury car technologies of today often become features on mainstream cars tomorrow. Take cruise control as an example; today, nearly every new car has it except for specialized performance models and base trims of entry-level cars. But what is adaptive cruise control? And is it worth using?

How Adaptive Cruise Control Works (and Its Limitations)

Adaptive cruise control layers convenience onto non-adaptive systems, which can maintain a desired speed on the highway. That alone alleviates the stress of long road trips by minimizing the amount of time you use the accelerator. Adaptive cruise control takes that convenience a step further by allowing the driver to set a desired speed and following distance from any vehicle that may be ahead. If a slower vehicle moves in front of you, the system will automatically slow to maintain your pre-set following distance and then accelerate again to your originally set speed once the vehicle moves out of the way. The most advanced systems integrate with the vehicle’s navigation system and/or forward looking cameras to even slow around tighter curves and reduce speed if the posted speed limit changes.

Like any safety or convenience system, adaptive cruise control has its limitations. Like standard cruise control, the driver is required to steer the vehicle (for all but the most advanced semi-autonomous systems). And if the car ahead brakes suddenly, you’ll probably need to intervene. Sudden evasive maneuvers to avoid obstacles in the road are on you, too. Weather and debris can adversely affect adaptive cruise control because it relies on radar and/or camera sensors to detect vehicles ahead.

How Can Adaptive Cruise Control Make My Commute Easier?

The most basic adaptive cruise control systems relieve the stress of operating the accelerator pedal in many cruising conditions. The newer, better systems offer stop-and-go functionality, sometimes called traffic jam assist. This allows the vehicle to comfortably continue using adaptive cruise control at low speeds, thanks to the system’s ability to come to a complete stop when traffic ahead does, too. Many systems will deactivate a few seconds after stopping, requiring you to press the resume button or the accelerator pedal to get going again. This further alleviates the stress of commuting. The newest, best systems bundle other driver assistance technologies including lane keeping assist, forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, and automatic emergency braking to provide the highest level of commuter stress relief.

These state of the art adaptive cruise control systems form the building blocks for semi-autonomous driving. When a lane centering system joins the mix, the vehicle can keep itself in a single lane and negotiate gentle turns, further reducing the workload of your commute or road trip. Some automakers have also added a lane change assist, function. With these, when you apply the turn signal, sensors check for traffic in the next lane, and if safe, they steer the car over and center in the next lane…

What to Look for in a Vehicle With Adaptive Cruise Control

  • See if adaptive cruise control has a stop and go function (also known as traffic jam assist). This feature means the it can still function when highway traffic slows to a crawl.
  • Pay attention to how smoothly the car accelerates and brakes on its own when a car moves in front of or out of your lane. Some systems, such as those on Audis and Subarus, allow you to adjust the tech’s aggressiveness.
  • Assess the distance the car leaves in its closest adaptive cruise control setting at highway and lower speeds. Does it strike a balance between a comfortable distance and not being so far back that cars are constantly cutting in front of you?
  • Can you toggle between standard or adaptive cruise control? There are some driving conditions where an adaptive system’s frequent braking and resuming can be less comfortable than normal cruise control, and having a non-adaptive option allows continued cruise functionality should the sensors become temporarily obscured.

Which Automakers Have Excellent Adaptive Cruise Control Systems?

Not all adaptive cruise control systems are worth experiencing. Subaru, BMW, Honda, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, and Ford offer standout systems that operate smoothly and consistently, even in stop-and-go situations. All work to lessen the stress of driving, especially for those with long commutes through busy urban areas.






Is Adaptive Cruise Control Worth It?

If your commute is long and you think you can learn to trust the tech (while always paying attention and being ready to immediately take over if necessary), adaptive cruise control could be a very meaningful upgrade. Letting the car operate the accelerator and brakes for most of your drive home from work can relieve a lot of the stress associated with driving.  However, if a system is designed with driving logic that bites the brakes too hard as it comes to a stop or allows too much distance in its closest setting, you might find yourself using the tech once and never again for the rest of the time you own the car.

What Do Automakers Call Adaptive Cruise Control?

Toyota and Lexus: Dynamic Cruise Control, Dynamic Cruise Control with Stop and Go
Nissan and Infiniti: Intelligent Cruise Control
Hyundai: Smart Cruise Control
Kia: Advanced Smart Cruise Control
Honda and Acura: Adaptive Cruise Control, Adaptive Cruise Control with Low-Speed Follow
Subaru: Adaptive Cruise Control, Adaptive Cruise Control with Lane Centering
Mercedes-Benz: Active Distance Assist Distronic
BMW: Active Cruise Control, Active Cruise Control with Stop and Go

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