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Testing a $92,000 car is a bit daunting. You worry a little about traffic jams, a deer jumping out into the road, and the possibility of hail falling out of the sky at any moment. Knowing that the vehicle you’re driving costs more than your first house is a stark realization.
In the coming age of automated driving, there’s some hope. I’ve been testing cars for about five years now, and the technology that makes the car slow down in traffic is becoming almost indispensable these days. Recently, testing the 2018 Lexus LC500 made me realize we’re not too far from a scenario where a computer controls our speed (and a car traffic control center controls the flow of all traffic). Known as All-Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, the tech senses the car in front of you and can slow down to a full stop. I tested it in heavy traffic for several days to see if Lexus has improved the sensors over the past few years.
Adaptive cruise control tech like this is not new. What is new is that the experience has become much more gradual and seamless. You barely notice the car slowing down, a hint of autonomous driving once the industry figures out how that will work. When you slow down even a few miles per hour, the LC500 resumes slowly, not with the jerking motion so common when adaptive cruise control first became an option on luxury cars.
Do you still have to pay attention? Sure, but it removes some stress. One morning, a car swerved in front of me and the LC reacted without an abrupt adjustment, just by slowing down as you should when you see another driver acting like an idiot. (Many accidents occur when a driver overreacts and slams on the brakes, causing a collision with the car behind you.) Sensors in a car react roughly the same way every time without the emotion. They don’t get tired or angry.
It’s interesting to compare the speed-up and slow-down mechanics to cars I’ve tested previously. When the car doesn’t overreact, you barely even notice. Traffic is not quite as annoying. You let the car manage the tediousness of constant speed adjustments. And, I’ll be honest — this is a lot more important for a sleek, expensive car like the LC500. Driving my own car in traffic is not as stressful; I can see how having more automations will reduce some of the strain of having a lot of value to lose.
I also noticed when the traffic cleared and I was alone on a country road that the LC also adjusts for curves in the road and uphill climbs. My current car doesn’t quite do this, even though it has cruise control. Uphill, the cruise surges like it is trying to catch up to a pace car. The LC almost seemed to know there was a hill or a curve, the sensors likely detecting some change in the road and making sure it never had to make less-than-subtle adjustments.
I can see where this is going eventually. Once connected cars benefit from more sensors and connections to the road and other cars, the technology will also work in subtle ways and allow us to focus on other things. The car will know a light is about to change and will start slowing down long before that ever happens. Driving (or rather, not driving) will become effortless, controlled by sensors that can make hundreds of adjustments we’re not capable of tracking.
I’m looking forward to that — especially if my car is even one third the cost of the LC.
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