I tried BlueCruise, Ford's hands-free driving rival to Tesla Autopilot and GM's Super Cruise
- I tried out
BlueCruise, Ford's answer to Tesla Autopilot.
- The system lets you drive hands-free on over 100,000 miles of North American highways.
- I found it easy to use and appreciated the clear messaging in the driver display.
Tesla has emerged as one of the industry leaders in automated driving in recent years, for better or worse.
But Ford's latest generation of driver-assistance
Although BlueCruise doesn't make cars autonomous - you can't buy anything close to a self-driving car today - it promises to deliver hands-free driving on massive stretches of North American highways.
Ford invited me to try out BlueCruise on a highway near its Dearborn, Michigan homebase in September. During my roughly 20 minute drive, I got a firsthand look at how easy the system is to use and how well it performs.
Before we get into that - what is BlueCruise and how does it work?
BlueCruise, like Tesla's Autopilot, is at its core a combination of lane centering and adaptive cruise control. The system uses cameras to find lane lines, stay centered between them, and monitor surrounding traffic. A radar sensor keeps tabs on the car ahead and tells the vehicle to slow down or speed up as necessary.
Unlike Autopilot, BlueCruise can only be activated in approved "Blue Zones," which encompass some 100,000 miles of US and Canadian highways. It's the same approach General Motors is taking with its hands-free offering, Super Cruise.
To make sure drivers pay attention, Fords with BlueCruise sport interior infrared cameras that track a driver's gaze and head positioning. BlueCruise is currently available as an option for the F-150 and the Mustang Mach-E, Ford's electric SUV.
Cruising with BlueCruise
I found BlueCruise simple enough to switch on behind the wheel of a Mach-E. You just turn on adaptive cruise control using a button on the steering wheel and drive through a Blue Zone. Once the vehicle determines it's safe to go hands-free, it alerts the driver.
Importantly, it's tough to miss when BlueCruise is active. The entire driver display turns blue and a steering wheel icon appears with the words "hands-free" beneath it. When the system needs the driver to take over, it clearly states "keep hands on steering wheel" and shows an image of a steering wheel with hands gripping it.
This is excellent, because you wouldn't want people to think they can go hands-free when they can't, or vice versa.
With BlueCruise enabled, the Mach-E confidently piloted itself down the highway without any noticeable hiccups. It drove in the middle of its lane and didn't twitch excessively to stay there, though it did veer slightly side to side.
Even when things got a little dicey, BlueCruise performed. When someone made an abrupt merge into my lane, the Mach-E slowed down accordingly. It didn't react particularly gracefully, but it got the job done.
BlueCruise will run you $3,200 as an add-on to the base Mach-E, but it's standard in most trims. In the F-150, it costs $1,595. After an initial three-year subscription runs out, owners will have to pay up to keep using BlueCruise.
But it could all be worth it, depending on how much you value making long highway journeys slightly more pleasant and less demanding. For what it's worth, hands-on driver-assist systems already do this wonderfully. Promised BlueCruise updates like expanded Blue Zones and automated lane changes could make the proposition more enticing.
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