First hands-free driving with Ford’s Rival autopilot


  • I tried 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 clarity of the messages on the driver’s screen.

Tesla has become one of the leaders in the automated driving industry in recent years, for better or for worse.

But Ford’s latest generation of driver assistance technology offers something that automaker Elon Musk doesn’t: the ability to go hands-free.

While BlueCruise doesn’t make cars self-driving – you can’t buy anything close to a self-driving car today – it does promise to enable hands-free driving on vast swathes of North American highways.

Ford invited me to try BlueCruise on a freeway near its base in Dearborn, Michigan in September. During my roughly 20 minute ride, I got to see firsthand how easy the system is to use and how well it works.

Before getting to the heart of the matter, what is BlueCruise and how does it work?

BlueCruise, like Tesla’s autopilot, is basically a combination of lane centering and adaptive cruise control. The system uses cameras to find track lines, stay centered between them and monitor surrounding traffic. A radar sensor keeps an eye on the car in front and tells the vehicle to slow down or accelerate if necessary.

Unlike autopilot, BlueCruise only allows drivers to have their hands free in approved “blue zones,” which encompass some 100,000 miles of US and Canadian freeways. 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 sports interior infrared cameras that track the driver’s gaze and head position. BlueCruise is currently available as an option for the F-150 and the Mustang Mach-E, Ford’s electric SUV.

Cruise with BlueCruise

I found BlueCruise simple enough to light up while driving a Mach-E. All you need to do is activate adaptive cruise control with a button on the steering wheel and drive through a blue zone. Once the vehicle determines that it is safe to use hands-free, it alerts the driver.

Above all, it’s hard to miss when BlueCruise is active. The entire driver’s screen turns blue and a steering wheel icon appears with the words “hands-free” underneath. When the system needs the driver to take over, it clearly says “keep hands on the wheel” and displays a steering wheel icon with hands gripping it.

Ford BlueCruise.

Ford BlueCruise activated in the Mustang Mach-E.

Ford


This is great because you wouldn’t want people to think they can have their hands free when they can’t, or vice versa.

With BlueCruise on, the Mach-E rode confidently on the highway without any noticeable hiccups. He rode in the middle of his lane and didn’t shake too much to stay there, although he veered slightly from side to side.

One advantage Super Cruise has over Ford’s system: BlueCruise won’t slow down for tight turns just yet. You have to do it yourself. Ford uses GPS in another nifty way, however. If you stay in an exit lane long enough, BlueCruise will turn off because it assumes you are exiting the freeway.

Even when things got a little risky, BlueCruise played. When someone abruptly merged into my lane, the Mach-E slowed down as a result. He didn’t react particularly gracefully, but he got the job done.

Ford BlueCruise.

Ford BlueCruise.

Ford.


BlueCruise will set you back $ 3,200 on top of 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 expires, owners will need to pay to continue using BlueCruise.

But it could all be worth it, depending on how much importance you place on long highway trips being slightly more enjoyable and less demanding. For what it’s worth, practical driver assistance systems already do this wonderfully. Promised BlueCruise updates, such as extended blue zones and automated lane changes, could make the proposition more appealing.

About Myra R.

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