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We Tested the Best Hands-Free Driving Systems and Picked a Winner

Autopilot takes on the rest

  • We tested the best hands-free driver assistance systems in the industry through brutal LA rush hour traffic.
  • Our test cars came from Tesla, Cadillac, BMW and Ford, using their most updated systems.
  • Even after picking a winner, we still have some reservations about the effectiveness of Level 2 hands-free driving.
  • The road to full autonomy has many more stops along the way.

In the past few years, we’ve witnessed the rise of hands-free driver assistance systems in the automotive industry. Tesla’s Autopilot system remains the poster child for the tech at the moment, but over time the list of competitors has grown quickly.

We decided it was time to do a little comparison test and pick our favorite, so we rounded up the front-runners and headed for our venue: the traffic-ridden 405 freeway in Los Angeles. What followed was a mix of impressive, terrifying and occasionally straight-up bewildering. Hands-free driving is an important stepping stone on the way to autonomous driving, but take it from us, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

What does hands-free mean?

Let’s start with a quick refresher of what we’re comparing in this test. "Hands-free" refers to an autonomous driving technology that lets the driver take his or her hands off the steering wheel in very specific circumstances. We auto nerds classify autonomous driving systems by levels, as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). You can read our full article on automation levels to get all the details.

What's important is that the most advanced systems you can buy today are what's called Level 2 hands-free, or Level 2.5, where the driver is still required to pay attention to the road and be prepared to take back control of the vehicle at a moment's notice. The next step is Level 3, where the driver is allowed to stop paying attention to the road under limited circumstance. But there aren't any Level 3 systems for sale right now — though Mercedes-Benz is very close to changing that.

Cadillac CT4-V, BMW i7, Ford Mustang Mach-E GT and Tesla Model Y

In this comparison, we’re testing what we think are the best and latest Level 2 hands-free driving systems from Ford, General Motors and BMW. We also brought a Tesla along to see how its Full Self-Driving technology compares.

Meet the contenders

Repping Ford is the Mustang Mach-E GT, equipped with BlueCruise 1.3. In this update, Ford improved the car’s lane-tracing abilities and added an automatic lane-change feature. Two things that (in theory, at least) should be nice upgrades. In the GM corner, we have a Cadillac CT4-V rocking the company’s Super Cruise system. Since its debut several years ago, GM has been making constant tweaks to keep Super Cruise at the top of its game.

The BMW i7 features the most recent version of Driving Assistant Plus, meaning that the hands-free feature now works up to 70 miles per hour. This is a big improvement over the prior version, which only allowed it up to 40 mph. And finally, our long-term test car, the Tesla Model Y Performance featuring Autopilot with Full Self-Driving (or FSD). Ironically, this is the only system here that requires you to keep your hands on the wheel at all times, but it’s also the only one that can be activated on city streets.

Picking a winner

Choosing an outright winner in this competition was a harder task than we initially imagined. We judged the cars based on how easy their systems were to activate, how they handled a variety of situations on the highway, and how much they cost (if anything) to the consumer.

In the end, one system was the strongest all-around performer but the main takeaway here is that Level 2 systems can all be a little sketchy at times. The road to autonomy is a complicated one, and while hands-free driving is a major milestone, we are still a long way from the finish line.

Edmunds says

Our first hand-free driving comparison test offered some interesting insight into the progress of automotive technology. This super advanced tech is evolving in the right direction, but even the best Level 2.5 systems at the moment all have their flaws. Buckle up for Level 3, everyone.