Skip to main content

No surprises as first driver-assistance tests begin — cars with more tech did better

tesla model s autopilot expected update crash death
With all that’s been written about the various flavors of driver-assisted and self-driving car technology, there’s been no objective, third-party testing. Car manufacturers and component providers do their own testing, but you don’t take a chef’s opinion on a meal. There’s a boatload of money involved in the race to acceptably safe autonomous vehicles.

The stakes of failure are high; lives are at stake. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration doesn’t yet have autonomous vehicle safety testing. So objective tests are needed. This week Motor Trend published its first version of what testing autonomous cars could look like.

Motor Trend tested adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping systems in four vehicles. Because the cars represented different autonomous driving technology levels, it was a driving assistance pre-test in which Motor Trend rolled back the curtain to explain how they designed the testing. With no familiar tests like zero-to-60 acceleration, they had to invent ways to measure the effectiveness of driver assistance features without letting the cars crash or run off the road.

Adaptive cruise control testing measured braking, distance between vehicles, and acceleration when following a lead car on a closed loop track. In the lane-keeping test, Motor Trend measured how often drivers touched the steering and the percentage of time their hands were on the wheel. To measure steering wheel touching the team covered the steering wheels with aluminum foil  and recorded when a circuit was closed by a test driver touching the wheel with hands taped with wires.

The test cars were a Tesla Model S, a Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG, a Cadillac CT6, and a Hyundai Genesis 3.8. Each came equipped with the brand’s latest driver assistance tech. From the get-go, Motor Trend knew they were testing apples and oranges and subsequently didn’t choose winners and losers — it would not have been fair. The levels of driver-assistance technology offered in the cars varied significantly from, in order from least to most, Cadillac, Hyundai, Mercedes, and Tesla. Those levels directly affected the testing and that’s how the cars scored. Each of the tested brands has more advanced technology on the way.

So it’s not surprising that the Tesla did the best overall on the tests — the surprise would have been had it not. More significant than the actual test scores, is that autonomous car testing by unbiased groups has now begun. The full explanation of test methods and observations is in the Motor Trend report.

Editors' Recommendations

Bruce Brown
Digital Trends Contributing Editor Bruce Brown is a member of the Smart Homes and Commerce teams. Bruce uses smart devices…
Modern cars take touch controls too far. This company found a balance
The infotainment panel of a Lucid Air.

Cars are rapidly evolving, and it seems like just about everything about them is going digital. Of course, for the most part, that's a good thing. It allows for more remote control over your car, a cleaner look to your car's dashboard, and more.

Unfortunately, it also seems like car companies are going a little ... too far. It's one thing for things like audio playback controls, mood lighting controls, and others to be pushed into a screen. But for some reason, it feels like another thing entirely for climate controls, for example, to be controlled exclusively digitally.

Read more
EV vs. PHEV vs. hybrid: What’s the difference?
BMW X5 PHEV charge port

When sizing up options for your next car, you may be figuring out whether to get an electric vehicle, only to discover there are a bunch of variations to consider -- not just hybrids, but plug-in hybrids, extended-range electric vehicles, and fuel cell electric vehicles are just some of the other categories. The depths of EV jargon run so deep that we wrote an entire EV glossary, but for now let's zero in on the difference between electric vehicles, hybrids, and plug-in hybrids. These options blend old tech and new tech in a way that's often practical, cheaper than an EV, and still more efficient than an old-school gasoline car.
What is an electric vehicle?
An electric vehicle skips the internal combustion engine found in most traditional cars in favor of an electric motor. This allows EVs to operate without needing gasoline. Instead, they're powered by an electric battery that will need to be charged regularly, either at your home or at a charging station like a Tesla Supercharger. The Ford Mach-E, Kia EV6, and Rivian R1S are all popular examples of modern EVs.

The electric motor works by way of a rotating magnetic field. Inside the motor, three electromagnets surround a free-floating rotor, which spins based on which magnet is attracting it most. That rotor in turn produces power to the wheels of the car and pushes it forward and backward. Regenerative braking reverses the relationship and turns motion into electricity. While you're slowing to a stop, the force of the turning wheels spins the rotor and generates a charge via the electromagnets in the motor, which in turn goes up into the battery for storage. If you're curious, you can dig into the nuts and bolts of how an electric vehicle works.
What's the difference between a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid?
In short, a hybrid primarily relies on gas with an electric backup, while a plug-in hybrid relies on electric power with a gas backup.

Read more
You’ll soon be able to watch YouTube videos in your Android Automotive car
Android Auto in a car.

Google is making a bigger play for the in-car infotainment system. At Google I/O 2023, the company took the wraps off of a series of improvements to both Android Auto and Android Automotive, allowing those who want Google-based services in their car to get more features and better account integration.

As a reminder, the two systems may have a similar (almost identical?) name, but are actually quite different. Android Auto essentially just projects content from your phone, whether through a wireless or wired connection. It's Google's answer to Apple's CarPlay, and doesn't work without your phone. Android Automotive, however, is a version of Android that runs in the car itself, as the car's main infotainment system. It works whether you have a connected phone or not. Collectively, Google refers to the systems as Android for Cars -- yes, yet another name.

Read more