The battle of self-driving cars
Consumer Reports released their annual review of self-driving systems, ranking manufacturers on their performance. And once again, Ford’s Blue Cruise took top marks. There are now 17 systems that Consumer Reports tests, which is an impressive number of self-driving systems. It’s important to note that despite all these systems, there is no truly self-driving car in 2023. With Ford Blue Cruise taking top marks, how good is this system? According to CR, it ranks the highest overall, taking top marks for driver engagement and clarity on when it’s safe to use. Ford Blue Cruise is not the highest scoring regarding capabilities and performance, but its higher ratings in other areas eke out a win over Mercedes’ highly capable system.
As an aside, looking at all the scores, one area is a weakness for every self-driving system: Ease of use. Ford Blue Cruise is one of the highest-rated self-driving systems in this category, but still only scores a 6/10. Only the system from the Hyundai group (Kia/Hyundai/Genesis) scores higher with a 7/10. These scores highlight an issue every manufacturer faces: complicated self-driving technologies are not intuitive or easy for new and seasoned drivers. Even drivers who are comfortable with technology find some systems confusing.
All this begs the question, how good is Ford Blue Cruise? This is Ford’s first attempt at a Level 2 self-driving system, which lets you drive for extended periods hands-free, and it seems like they’ve pulled it off on paper. To answer that question, we tested two Ford vehicles that feature Blue Cruise. First was a 2023 Ford Expedition XL, followed by a 2023 Ford F150 Lightning EV. Let’s explain what living with Ford Blue Cruise for a couple of weeks is like.
Introducing Ford Blue Cruise
Before reviewing Ford Blue Cruise, let’s get to know what it is first. Ford Blue Cruise is a self-driving system that allows drivers to cruise at freeway speeds hands-free. Hands-free means the vehicle manages staying in the lane, lane changes, speed management, and emergency braking for you. It uses sensors to detect the road, other vehicles, and where the driver’s eyes are focused. The system alerts you if you spend too much time with your eyes off the road. If you keep ignoring it, it quickly shuts down. You’re then forced to resume good, old-fashioned driving.five levels in the SAE rating, with Level 5 representing fully autonomous vehicles and Level 1 basic driver-assists like adaptive cruise control), there are limitations on both the driver and the technology.
Getting started with Ford Blue Cruise
Usability is where Blue Cruise scored the lowest, and our experience certainly reflects that. Regarding technical literacy, our test staff are all current IT professionals with a firm grasp of technology. We took nearly a week with a Ford Expedition LX to get Blue Cruise to work. The issue was how Ford integrates with their connected vehicles using their app. If a vehicle isn’t registered to an owner in the app, then none of the advanced functions are active, which includes Blue Cruise. For press test vehicles, this is a pain. For owners, it’s less of a pain, assuming you buy from a dealer with enough customer service to consider walking you through the app when you take delivery. If you don’t want to use an app or are privacy-conscious, you can forget about using Blue Cruise altogether. Registering the vehicle for you requires sitting with the vehicle idling while your app and the vehicle connect. It’s a pain but relatively straightforward.
Once the Ford app is connected, using Blue Cruise itself is almost automatic. Ensure Blue Cruise is enabled from within the vehicle cruise control settings menu. It’s enabled by default. But there’s a catch: Your highway trip must include a road Ford has mapped. While most major interstates are included, many local highways aren’t. Canadian residents, where we tested ours, will find even fewer mapped roads and some primary freeways missing. However, Ford says they’re always adding roads via over-the-air updates. If all the conditions are right, Blue Cruise will automatically engage when driving with cruise control, letting you sit back and ride hands-free.
Driving with Blue Cruise
You’re forgiven for thinking Ford Blue Cruise is a self-driving car once the system is active. It’s also easy to see why the system ranked so high in the Consumer Reports testing. We’ve tested a few other systems from companies like GM and Hyundai, and Ford Blue Cruise sets the standard. The system does an excellent job tracking lanes and keeping the large vehicles centered between the lines. It handled rain and darkness comfortably. The eye trackers in the F150 and Expedition are positioned in the a-pillar and dashboard of the trucks, so they don’t block essential dashboard items like in the Ford Mustang Mach-E.
As for driver intervention, Ford Blue Cruise gets high marks here, too. The system doesn’t fight the driver hard at all when steering manually. The eye tracking is accurate and does an excellent job of recognizing the difference between glancing in mirrors and not paying attention to the road. Blue Cruise notifies the driver to take control if you aren’t paying attention or conditions no longer meet requirements. Thankfully, when asked to take control, the system had no issue detecting when the driver had taken hold of the wheel and was driving again. This is a significant improvement over some competitors.
Experientially, driving on the highway with Ford Blue Cruise active is like riding in a commuter train. While you still need to keep an eye ahead of you to intervene if the system misses something, which it occasionally does when drivers are aggressively changing lanes, on the whole, it’s an almost surreal experience. In our second long trip with Blue Cruise, the driver enjoyed a cup of coffee and ate a wrap while the F150 Lightening drove. For a brief moment, a driver becomes a passenger as well.
Self-driving vehicles have a long way to go before we’re all passengers, but modern, hands-free systems give us glimpses of what that will be like. Like some other competitor systems, Ford Blue Cruise is an imperfect product. However, it’s more than a gimmick too. We’d love to test multi-day road trips using Blue Cruise to confirm our theory that this will reduce road strain and fatigue. It certainly made Toronto traffic jams much easier to manage.
So, how good is Ford Blue Cruise? For a Level 2 self-driving system, it’s very good and getting better with iterative improvements. But getting it set up, massive privacy concerns and the general distrust of computers driving us will continue to be significant hurdles to adoption. Blue Cruise is a great system, but we still don’t see many people using it often. Even the most adventurous among us found ourselves intervening manually on occasion.