Ugh, that was the longest day at work. You've been on your feet all day at that busy industry networking event and you can't wait to collapse on the couch when you get home. Let's hope this drive home is speedy.
Wait - what's up with this guy in the car ahead of you? Stop. Start. Speed up. Slow down. Stop again. Start up. What is he playing at?
Your already aching legs are cramping from all of these sudden accelerations and halts. "Make up your mind!" you want to scream at him. Where did this guy even get his license from? If he is going to keep playing games like this, you're going to explode.
If only your car would automatically adjust your speed to accommodate these incompetent motorists.
Good news. There is something that could help: adaptive cruise control.
For all you exhausted and frustrated motoring enthusiasts out there, we're going to tell you what this snazzy piece of technology is, how it works, and what cars have adaptive cruise control in the UK.
What is adaptive cruise control?
Adaptive cruise control is a system that keeps your car running at a steady set speed and reacts to changes in the pace of the car in front of you.
When you get behind the wheel, you set a maximum driving speed and your car will accelerate and decelerate independently to keep within your set speed range. If the car in front of you pulls ahead suddenly or slows down dramatically, the system will respond in real-time, saving you from any nasty accidents. All you need to do is take control of the steering wheel and intervene where necessary.
You might be wondering how adaptive cruise control is different to traditional cruise control. It's not just fancy jargon. Adaptive cruise control - alternatively known as autonomous cruise control, active cruise control, or radar cruise control - is a new and improved version of traditional cruise control systems.
Time for a little history lesson!
For the history buffs amongst you, cruise control was engineered for the first time way back in the 17th/18th century and it was originally designed for steam engines. Car makers soon developed automotive versions and planted it in their cars at the beginning of the 20th century. By the 1950s, you could see modern cruise control systems at play, like the 1958 Chrysler Imperial's "auto-pilot" system.
With traditional cruise control systems, you were limited to telling your car one set speed to run at. It couldn't react independently to the actions of other drivers. If a car suddenly revved up ahead of you or ground to a painful halt, you had to be on full alert to adjust your speed yourself.
These early versions of cruise control had a major flaw: other road users. If the road was empty, life would be easy. Just set the cruise control to 70mph and breeze down the motorway without a care in the world. But motorways are never empty. They're full of caravans, articulated lorries, and middle lane hoggers. What should be a nice and steady journey turns into a roller coaster of manual braking and accelerating and ends with some very cramped legs.
So, adaptive cruise control was born, an intelligent revamp of these early systems. Car manufacturers are increasingly realising the value of the technology, including adaptive cruise control in their latest models.
How does adaptive cruise control work?
It's important to understand that adaptive cruise control is not a piece of self-driving technology. It's semi-autonomous, so you still hold a lot of power and responsibility.
When you set off driving, you hit the accelerator until you're at your preferred maximum speed and then you push the ‘set’ button. The system will recognise this speed as the one to stick to. If you want to adjust your speed, just press the + or - buttons. You also need to set a gap in seconds or metres to keep between you and the driver in front of you.
For example, say you decided to stick a 50mph limit and a 5 second gap. If the car ahead of you decelerates to 30mph, your car will take note of this and will gradually slow down to match this 30mph, keeping you a safe distance apart. If the car ahead then swerves into a different lane, your car will vroom back up to 50mph or until it's a 5 second gap away from the next car in front. You don't touch a thing.
But if you do decide to brake or accelerate independently, the adaptive cruise control system will automatically shut off and you’ll have to reset it if you want it back in control.
How does your car know what the car in front is doing? In adaptive cruise control systems, there is a laser or radar system fixed on the front of the car. The system scans the road ahead, keeping tabs on the cars ahead.
Some adaptive cruise control systems have other advanced driver assistance tools combined with them:
- Speed Recognition. This allows your car to pinpoint the speed limit on a stretch of road. It'll feed this figure to the driver by displaying it on the dashboard. In some systems, the pre-set speed will even be automatically altered to match this speed limit, which gives you one less thing to worry about.
- Traffic Jam Assistance. In one of those lovely rush-hour traffic jams, your car will automatically come to a halt if the road ahead is blocked up.
- Blind Spot Detection. If there's a car swerving around in your blind spot, your car will spot it. Much handier (and more effective) than your front seat passenger fiddling around with the wing mirror in the grizzly rain.
- Lane Departure Warning. If you begin to veer out of your lane without realising it, your car will be the first to let you know, sending you a warning on your dash to keep you in check. Don't want the police thinking you're on your way home from the pub.
Not all adaptive cruise control technology runs the same way, so make sure you check your own car's manual to understand how it operates before hitting the open road.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of adaptive cruise control?
Seems like a wonderful invention, eh? And it sounds particularly good to you right now with those tired leg muscles and this total idiot swaying around in front of you. At LeaseFetcher, we're all about balance so here are the positives and negatives of using an adaptive cruise control system.
Advantages of adaptive cruise control
- Safety. Some drivers worry, because it's not a fully autonomous driving technology, that adaptive cruise control isn't safe. The system is safe, as long as the driver is alert and prepared to take control where necessary. The driver should always be steering anyway. These systems usually come paired with autonomous emergency braking to bring you to a grinding halt in your time of need.
- Fuel efficiency. Since the system keeps your car at a consistent speed, it can dramatically improve your fuel economy, saving you some serious cash. The constant strain of speeding up and slowing down is largely avoided, giving your engine a bit of a rest.
- Driver comfort. By handing the speed controls to the system, you can reduce driver fatigue, reducing the need to keep your foot on the brake and accelerator for lengthy journeys.
Disadvantages of adaptive cruise control
- Bad weather. Since the system relies on its sensors, it can falter in poor weather conditions. When it's foggy, raining or snowing heavily, the sensors could become blurred and unable to perform their job, rendering it useless.
- Slow reaction. Some systems have slow reaction times, accelerating or decelerating slower than the driver would themselves. Check some reviews for different manufacturers to see if some are more affected than others before you take the plunge and splash out on one.
- System variations. There is not one standardised adaptive cruise control system across all cars. Drivers might have to learn a new car's system each time they upgrade their set of wheels.
How much does adaptive cruise control cost?
It ain't cheap! Most cars with adaptive cruise control included are an extra grand or two more than bog standard new cars. You can reduce your costs by buying a used car with the technology.
If you want a car that doesn't come with adaptive cruise control as standard, you can get it added on in the factory. Prices range from a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand. Do some shopping around and also take some time to think about whether you'll actually use it and get your money's worth.
What cars have adaptive cruise control in the UK?
The major car manufacturers are all hurriedly looking to adopt adaptive cruise control technology in their latest models. If you're in the market for a car with adaptive cruise control in the UK, check out this chunky list of models that might interest you. These models either come with adaptive cruise control as standard or available as an add-on:
Sign me up!
In the future, all cars will have systems like adaptive cruise control. Want to get ahead of the rat race and sign yourself up now? You can search for your perfect car with adaptive cruise control on LeaseFetcher. With some pretty hiked up prices for cars with this technology right now, bagging yourself a lease will give you access to a modern set of wheels at a fraction of the purchase cost.