Say what you will about the name of Ford's new hands-free driver-assistance system, BlueCruise. Yeah, it might be a bit cheesy. And if you're General Motors, maybe you see grounds for an (arguably frivolous) lawsuit. But no matter how you feel about the branding, get behind the wheel and you'll struggle to form an argument against the Blue Oval's new hands-free driver-assistance system.
We sampled BlueCruise on a 2021 Ford F-150 Hybrid, and while company reps limited our test to just 30 minutes on local highways around Ford's Dearborn, Michigan, headquarters, half an hour of seat time still imparted strong impressions. Unlike rival systems, BlueCruise has nailed driver messaging and is easy to switch on and off. It also felt impressively natural managing a full-size truck around bends at highway speeds and reacted well to surrounding traffic. Combined, those factors make for a hands-free driver-assist system that should find a wide audience when it launches this fall.
Stay On Message
A driver assistant is pointless if it's a pain in the neck to activate, but our necks were feeling fine after our brief test in the F-150. BlueCruise requires no additional controls beyond what Ford already attaches to the steering wheel in vehicles equipped with Co-Pilot 360, its current active safety suite. So long as lane-keep assist is engaged, all you need to do is activate adaptive cruise control and set a speed. That's it.
From there, BlueCruise draws on over 100,000 miles of GPS maps (down a touch on GM’s 130,000 miles, although both companies will expand on those figures relatively fast) to determine when the vehicle enters so-called Hands-Free Blue Zones. Acquisition happens quickly – no sooner had we merged onto the Southfield Freeway near Ford HQ and activated the adaptive cruise than the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster transformed as “Hands-Free” appeared above a blue steering wheel in the middle of the tachometer. With that, we took our meat hooks off the wheel and let the F-150 do its thing.
This unequivocal, concise messaging is crucial. Driving GM's SuperCruise requires interpreting a series of red, green, blue, and yellow lights. Ignoring the fact that learning what each light means takes time, that system also fails to consider individuals with color blindness. By making a graphical announcement and showing a flashy animation, Ford leaves very little question as to when BlueCruise is and isn't working.
While we were hands off for a good portion of our drive, there were times the system shut down, giving an audio prompt and flashing a yellow icon in the digital cluster and demanding we take the wheel. This was likely because the system was struggling to find lane markers on the road – both situations were near confusing highway off-ramps with inconsistent markings – but could have been because it detected our eyes straying.
Ford leaves very little question as to when BlueCruise is and isn't working.
Like GM and others, Ford uses a driver-facing camera to make sure the driver is paying attention. The integration here is seamless, with Ford hiding the camera and a pair of infrared emitters where you'd least expect them.
A pair of infrared emitters (one near the driver’s mirror and another near the top right corner of the 12.0-inch touchscreen) paint the driver’s face for the off-set driver-facing camera, mounted by the top left of the display. This is a far more elegant solution than the camera/emitter combo mounted on the steering column in GM products. Like SuperCruise, if BlueCruise detects a driver's eyes going where they shouldn't, it will start issuing alerts with escalating urgency before eventually coming to a controlled stop.
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That said, there is no vibrating steering wheel like you'll get from GM or seatbelt-tugging action like with Lexus Teammate. And while we suggested it as a safety measure, the vehicle will not activate its hazard lights when coming to an automatic stop. Ford's messaging to the driver is on target, but we'd like to see stronger measures to regain a driver's attention beyond audio/visual alerts, as well as additional warning to other motorists in those extreme cases.
But beyond those limited issues, it's hard to argue with how pleasant BlueCruise made highway driving. Early active safety systems typically struggled with high-speed freeway bends – there was always the sense from the passenger seat that the vehicle was entering too fast and that, even in hands-on systems, the automatic steering inputs came just a touch too late. That made it difficult to grow confident with the system.
But as automakers have developed smarter technology and started collecting GPS data, we've seen systems that can automatically reduce speed below the set figure to account for upcoming turns. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and others all offer this curve-managing tech. And while our test in the F-150 was shorter than we'd prefer, BlueCruise feels like a possible leader in this regard.
BlueCruise won’t work while towing and doesn't include automatic lane changes. Engineers are working on these features, but Ford wouldn’t share a timeline for delivery.
Our truck managed gentle freeway curves while maintaining both a comfortable ride and a high speed. It was smooth in a way that inspired confidence, with progressive braking and acceleration and smooth steering movements. In short, it felt natural. Of course, our sample size here is perilously small and Ford set us on a predetermined route that engineers have been testing on for ages. It’s also worth mentioning BlueCruise won’t work while towing and doesn't include automatic lane changes. Engineers are working on these features, but Ford wouldn’t share a timeline for delivery.
But even with those facts in mind, it's hard not to get excited about this system. That's doubly true considering how Ford is rolling it out. Rather than introducing it on a few slow-selling models like SuperCruise suffered, BlueCruise is arriving later this year on the F-150, the most popular vehicle in the country, and on the Mustang Mach-E. And while there's been some blowback over the company's approach – offering BlueCruise as a $600 over-the-air update to vehicles already carrying the appropriate hardware – once the official rollout is complete, Ford will begin adding the software at the factory.
The company expects only about 15 percent of F-150s to carry BlueCruise software, but that's largely because the tech is only standard on the top-end F-150 Limited. BlueCruise is a $1,595 option on the Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum, Tremor, and Raptor trims. As for the Mach-E, Ford expects 80 percent of its EV crossovers to carry the software, due in large part to it being standard equipment on all but the base model (where it's part of a $3,200 option pack).
For comparison, GM limits SuperCruise to the Chevrolet Bolt EUV as well as the Cadillac CT4-V, CT5-V, and Escalade. Prices range from $2,100 to nearly $9,000 on certain models and trims when prerequisites are taken into consideration – also consider the subscription GM will eventually charge. Like we said, we like how Ford is rolling out BlueCruise, going for volume sellers and making it widely available or even standard.
BlueCruise has a good shot at being the de-facto leader of active safety among legacy automakers in terms of adoption.
This is just the initial rollout, though. While Ford representatives at the demo wouldn't comment on where BlueCruise would arrive next, it seems a certainty that every full-scale redesign going forward will include the tech. And with so many models – like the Mustang, Edge, and Ranger – nearing the end of their life cycles, BlueCruise has a good shot at being the de-facto leader of active safety among legacy automakers in terms of adoption. The name might be corny, but we suggest you get used to hearing it.