Back in 2000, it wasn’t easy to see that adaptive cruise control would point the way toward future autonomous cars that will stay in their lanes and (hopefully) not become gigantic bumper cars. That was the first year that Mercedes-Benz made the system available on its flagship S-Class sedan and the CL-Class coupe, and at $3,775 bundled with parking sensors and a power rear sunshade, it probably wasn’t a popular option.
The innocuously named S4 Convenience Package added about 5% to the $69,700 S430 sedan. Adjusted for inflation, the package was priced at an astounding $5,600 in 2019 money. Or, about what a 2000 S430 costs today. The following year, the tech became a stand-alone option for $2,800, and it eventually became standard equipment.
Lexus was the second automaker to make adaptive cruise control available in the U.S., but it bundled the tech in a $12,505 Ultra Luxury package on the redesigned 2001 LS 430. Adjusted for inflation, that package would cost $18,100 in today’s money, which nearly buys a brand new 2019 Toyota Corolla that comes standard with adaptive cruise control and a whole host of active safety features that weren’t even on the LS 430’s radar back in 2001.
Of course, trickle-down luxury and safety features are hardly anything new. Back in 1985, Mercedes-Benz asked an astronomical $880 for a driver’s airbag on its 190E sedan, or about $2,100 in today’s money. Driver-side airbags would become mandatory within half a decade, and now it’s impossible to buy a new car in the U.S. without at least four airbags.
Don’t look for adaptive cruise control to become mandated by the NHTSA anytime soon — but automakers have agreed to equip nearly every car with automatic emergency braking, a feature that makes use of many of the same sensors as modern adaptive cruise control. To enable adaptive cruise control on a car equipped with automatic emergency braking, it takes little more than a software reprogram, which makes it easy for automakers to justify the convenience feature on far less costly cars than the flagship S-Class today.
Finding an early S-Class with adaptive cruise control isn’t easy, although there are always a few on Autotrader — a glimpse into the first step toward autonomous cars.
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