I recently purchased a new car with radar cruise control, or adaptive cruise control, or speed-sensitive cruise control, or whatever the cool kids are calling it these days. This is the greatest feature known to man, and I seriously love it. Yes, I realize this is sacrilege for a car enthusiast to say, and yes, I enjoy actually driving the car — but this feature is amazing in heavy traffic. Just set it and it’ll do all the stopping and starting for you. What more could I ask for?
I’ll tell you what more I could ask for: A system that gets closer to the car in front of me.
Although I love my radar cruise control system in heavy traffic, any attempt to use it in normal highway traveling — regular speeds of 60 miles per hour or higher — ends moments later in frustration. What happens is simple: I set the cruise control for higher than the speed of traffic, meaning it only goes as fast as the car in front of me. I set the distance to keep the car as close as possible to the car in front of me. And then it backs off so far behind the car in front of me that people think I’m one of those passing lane hogs.
Seriously, take a look at the image above. The radar cruise control is currently set, and — as you can see by the three dots on my speedometer — I am not going as fast as I could be if there was no traffic, meaning my car is slowing down because of the red car in front of me. Guess what happened next? Obviously, the silver Toyota in the middle lane changed lanes in front of me, due to the wide gap my radar cruise control system left. Which, naturally, made my car slow down even more — which, naturally, caused a bigger gap, and basically the entire system repeats itself forever.
This is incredibly frustrating. I don’t want my radar cruise control system to get directly behind someone, inches from their bumper, but let’s be serious here: The distance between my car and the red car in front of me is clearly further than normal people drive. Yes, it may be the smallest "legal" distance — but if the car is so concerned about legality, then it probably shouldn’t let me set the cruise control at 130 miles per hour if I want to. Nor should the car be able to go 160. Mercedes doesn’t want to draw the line there, but it neuters the radar cruise system in this one particular (crucial) area, making it difficult to reliably use without frustrating yourself and everyone behind you.
And so, I guess that means when I’m in normal highway driving, I won’t be able to use my fancy radar cruise control system, and I’ll have to actually drive the car. Of course, I am not content to suffer in silence, so I will also periodically complain to you people about it.
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.