I was heading to Fargo to get stuck in traffic. (Yes, there is traffic in Fargo.) I was driving a tastefully maroon-hued Acura RLX Advance, which offers something called Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with Low Speed Follow. It sounds clunky, but it's actually quite useful.
You press a button on the steering wheel that looks like a car running over speed bumps. Magically, the RLX maintains your current speed. If some guy in a Ford pickup wearing overalls and eating cheese curds by the handful suddenly pulls in front of you, the RLX will give him the ultimate "no problemo" signature move: It adjusts your speed automatically and maintains a safe, cheese-curd-friendly distance, all the way down to a full stop if necessary.
I arrived a little after 5:00 p.m. in Fargo — right about the time the Wal-Mart day shift ends. I merged into traffic and punched the ACC button at around 60 mph. I'd already shown how the RLX can keep you centered in your lane for short spurts. With both ACC and lane-keeping activated, it's like driving a maroon robot on four wheels without using your hands or feet. Cool.
The ACC worked fine, for the most part. Traffic jams are a little unpredictable. Modern cars are not ready to understand the difference between a canoe that's sticking off the back of a Subaru and one that's rolling down the highway in front of you. If Billy Bob swerves into your lane, it's disconcerting to have the RLX brake suddenly on its own. You have to restrain your own instinct to brake. It reminds me a bit of Apple's Siri: It's amusing to dictate a text message to her, but it's much easier to do it yourself.
I might have been less disconcerted if I'd felt better informed about what's happening — especially in the case of full stops. When you enable normal cruise control, you see an icon of a car in the instrument cluster. When adaptive cruise starts working, the car icon flashes white, and you'll see tiny red taillight icons. The RLX Advance also beeps at you once to indicate when ACC is working, and again when it's disabled.
For Low Speed Follow, I wanted more visual aids than that. Maybe a head-up display that shows lights coming closer and closer together. Maybe the beeps get louder. Or maybe I just need to get used to the feature.
Eventually, the traffic loosened. I never hit the brakes on my own. All I did was press the ACC resume button when the RLX Advance came to a complete stop. In consistent traffic slowdowns, the feature is flawless. In other cases, you may have to take over. For the most part, you'll probably hover your foot over the brakes no matter what's happening.
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