Why Your Next Car Needs Adaptive Cruise Control

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There’s nothing better than turning on cruise control and relaxing with music on a road trip. And while cruise control is useful, the latest premium feature you’ll want in your next vehicle is Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), and here’s why.

Whether you’re buying a luxury electric vehicle or the latest RAM 1500 Rebel, cars these days come with all sorts of exciting tech. Many of the luxury features from several years ago are becoming more widespread and available on more models. Here’s what you need to know about adaptive cruise control, how it works, and whether it’s worth upgrading to.

What is adaptive cruise control?

RPM car engine revolutions
MP_P / Shutterstock.com

Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) is a popular feature on many vehicles and goes by several different names. Brands may advertise it as ACC, dynamic cruise control, smart cruise control, radar cruise, or even auto cruise control.

Those names should tell you everything you need to know. Like normal cruise control, Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) helps the vehicle maintain a safe speed set by the driver. However, it’s not just one setting that keeps your car at 78 mph on the highway.

Instead, it is a complete system designed to help vehicles maintain a specific speed. Y a safe distance from others on the road. This system still adjusts speed automatically, so drivers don’t have to, but can also apply the brakes and stay within a set distance of other vehicles.

How adaptive cruise control works

Ram Rebel ACC Steering Wheel
cory gunther

The type of ACC your vehicle has will determine some of its features or how it works. The system uses on-board computers and sensors, often including radar or lasers, and can automatically monitor other vehicles and objects on the road.

Once you lock your preferred speed into the system, the computers take over the throttle and brake controls. Many ACC systems will even allow you to adjust the distance to the car in front of you. The vehicle will then automatically slow down and match the speed of the vehicle ahead, allowing it to “close” safely, as shown in our image above. If that car moves, your modern car will automatically re-accelerate and reach the desired speed.

You don’t have to hit the brakes, touch the cruise control to slow down, or do anything when there’s a slower car in front of you. The system takes care of everything.

Many modern vehicles also offer ACC with stop-start or brake hold functions, where you can combine all the settings into one. For example, some Ford models can handle stop-and-go traffic, maintain a set distance from the vehicle ahead, and follow a car until it comes to a stop. Then, reach your designated speed later when possible or after a light turns green. If you’ve never driven a car with ACC, it’s a game changer.

Some cars even go further with adaptive cruise control and will allow owners to set a driving mode. For example, you can select ACC with economy mode and it will throttle slowly for better fuel economy. Or, some allow “sport” mode, where the vehicle will accelerate back to the preferred speed as quickly as possible.

In addition, the most advanced ACC systems integrate with the maps and navigation system, cameras, and other autonomous driving features to slow down on sharp turns, automatically slow down based on posted speed limits, and more.

You can even combine it with lane assist features for a truly comfortable drive. But remember, you always want to keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel.

What is the difference between normal and adaptive cruise control?

F-150 Lightning infotainment display
Ford

Modern cruise control was invented in 1948 by American engineer Ralph Teetor. Fun fact: The first car to offer cruise control was the 1958 Chrysler Imperial, and the automaker marketed the feature as “autopilot.”

Basic cruise control automatically depresses or holds the accelerator pedal in a certain location, allowing drivers to take their foot off the pedal in specific situations. Over the years, automakers have improved the feature set by leaps and bounds.

For example, my old 2011 Toyota Tacoma has cruise control, but it’s nothing fancy. I can turn it on, set a speed, and then manually click the control up or down to increase or decrease my speed if needed, but it barely works. Once I hit the brake, it’s all over and everything goes off. However, there is a resume button that I can easily touch to allow the system to instantly return to my previously set speed. That is the extent of his control.

And while that’s moderately helpful, driving with ACC is a much better experience. Adaptive cruise control is also nothing new. Unfortunately, the feature was reserved for more expensive luxury vehicles in 2011.

Is adaptive cruise control worth it?

Chevy Tahoe ACC Clearance Settings in Dash
Chevrolet

These days adaptive cruise control is available on cars of all different price points. Whether it’s an expensive new BMW, a big Ram Rebel SUV, a Honda CR-V station wagon, or even more affordable cars from Hyundai and KIA.

Until just a few years ago, unless you were buying a luxury car, ACC was generally reserved for higher trim levels that cost more. And to some extent, that is still the case. Many vehicles come in a basic package that is missing countless features, such as navigation, additional safety controls, and ACC. But those are easily added with a premium package or higher version of the specific vehicle.

So is adaptive cruise control worth it? Absolutely. As we said earlier, it’s a game changer, especially on longer road trips. Old-school cruise control was hardly worth the effort it took to turn it on, but modern ACC is 100 percent worth the price increase.

Fortunately, with the rise of technology, almost any new car is essentially a giant computer, and most new cars come with advanced or adaptive cruise control. For example, Toyota now considers adaptive cruise control “standard equipment” on all vehicles.

If you’re looking to buy a new or gently used car anytime soon, make sure your next trip has adaptive cruise control. You can thank me later.