how well does ford’s bluecruise hands-free driving system work?

When we first bought our Best of 2021-winning Ford F-150 Limited Hybrid, one of our must-have features was the hardware for BlueCruise, Ford’s hands-free driving system. Unfortunately, it took more than a year for our truck to receive the software update necessary to activate BlueCruise, but we finally got it last month.

With the F-150 armed with the ability to let me rest my arms when driving, I set off on an 1,100-mile road trip from Chicago to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and back to see how well the technology works.

For those who don’t know, BlueCruise uses a combination of cameras and radar to keep the vehicle centered in its lane, at a set distance from vehicles ahead, and on certain premapped stretches of divided highways, lets the driver remove their hands from the steering wheel entirely. For the F-150, the package is included on the well-equipped Limited model, and is a $1,995 option on King Ranch, Platinum, and certain versions of the Tremor and Lariat (additional options may be required). BlueCruise is also standard or available on certain trims of the Mustang Mach-E, but orders are currently closed for the 2022 model and not yet open for the 2023. As of now, in our F-150, BlueCruise does not remain active during driver-initiated lane changes, nor does it make those lane changes automatically, unlike the latest version of GM’s Super Cruise, for instance.

During my road trip, I used BlueCruise whenever I could — within my comfort level. I didn’t use it on busier stretches of road — particularly those in and around Chicago — where I wouldn’t normally use cruise control. Otherwise, BlueCruise was enabled and used whenever possible. Given the route I took, however, it wasn’t always available.

how well does ford’s bluecruise hands-free driving system work?
how well does ford’s bluecruise hands-free driving system work?
how well does ford’s bluecruise hands-free driving system work?
how well does ford’s bluecruise hands-free driving system work?

How Did BlueCruise Perform on This Trip?

The Good

The most impressive thing about BlueCruise was how much less tired I felt at the end of my drive. Road trips can be draining, particularly when the scenery isn’t all that engaging, and having done this trip many times before, I expected to feel as tired as I usually felt when I reached my destination. Instead, it felt like I’d driven a much shorter distance.

Another positive aspect of BlueCruise was that it still worked when I was wearing sunglasses with mirrored lenses. Since the system uses cameras to make sure the driver is paying attention, I expected these sunglasses to cause more of an issue. That said, BlueCruise still occasionally elicited warnings (erroneously, in my opinion) to keep my eyes on the road, but overall it seemed to do a good job detecting where I was looking.

The displays for BlueCruise are also intuitive and informative. A color-coded instrument panel view indicates when BlueCruise is active, making it easy to know when it’s working, and warnings are easy to understand, too. I also don’t think BlueCruise did a bad job handling lane anomalies, though there weren’t clear reasons why it would sometimes decide to shut off for a moment or for miles.

The Not-So-Good

Unfortunately, this iteration of BlueCruise has a lot of “early version” quirks to it — and quirks aren’t really what you want when you’re driving a full-size pickup truck at highway speeds. To begin with, when BlueCruise starts, it seems to want to determine the outer boundaries of the lane. To that end, it always drifted first right and then left before centering the F-150, and it would redo this process multiple times. It didn’t instill a lot of confidence in me or my fiancee in the passenger seat.

I also felt like BlueCruise’s definition of “centered” was maybe too far to the right for my liking, particularly when a semi truck was in the right lane. In those instances, “hands-free” turned into “hands-hovering” just in case the system suddenly decided to shut off or the semi made a sudden movement.

I also thought I would prefer a relatively basic driver-assist system like this version of BlueCruise, but constant lane changes that switch off the system made me want the ability to initiate automated lane changes. Every time I wanted to pass a slower vehicle, BlueCruise would shut off, I’d steer into the next lane, then BlueCruise would turn back on and do its little centering dance. Then, when I wanted to leave the passing lane, the process would begin anew.

Long, sweeping curves also seemed to pose some problems for BlueCruise. In situations where it shouldn’t be that difficult to hold the wheel at a consistent angle and smoothly negotiate a curve, BlueCruise would constantly correct the steering angle, resulting in what felt like some drifting out of the lane markers. The system didn’t deactivate, though, so maybe the truck just strayed very close to the boundaries.

The last issue I encountered has less to do with BlueCruise and more to do with the F-150’s lane-centering steering in general, and it’s a common complaint from our editors: It does a poor job detecting when your hands are actually on the steering wheel. Multiple times, BlueCruise would deactivate or not be available for whatever reason, and a warning would implore me to put my hands on the wheel. Even after I did so, sometimes more — and more urgent — warnings would tell me to put my hands on the wheel. I’m not sure what sensors are in the steering wheel to detect the driver’s hands, but they need to work better.

Would I Use BlueCruise Again?

I would likely use BlueCruise again, especially on a familiar route like this. It was nice to feel far less physically drained at the conclusion of each leg. But without feature and refinement updates, I think I might eventually get tired of facing the same issues every time I make the trip, and just do it myself.

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