I was sold on adaptive cruise control the first time I got behind the wheel of an experimental vehicle equipped with it in the mid-'70s. Some 25 years later, a handful of carmakers -- Lexus, Mercedes, Jaguar, and Infiniti -- finally offer the system, which bounces radar or laser beams off the car in front of you to maintain a safe distance between you and it.
Adaptive (also called intelligent or dynamic) cruise control is a great feature for urban drivers who find themselves in slow to moderate traffic. Like conventional cruise control, you turn it on and set your desired speed. But when you're closing in on the car ahead of you, or when a car cuts in front of you, you don't always need to hit the brakes, which disengages the system.
Instead, the system slows you down by easing off the throttle and, if necessary, even applying the brakes, and it will speed you back up when traffic clears. If you get too close to the car you're following, it will sound an alarm to alert you to brake. It won't, how-ever, bring you to a full stop, and the system will shut off below about 20 mph.
The option ranges from $600 on the Lexus RX 330 to $2,950 on a dozen Mercedes models. Such is the price to more safely go with the flow.
By Larry Armstrong