Find the best car GPS navigation units based on cost, ease of use, and clarity of directions.
Car GPS navigation systems make both short commutes or long-haul, cross country easy to navigate, taking some of the stress out of your journey.
The best car GPS navigation systems will give you the quickest routes and clear directions – so you never finish your 12 hour slog through the daily grind, stuck in a four hour bind.
They will also be preloaded with a millions of landmarks, so if you are on a long journey through an unfamiliar landscape you’ll never be lost for somewhere to get gas or rest your head. Use our in depth buying guide to find the best car GPS navigation systems, and make sure your day stays on course.
We found the ten best car GPS devices on the market and exposed them to a battery of rigorous tests over a 55 hour period. To test the performance and functionality of each car GPS unit, we tested them in an array of locations – from the familiar traffic laden freeways that were clogged with cars trying to avoid the random outbreaks of construction work, to unfamiliar open country roads we never knew even existed. Here are the best car GPS navigation systems on the market today…
Best Car GPS Reviews
Garmin DriveSmart 61 LMT-S
The Garmin DriveSmart 61 LMT-S doesn’t only provide a simple, and easy to use interface but it also provides navigation system that is deep, up-to-date and responsive.
This GPS device has a sleek, and modern design that would even enhance the Mona Lisa of dashboards. The device is crammed full of essential and premium features that make driving more enjoyable, and displays information in an easy to read design.
The Garmin DriveSmart 61 LMT-S is preloaded with maps of the United States, Canada and Mexico. If you do need to update the system with new maps, there is a microSD car for you to do so. The 61 LMT-S also comes with free map updates for the life of the device. This navigation GPS has a giant 6.95-inch capacitive touchscreen, with a resolution of 1024 x 600 pixels and an edge-to-edge display.
Built-in Wi-Fi allows you to pair your smartphone to the DriveSmart 61, so you can make hands-free calls as well as receive traffic alerts, map and software updates.
There is a digital atlas of preloaded maps of North American, that are marked with points of interest when you are taking a long journey. If you are looking for a gas station or hotel the decide will help you find them. You can enter one or many waypoints and it automatically gives you the most efficient route. While driving, the DriveSmart 61 alerts you of upcoming turns, toll roads and changes in speed limits, and it even tells you when it’s time to take a break if you’ve been going for a while.
Rand McNally OverDryve 7
The Rand McNally OverDryve is one of the largest car GPS devices on the market, and it’s packed with features designed to help you enjoy a smooth, pleasurable drive. The Rand GPS will enhance your entertainment and connectivity while you drive.
This car GPS device is great for both the small drives to work for commuters or the cross country hauls for truckers. It has a robust, and up to date library of maps that will streamline your travel time.
The Overdryve alerts you to the latest traffic news, and map updates for free. This means you’ll have a greater chance of avoiding crawling traffic, accidents, or construction delays. The device displays the speed limit alongside the speed you’re driving, to help you keep within the limits along unfamiliar stretches of road. And if there’s an upcoming lane change to be made or sharp curve ahead, the car GPS will also notify you well ahead of time.
The navigation GPS is preloaded with maps across North America, along with 10 million points of interest such as hotels, landmarks, gas stations, stores and restaurants. This makes setting your destination on long, overnight trips in an unfamiliar area super easy, as you will have lots of hotels or gas refills to choose from.But even if you know where you are going, and it isn’t list you can type in a custom address to find a route. If you add in multiple waypoints, the device will automatically present you with the most efficient route through all of them.
Garmin DriveLuxe 51 LMT-S
Garmin’s DriveLuxe 51 LMT-S is a premium device with exceptional build quality. The device is chocked full of functional features that makes navigating easy, so you can concentrate on enjoying the drive. This GPS unit is preloaded maps of North America that are marked with millions of points of interest, making overnight road trips super easy. If you are planning trips across the border, you can load additional maps through a mircoSD slot.
The 5-inch color capacitive touchscreen has a resolution of 800 x 480 pixels making the maps and other navigational features easy to see. The straightforward interface is colorful and easy to navigate, or you can interact with it using simple voice commands. The big and easy to read display means you concentrate on the road, and just glance at the GPS’s screen to know what landmarks are nearby, what turns are coming up, of if you have to make lane changes. It is also a super easy way to check the current speed limit too.
The GPS connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth. This allows you to view incoming traffic alerts concerning road construction, accidents, or traffic cameras through the companion mobile app. The GPS can even help you find parking and allow you to share your location with friends. Pairing your smartphone to the DriveLuxe 51 also means you can read a text message, see incoming calls or view calendar notifications on the display with a glance while keeping your hands on the wheel.
TomTom VIA 1515M
This TomTom GPS unit has 10 million built-in points of interest,which 3 million more points of interest than most car GPS devices. This means you have a better chance of finding new restaurants, museums, malls, parks, historic areas and other areas worth exploring.. In addition to covering the U.S., the GPS map covers Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Mexico and Canada to help explore without getting lost.
The 1515M has a 5-inch resistive touchscreen with a resolution of 480 x 272. It’s not a bad display for the price. The size is average while the resolution is a little below average. The split-screen function is excellent, but touchscreen performance is not as responsive as most GPS units we tested. However, the relatively simple display isn’t as much of a drain on the battery as it can last up to three hours.
How we found the best car GPS navigation systems
The two most important things we evaluated throughout our testing were accuracy and ease of use. For the applied portion of our testing, we drove around on a variety of roads – from small rural roads to busy city streets to the highway during rush hour, some of which had heavy delays and big detours due to construction work.. We drove in familiar locales as well as areas we hadn’t been to, noting whether the routes provided by the devices were accurate and efficient. We also verified if 2D and 3D landmarks – for the applicable devices – were accurately represented on the screen.
We looked for devices that gave clear directions with plenty of notice before a turn. We also looked for clear on-screen visuals, updated traffic alerts and a variety of points of interest such as gas stations, hotels, restaurants and stores. We also noted how easy it was to navigate the device interface along with how easy it was to input an address and start navigating. The best devices were easy to set up and use, provided helpful instructions, and allowed for extensive smartphone compatibility for enhanced one-touch navigation and entertainment.
How much do GPS navigation systems cost?
It’s possible to find car GPS devices under $80, but these are cheaply made and lack many features, such as touchscreens. We reviewed GPS navigation systems that range between $90 and $350. Conversely, you can buy an in-dash navigation system, which doubles as an entertainment system, for between $150 and over $500, depending on the specifications.
Of course, it’s also worth noting GPS navigation apps, like Google Maps, Apple Maps, Waze and others, are often free and can be just as effective at providing step-by-step navigation instructions. All you need is a $5 phone holder to put on your dash.
Smartphones vs. dedicated GPS units
Smartphones are becoming increasingly more powerful and capable at providing an accurate GPS system, many coming with inbuilt GPS trackers. If you are wondering if a GPS is best or if you’d be served better by a smartphone we’ve phone the answer. The best option is use whatever you find easy and better. Each device has it own pros and cons.
Advantages of a dedicated car GPS unit
By far, the biggest perk to using a dedicated GPS device is just that – it is dedicated to the task of providing navigational assistance. You won’t have to worry about a phone call cutting in and blocking your directions, or your cell battery dying. Higher-end models offer additional functionality, including 3D map rendering, speed limit notifications, speed trap alerts and free regular map updates. Beware budget GPS units as they have non-responsive touch screens, muddy interfaces and smaller screens, which taken all together may diminish your experience.
The best GPS devices allow for voice-activated navigation so you can keep your eyes on the road, and they give you the option to pair your smartphone with it so you can take a call without having to fumble for your phone in rush hour traffic. Most dedicated GPS units also rely on multiple data sources, including satellites, so you’ll most likely have navigation even when you’re in areas with sparse or no cell signal. You can also save offline versions of your map for these scenarios.
Advantages of using a smartphone to navigate
If you already own a smartphone and don’t have the budget to spring for a dedicated GPS, you can still survive your next road trip with just your phone. Smartphone GPS apps – like Google Maps and Apple Maps – offer comparable functionality to dedicated GPS units: They can show on-screen maps, tell you what lane to be in and provide step-by-step navigation. Smartphone GPS apps also allow you to download maps for offline use. However, there are downsides to using your phone as your GPS. Map apps burn through battery power, and they won’t work when there isn’t any cell signal.
Maps preloaded in the GPS
Every GPS system in our comparison is preloaded with maps of the United States, and are ready for use as soon as you power the device on for the first time.. Additionally, most have built-in microSD card slots that let you insert compatible cards containing other maps, or they’ll give you the option to download other maps for regions like Mexico, Puerto Rico or Canada. Having preloaded maps ready to go means you have reliable navigation even when you’re in an area with little or no signal.
Map update system
Look for a car GPS with free lifetime map updates. Most devices are up to date and useful the first time that you turn them on the first time. But road, especially in the inner cities are forever changing due to new buildings, or repairs. This is why it is important to buy a GPS with a map system that updates, as outdated maps can misdirect you and get you lost every easily. . Depending on the manufacturer, map updates can either be an automatic background process or require you to manually download updated maps. Speed limit alert system
A speed limit indicator is another critical feature. This means that the GPS displays the speed you’re travelling alongside the road’s speed limit. Some devices can notify you when the speed limit is broken. Altogether, these features help you avoid getting a speeding ticket, even on an unfamiliar road.
Depending on your car, you may also want to consider a GPS with a hefty battery capacity, which keeps it working even when it’s unplugged. This is great if you need to use your car’s DC outlet to charge your phone, or if your car doesn’t have such an outlet. Most units in our comparison can run unplugged for up to two hours, though some can run for up to six hours.
Premium feature in a GPS
Along with all the essential features, the best navigation GPS units have a myriad of features that, while not necessary to guide you from point A to point B, make your journey smoother and more enjoyable.
Voice-activated navigation is one of the biggest advantages smartphones have had over dedicated GPS devices. Speaking is a faster method than typing when entering a destination manually. You can dictate while already driving, instead of having to type everything in before you leave. This means driving is a lot safer as you don’t have to take your eyes off the road to input addresses. Several models we reviewed have this feature.
3D map function
3D maps are incredibly help if you drive through the streets of a large city or travel to unfamiliar areas,. This feature recreates landmark objects, like bridges and buildings, and models them in three-dimensions, making them easier to recognize. Most GPS models already have this option.
Traffic alert systems
Roads are unpredictable, accidents happen, roadworks breakout randomly, and sheep gather. Having a traffic alert system is a good way of keeping up to date on the current road conditions – without having to use your smartphone’s data or battery.
From the must-haves to the fancy add-ons, ease of use is by far the most important feature any navigation GPS can have.The best GPS devices has an intuitive system, with detailed step by step directions and allow you to input custom addresses effortlessly. If it doesn’t have these core features, the value it provides isn’t worth the cost. The best car GPS devices use crystal-clear icons and labels that make it easy to choose an action or input an address.
A good GPS should also audibly announce which lane you’ll need to be in when making a turn or exiting the freeway, as well as showing a lane assist image on the screen at all times. This gives you have plenty of time to get into the appropriate lane.
Big screen with HD resolution
The average screen size for GPS devices is between 3 and 7 inches, which is measured diagonally across the screen just like a TV. While smaller devices can be easily stored in your glovebox or a bag, devices with larger screens make it easier to see navigation and other on-screen options at a glance, especially while you’re driving. Additionally, while driving on the freeway, as soon as the appropriate exit nears, a visual alert appears on the screen. Because this takes up roughly one-third of the screen on these devices, a larger screen lets you easily view such alerts and still be able to view other information.
The best car GPS screens have a resolution of at least 480 x 272 pixels, although GPS devices with higher resolutions – such as those above 800 x 480 pixels – give you a crisper picture that is easier to view at a glance.
You should opt for a capacitive touchscreen over a resistive one. Capacitive screens are great because they are highly accurate and sensitive, and they enable you to make pinch-to-zoom gestures, just as you can on a smartphone – an ability you simply don’t get with resistive touchscreens. Because capacitive displays respond to the electrical conductivity of your skin rather than blunt pressure, you won’t have to press the screen hard to get a response. However, resistive screens allow you to use any object to touch the screen, such as a stylus or a gloved finger. These screens typically also have slower reaction times, along with considerably lower resolutions and a smaller capacity for brightness.
Consider your car and personal needs and weigh them against the expected battery life of each GPS device. While all of the units we tested come with DC adapters, which let you power them by plugging them into your car, not all cars are compatible with this feature. Additionally, not all GPS units come with a USB cable that allows you to charge them. So, consider what you have to work with and whether a device is compatible before purchasing. If your car won’t work with a DC adapter, you may want to consider a device with lengthy battery life.