BUYER’S GUIDE: Navigation System Options When Buying a New Vehicle

Posted by

Buyers have many ways to access high-quality navigation now when buying a new car. Here’s how to sort through the choices.

In the recent past, the options to connect to good quality navigation in one’s vehicle came down to a manufacturer-installed system in the dash, or an aftermarket system from TomTom, Garmin or another brand.  In-dash systems generally work very well and are still a great way to get high-quality navigation that is informative while being minimally distracting.

rav4 nav 16

The only big drawback of manufacturer installed, in-dash navigation is that although prices are dropping, it can be a costly option.

Most manufacturers still only offer navigation as a standard feature on the top trims of pricey vehicles.  Lower trims, and more affordable vehicles only include navigation as an option, typically bundled inside a package with other technology you may or may not want.

For example, the 2016 BMW 328i starts at $39,035.  To add navigation, one must select the “Technology Package” adding a head-up display, remote telematics services, and an enhanced gauge cluster at a price of $2,750.  The more affordable Toyota RAV4 offers navigation with less added content, but it still adds $525 to the price of the sub-$30k crossover.

garmin nav

Old-school aftermarket systems that one plops onto the dash and then wires up to the cigarette lighter are going away. Still an amazing value at around $120 for an excellent system, these are being supplanted by using one’s smartphone as the device instead.  These manufacturers are not out of the game though.  They now supply the maps and systems to many automakers.

Android Auto Update Now Available At Chevy Dealers

The newest way to access high-quality in-vehicle navigation that will display a moving map showing one’s location and also speak turn by turn directions to a driver is by choosing a vehicle equipped with  Apple Car Play or Android Auto.

2016 GMC Sierra Apple CarPlay
2016 GMC Sierra Apple CarPlay

In a nutshell, these systems allow a driver to connect their phone to the car via the USB or Lightning cable and then see the mapping software that the phones provide.  The mapping options are accessible while driving via voice or the vehicle’s touch-screen.  Want to learn more?  Check out our focus story on Apple Car Play.

These systems are starting to roll out on vehicles in the U.S. market and are typically included at no added cost.  This is one way to beat the high cost of in-dash navigation.  Many users think that the quality of the Google Maps and Apple Maps navigation is better than most automakers’ built-in systems.  An added benefit is that all of the smartphone’s other key functions are also accessible.

onstar image from site

OnStar from GM offers another interesting alternative.  Instead of having the directions read to the driver via their in-car system, cars equipped with OnStar can access driving directions via the telematics system.  The user pushes the OnStar call button and asks for directions to their destination.  The OnStar system then reads off turn by turn directions the driver can hear, but not view on a map.  This works in a pinch, but is not a substitute on road trips where one is exploring and using the navigation map to look for places to check out.  This is a no-cost option in some GM vehicles equipped with an OnStar subscription.

google maps image from site

The last way to access good quality navigation while driving is to sync one’s Android or Apple smartphone to the vehicle via Bluetooth as most of us normally do.  Then, one can enable a Google Maps or Apple navigation app.  The apps are generally free.  This works by speaking or typing in the destination one wishes to drive to into the app via the phone.  The app then plays the turn by turn directions through the vehicle’s speakers.  The apps are smart enough to allow for music to be simultaneously streamed via Bluetooth.  The mapping app will even turn the music to mute while it is speaking information about the next turn or directions instructions and then put the music back on.  This is free of charge, and has the added benefit of allowing a user to view the map on the phone to see the vehicle’s location.  A passenger can use all the functionality of the map (or the driver can stop safely to explore).

As time goes on, expect new and better ways to find your route and for automakers to react by changing how they offer navigation in the vehicles they build.