Best online route planners 2020

Planning a journey in advance? We log on to test the Internet’s best free route planning services

Plotting a route before leaving the house can help you avoid traffic hotspots on a long journey. While many people will simply hop in the car and rely on a sat-nav, having an idea of where hold-ups might be and what the alternative routes are can be vital to getting there on time. 

And some drivers still like a printed list of step-by-step directions in case they find themselves in a signal deadzone. That’s where these online route finders can help to pre-plan a journey with stop-offs, refuelling places and expected traffic delays.

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Clever technology means with many of these sites you can plan a journey in the future and it’ll suggest what the traffic is expected to be like at that exact hour and day.

And some sites even allow you to plan your route on a computer and then send it direct to a companion app on your smartphone or sat-nav. What’s even better is that these online route finders we’ve tested are all free. So which one should you use for your next road trip?

How we tested them

The most important part of any journey planner is the accuracy of the route. We tested each site with a long-distance journey from Auto Express’s HQ to Silverstone, plus a local route we’ve driven hundreds of times. We assessed how easy it was to enter locations, the accuracy of routes and the number of choices on offer. 

The best scorers were those that were accurate, easy to use and had live traffic data. Ability to print turn-by-turn directions was rewarded, with bonus points handed out to those that could share routes with your phone and extras such as fuel calculators.

Verdict

Our previous test winner, Google Maps, triumphs again because it’s by far the best all-round performer and was near faultless. Two new entries rounded out the podium with Here WeGo just sneaking ahead of the Bing Maps offering.

  • 1. Google Maps
  • 2. Here WeGo
  • 3. Bing Maps
  • Google Maps

    Website: maps.google.co.uk
    Rating: 5 stars

    Since we last tested Google Maps it has fully integrated Waze’s traffic data, so is now even better. It excelled in every part of our test to take a third win. Locations are easy to find and directions simple to get based on current traffic, and it adjusts arrival times accordingly.

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    You can flick between offered routes and print turn-by-turn directions incredibly easily. Scheduling journey times is also intuitive, while satellite imagery and StreetView are just a click away if you need to navigate by landmarks. You can also sync to the Maps app on your phone with ease.

    Here WeGo

    Website: wego.here.com
    Rating: 4.5 stars

    Mapping giant Here powers sat-navs for many major car manufacturers, and now offers a journey planner – and it’s great. It’s very similar to Google and only loses out slightly on functionality. The routes it offered were good, there’s live traffic, turn-by-turn printing and a companion app with which you can share your route. Putting in locations is easy via point of interest or postcode. It even offers a car-sharing option to find someone going the same way to split the cost. Here WeGo is well worth a look as an alternative to Google.

    Bing Maps

    Website: www.bing.com/maps/
    Rating: 4 stars

    Microsoft’s answer to Google is Bing, and its mapping tool is pretty good for route finding. Bing Maps really only loses out to the two rivals above because it doesn’t appear to offer any way to send instructions to a smartphone app – which is increasingly important to modern motorists. Aside from that, location input is great, routes offered are accurate and live traffic is included. You can even add coffee bars or restaurants (with user reviews) to pick where you might want to stop en route. Printing turn-by-turn directions is easy.

    TomTom MyDrive

    Website: mydrive.tomtom.com
    Rating: 4 stars

    TomTom is probably the biggest name in satellite navigation and its online route finder site is one of the strongest performers in our test, too. Anyone who has used a TomTom navigation device will be familiar with the layout and menus, with traffic data provided direct from the company’s sat-nav database. New since our last test is the easy ability to print directions and a bigger selection of routes when you search. There’s a “thrill” route option if you want a particularly scenic drive, plus you can share the plotted journey with your sat-nav if you own a TomTom device.

    AA Route Planner

    Website: www.theaa.com/route-planner
    Rating: 3 stars

    AA’s Route Planner is good for plotting an A to B route. The biggest plus point is the direction print-off that includes landmarks and sign posts to help navigate. Location entry is easy and you can add live traffic alerts. But there’s no companion app to share with and the ads on the page are a little annoying and intrusive.

    Waze

    Website: www.waze.com/livemap
    Rating: 3.5 stars

    The Waze journey planner uses community data for the live traffic info, and it plotted multiple accurate routes, taking into account any delays. The interface is easy to use, but it lacks a couple of its rivals’ functions. You can’t print directions and sharing the route with the Waze app isn’t as easy as it should be.

    RAC Route Planner

    Website: www.rac.co.uk/route-planner
    Rating: 3 stars

    Route Planner needs an upgrade because entering locations isn’t that easy, the point of interest search is poor and route options aren’t as varied as rivals’. Traffic alerts can be added, but don’t affect journey time calculations, and you can’t share with an app. You can print out instructions and the fuel calculator is handy.

    Via Michelin

    Website: www.viamichelin.co.uk/web/Routes
    Rating: 3 stars

    When we tested this two years ago we liked the range of options, but criticised its messy layout. Nothing has changed in that area, yet the previous bizarre route choices seem to have been fixed. Traffic can be turned on and off, and you can print directions. There’s still no way to share to a smartphone app, though.

    Prefer to have a dedicated sat-nav? Then take a look at our group test of the best sat-navs on sale here.

    Next: 1. Google Maps

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