Best sat-navs 2018: group test review

Which is the best portable sat-nav to guide you to your destination with ease?

Satellite navigation systems have become an everyday tool for UK motorists and if a car doesn’t have sat-nav built-in, there’s a very good chance that a portable sat-nav system will be employed by its driver. This might be in the shape of an app on a smartphone or a dedicated sat-nav unit. Here, we’re interested in the later, and more specifically, in identifying the best portable sat-nav systems on the market right now.

As you might imagine, there’s a wide range of portable sat-nav systems available at various price points – there are even dedicated units for bikers, which we have tested further down the page. Big names such as Garmin and TomTom offer cheap sat-nav options alongside their higher priced units, so finding the right system for you can be tricky.

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The most up-to-date models are sat-navs with live traffic data, which will go above and beyond to get you where you need to be. They do this by not simply taking you via the most direct route, but by detecting traffic jams and speed cameras to help eliminate wasted time in traffic queues or accruing fines. Along with the bells and whistles each product offers, prices range significantly, but for a good quality unit you are looking at at least £100.

How we tested them

We used a standard route mixing busy city driving and faster A-roads. Clear mapping was key, as were easy-to-follow voice commands. For live devices we wanted traffic-busting advice and clever shortcuts. Other features such as speed camera alerts were taken into account. Price was the final factor. 

• Best sat-nav apps

Verdict 

The TomTom GO 6200 is clearly the best sat-nav here. Garmin’s Drive 51 is our budget choice thanks to its clear instructions and solid interface. 

Live sat-navs 

  • 1. TomTom GO 6200   
  • 2. Garmin DriveLuxe 51 LMT-D   
  • Non-live sat-navs

  • 1. Garmin Drive 51
  • 2. TomTom Start 52
  • Live sat-nav reviews TomTom GO 6200

    Price: Around £340 
    Coverage/updates: World/free
    Rating: 5.0

    TomTom’s GO 6200 is the best sat-nav money can buy. It comes with an intuitive map layout with many of the buildings in 3D, plus the instructions are well timed and easy to understand. We also liked how the map would automatically zoom in on potentially complicated things like roundabouts and junctions to give us a better view as we approached them. No rival could match the GO 6200’s traffic alerts – it was more accurate than any other sat-nav in spotting the type and length of delays, and gave us the best alternative routes.

    Buy the TomTom Go 2600 at Amazon here

    Garmin DriveLuxe 51 LMT-D

    Price: Around £330 
    Coverage/updates: World/free
    Rating: 4.0

    A sleek metal body gives the Garmin a premium look, and we liked the magnetic mount, which makes the device easy to install. The touchscreen is extremely responsive and we found its menu layout the best on test. Garmin’s traffic alerts were accurate as it got us around some heavy congestion and the map layout was easy to understand, although it missed some jams the TomTom found. The DriveLuxe’s excellent voice guidance was the best here.

    Buy the Garmin Drive Luxe 51 LMT-D at Amazon here

    TomTom VIA 53

    Price: Around £180
    Rating: 4.0

    TomTom says the new VIA 53 has Google Now and Siri compatibility, but in this test we focused on its sat-nav functions. The map layout was good and the instructions accurate, although Garmin’s DriveSmart came with clearer voice guidance. Traffic alerts, via a smartphone connection, were accurate as well.

    Buy it from Halfords here

    Garmin DriveSmart 51 LMT-S

    Price: Around £190
    Rating: 3.5

    The DriveSmart does without pre-installed traffic updates, requiring users to pair their phone with the device to receive these. The menu interface was still easy to use and we liked that it also came with the easy-to-understand Real Directions instructions. TomTom’s VIA 53 still has a better map layout, though, plus it’s slightly cheaper.

    Buy it from Amazon here

    Mio Spirit 8670 LM

    Price: Around £160
    Coverage/updates: Europe/free
    Rating: 3.0

    This 6.2-inch Mio sat-nav comes with lifetime map and traffic updates. The menu was easy to use, although the touchscreen wasn’t as responsive as the Garmin or TomTom’s. We were surprised by Mio’s choice of routes; it preferred using busier roads that were often congested at peak times, making our journeys longer.

    The GO 6200 and DriveLuxe picked smarter ways around traffic. While the Mio did alert us to some jams, it was nowhere near as accurate as the TomTom; this showed the exact type and delay of the traffic. We also noted that the Mio’s screen wasn’t as clear or crisp as those from TomTom or Garmin.

    This wasn’t a problem in darker conditions, but in daylight we picked up the most glare from the display. Mio’s voice instructions were accurate and its junction guidance good, but it was always the last one to alert us of an upcoming turn. You can see why you pay less for this than for its rivals. 

    Buy the Mio Spirit 8670 LM from eBay here

    Non-live sat-nav reviewsGarmin Drive 51 LMT-S

    Price: Around £120
    Coverage/updates: UK & Ireland/free
    Rating: 5.0

    With its Real Directions voice guidance, the budget non-live Garmin impressed. Its turn-by-turn instructions use landmarks, traffic lights and buildings as cues for directions. It also reiterated the road names just before turning, ensuring we’d make no mistake. Plus, the Garmin alerted us well ahead of speed cameras and areas with hazards like animal crossings. And if you connect your phone to the Drive 51, you can install traffic alerts on the device.

    Buy the Garmin Drive 51 LMT-S from Currys here 

    TomTom Start 52

    Price: Around £120
    Coverage/updates: UK & Ireland/free
    Rating: 4.0

    The great mount on this non-live sat-nav made installation easy. The menu interface is identical across the TomTom range, meaning settings are easy to navigate, plus a responsive touchscreen means typing addresses is quick. It was on the move the TomTom Start 52 impressed most, though – its directions were accurate and the map layout was easy to read. A side bar on the right showed us the length of time to our destination, plus fuel stations on the journey.

    Buy the TomTom Start 52 from Amazon here

    Mio Spirit 5400 LM

    Price: Around £100
    Coverage/updates: Europe/free
    Rating: 2.0

    As the cheapest sat-nav here, Mio’s Spirit 5400 LM does without many of the pricier models’ bells and whistles. Like the 8760 LM, we found the 4.3-inch screen less intuitive and slower to respond than the TomTom and Garmin. It was lower-res, too, and we had the most amount of glare.

    Again, the 5400 LM opted to use busier main roads, often leading us into jams at peak times. Like the TomTom, the Mio comes with a side bar on the right of the screen, showing the estimated time of arrival and distance to the destination. However, here it wasn’t so intuitive. Mio’s speed camera alerts were good, but not enough to give it an edge.

    Buy the Mio Spirit 5400 LM from Currys here

    Best sat-navs (live)

  • 1. TomTom GO 6200
  • 2. Garmin DriveLuxe 51 LMT-D
  • 3. TomTom VIA 53
  • 4. Garmin DriveSmart 51 LMT-S
  • 5. Mio Spirit 8670 LM
  • Best sat-navs (non-live)

  • 1. Garmin Drive 51 LMT-S
  • 2. TomTom Start 52
  • 3. Mio Spirit 5400 LM
  • Best motorbike sat-navs

    Many drivers have grabbed the keys to their motorcycle in the hot weather. Had they had the latest sat-navs, they could have enjoyed an even better ride thanks to tech that helps pick out scenic roads. TomTom and Garmin have introduced new bike navs that double as car units, and we have put them to the test.

    Clear guidance and mapping were key in our test. Points were given for traffic-beating features, while aspects such as ‘scenic roads’ were judged. Price was the final factor. In many respects the Garmin Zumo is all riders need; it has many of the same features as the TomTom, is cheaper and works well. But for the best in the business, the TomTom Rider 550 Premium Pack takes the win.

    Motorbike sat-nav reviewsTomTom Rider 550 Premium Pack

    Price: Around £500
    Rating: 5.0

    The Rider 550 starts out at £399.99, but for an extra £100 you get the Premium Pack that comes with a car mount, plus an anti-theft kit for the bike version. It features Lifetime World maps from TomTom and built-in WiFi means over-the-air updates. We found the map layout the better of the two; it’s typical TomTom with clear, easy-to-follow instructions and a sidebar that shows everything from traffic hold-ups to speed cameras. 

    As with the Garmin, the TomTom is packed with features to make your drive or ride eventful, such as hilly or particularly winding routes. Route choices on the Rider 550 were great and the roads it selected were fun.

    Garmin Zumo 396 LMT-S

    Price: Around £350
    Rating: 4.0 

    The cheaper Garmin has several of the same features found in the TomTom. Immediately impressive is the depth of route choices when playing with the ‘Adventurous Routing’ feature. We could pick between curvy and hilly routes, plus their severity, with the selection of roads changing as we moved from one level to the next. 

    Built-in WiFi means updates are quick and easy. You must pair your phone with the unit to receive traffic updates, and while accurate, TomTom’s were better. The same goes for the mapping. At a glance on a motorbike, the Rider 550 was a little bit easier to read and follow. As with the TomTom, the Zumo can be used to answer phone calls on the go.

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