Five Best Car GPS Units

Five Best Car GPS Units

If you’re on the road in an unfamiliar location, a GPS unit for your car is essential. This week we’re looking at five of the best, based on your nominations.

Photos by Michael Sheehan, daveiam, and Yun Huang Yong.

GPS units designed for car use tend to have the same basic feature set: the ability to offer turn-by-turn directions without requiring anything other than a GPS, set your own favourite locations for frequent use, and search for points of interest as well as specific locations. Most providers offer basic budget models and then more advanced features in pricier systems. Paying more scores Bluetooth integration, free map updates, traffic information and other extras.

While you’ll pay more for those options, we’re not talking huge sums; there’s a consensus that in Australia it’s hard to charge more than $250 for a GPS unit. (You’ll invariably pay more for maps for use outside of Australia if you decide to go overseas; in that context, it can make more sense to buy a cheap unit in your destination.)

Garmin Nuvi Series

Five Best Car GPS Units

Novel features offered in the Nuvi line include active lane guidance (telling you in advance if you need to shift lanes) and “photoReal”, which shows a mockup of what the road should look like. The higher-end models offer free lifetime map updates.

TomTom Go Series

Five Best Car GPS Units

The Go series is TomTom’s top-end range, and sports features aimed at frequent city drivers such as its live HD Traffic update service. It also offers frequently-updated speed camera information and free lifetime map updates.

Navman MY Series

Five Best Car GPS Units

As well as offering free lifetime maps, Navman’s most recent releases also offer monthly map updates on the top-end model, ensuring you won’t be caught out by long-term roadworks or new streets springing up on the outer reaches of major cities. The range also offers free traffic information.

An In-Dash GPS Unit

Five Best Car GPS Units

Whether it’s pre-installed with your vehicle or added as an after-market extra, many readers picked a permanently installed GPS as their top choice. The big advantage here is that the device isn’t a target for thieves and can be better integrated with other in-car systems (high-end models will offer additional controls on the steering wheel). The downside is that map updates are fiddly and can be expensive, and upgrading is much more complex than with a standalone unit.

Your Smartphone

Five Best Car GPS Units

With the ubiquity of smartphones, it’s not surprising many people favour using those for directions, especially if driving in unfamiliar locations is a rare event. The big disadvantage? You can chew through data very rapidly. There are GPS apps for iOS and Android that offer complete map packs that you can use online or offline, and Google Maps also offers an offline mode as well.

Have something to say about one of the contenders? Want to make the case for your personal favourite device, even if it wasn’t included in the list? Find your way to the comments and park a remark.


  • Most common GPS I use is on my phone, for a device i have on me all the time its great, combined with the voice search function being surprisingly good even with an Aussie accent its impressive.

    Although i did find the GPS in a rental car amazing in germany, not sure what tec they use to keep it updated but it was across variable speed limits, road works, temporary lanes. Combined with full integration including a display in the instrument cluster with directions and lane guidance it made driving in a foreign country very simple.

  • Since Google map available on smartphone and it’s free and has live traffic update, I don’t see the reason why you would have stand alone GPS unit in the car.

    I still have one in my car (6 years old), only use that if my phone battery is low. And most of the time, it took us to the long route….

    • I cant always rely on google maps, sometimes it just decides that the server is not reachable (could be optus’ fault or dodgy iPhone) but i have MetroView as my backup (used to be my primary until Google Maps was released).

  • You can get apps for phones from the major GPS manufacturers these days anyway, so when my GPS got stolen from my car the first thing I did was buy the phone app equivalent and I haven’t looked back. I’ve always got my phone with me, dash mounts and chargers are a dime a dozen, and a smartphone screen is about the size you want from a GPS anyway so why bother with a separate electronic device?

    For the apps from GPS manufacturers, the maps are installed with it so you don’t have to worry about whether you’ve got data or not, just need a GPS fix and you’re off. It’s definitely the way to go imho over the inbuilt maps apps. Those are more for pre-planning or walking. Not quite up to the job for driving.

  • Problem I experienced with long trips with using phone GPS & navigation is that my battery drained faster than it could charge. Probably down to my cheapskate $2 charger.

  • Big fan of GPS when travelling in new and uncharted places.

    I travel interstate about once a month to new and uncharted places, and since Google Maps for iOS I find myself taking the Garmin along less and less. Esp when most hire cars let me sync the iPhone to the car audio via bluetooth and I have an clearly audible, instant navigator, as well as my own podcasts and audio books to listen too.

    I find the turn-by-turn on Google Maps to be slightly better than the Garmin/Tom Tom units I’ve had over the years. Simple. Precise. No fuss. Get’s me where I need to go.

    Only thin missing from iOS / Google Maps experience is the ability to plan routes on the confuser and send them to the device (like Android does).

    Being a gadget-hound, I’ve purchased several high end GPS units over the journey but I can’t see myself buying another stand-alone GPS.

  • Good time of year to be posting this, since the 2013 range of GPS units are coming out, or have just come out.
    The new Tomtom Go Series (the 500 and 600) are really well designed with a brand new interface built to look more like a smart phone, with really responsive touch screens, and a good search function that allows for address, city, postcode and keyword search from the one search bar, you also get lifetime maps, but traffic updates require a bluetooth connection to a smartphone to use mobile data.
    The new Garmin Nuvi’s have 3 different ranges, Essential, Advanced and Presitge. The essential are just the basic unit that will take you from A to B, the Advanced and Prestige both come with lifetime map updates and traffic updates through FM transmission, the new Prestige model, 3597LMT, has bluetooth, multi-touch screen and just generally looks pretty.
    I’m yet to play with the new Navman My Series Range and in the past they have been my favourites, but the new MY400LMT and MY450LMT don’t seem to have much more than the 2012 line had, you still get lifetime maps and traffic, as well as a 2 year warranty, but the rest of the features seem pretty stock standard as far as GPS units go. The MY450LMT has a monthly update to the maps, where the rest have a 4 times a year service.

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!