Best sat-navs 2020

We test the best satellite navigation units, live and non-live, for cars and motorcycles

However romantic the idea of navigating by dog-eared A to Z might be, satellite navigation is generally considered a necessity these days. Many cars now have a unit built in, often with traffic updates and various other features included, but for those driving older models not wishing to burn through mobile phone data, dedicated sat-nav units are still very useful.

If you’ve not needed one for a while the choice can be pretty daunting, with a wide range available at various price points and aimed at different users, including motorcyclists. Some of the bigger brands like Garmin and TomTom supply options at both ends of the price scale - good quality units typically start at around £100 - with different features that can make choosing a new system tricky.

We’re by now quite familiar with the way sat-nav systems work, combining mapping data installed in the unit with location data drawn from several visible satellites, to carefully triangulate your position. Most are now accurate down to only a few metres, and many also now include live traffic data and international mapping making them useful abroad too.

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How we tested them

Ideally sat-navs should be easy to use in any scenario, so we used a standard route, mixing busy city driving and faster A-roads. Clear mapping and easy-to-follow voice commands were both key. For live devices, we wanted traffic-busting advice and clever shortcuts. Other features such as speed camera alerts were taken into account, while price was the final factor considered.

Verdict

The TomTom GO 6200 is comfortably the best sat-nav we tested, while Garmin’s DriveSmart 65 is packed full of useful tech, the voice command feature a particular highlight.

Live sat-navs

TomTom GO 6200

Price: Around £340

Coverage/updates: World/free

Rating: 5.0

You’d hope a sat-nav features a good map, and the TomTom GO 6200’s is the best of the bunch, with 3D buildings and colours that make at-a-glance navigation a doddle. Automatic zoom is useful too, as are the system’s traffic alerts - this was the only nav on test to spot all roadworks and congestion, highlighting hold-ups in a sidebar.

It can also be used abroad, while its estimated time of arrival readings were the most accurate and its alternative routes quick and logical. While the Garmin has better voice instructions and split-screen directions, the TomTom is otherwise streets ahead.

Garmin DriveSmart 65 & Digital Traffic

Price: £249.99

Rating: 4.5/5

At 6.95 inches, the Garmin’s high-definition screen is the largest on test, and it’s wrapped within a sleek design. The unit’s highlight is excellent voice commands and split-screen instructions, while like the 6200 it can be used abroad, though you’ll pay extra for some map regions. You’ll save some of that in the lower purchase price, but while the user interface is good and map layouts clear, it did miss some roadworks on our route.

Garmin DriveLuxe 51 LMT-D

Price: Around £330

Coverage/updates: Europe and North America/free

Rating: 4.0

Another Garmin and another well-designed metal body, enhanced further by a magnetic mount that makes the device easy to install. Like the DriveSmart it missed some jams that the TomTom caught, but it also has the best voice guidance, good maps, a very responsive touchscreen, and the most intuitive menu layout. Live weather alerts are another helpful addition.

TomTom VIA 53

Price: Around £180

Rating: 4.0

While not packing the same features as the GO 6200, the VIA 53 maintains TomTom’s standard for good map layouts and accurate instructions, even if the voice guidance isn’t up to the level of the Garmin DriveSmart. The 53 has Google Now and Siri compatibility, but in this test we focused on its navigation functions, and they worked well, with accurate traffic alerts a welcome bonus.

Garmin Drive 52 & Live Traffic

Price: £119.99

Rating: 3.5 /5

Drop down to five inches and the Drive 52 still keeps many of the features of the more expensive 65. In common with the other Garmins in the test the traffic alerts and alternative routes couldn’t quite match those of the TomTom units, but voice instructions were clear and the maps easy to follow, even considering the smaller screen. Danger zone warnings are handy too, alerting you to schools, speed cameras and other potential hazard areas.

Garmin DriveSmart 51 LMT-S

Price: Around £190

Rating: 3.5

There are no pre-installed traffic updates in the DriveSmart 51, so you’ll need to pair your phone to enable this feature, but otherwise the 51 proved easy to use and the Real Directions instructions were easy to understand. TomTom’s VIA 53 still has a better map layout, though, and is slightly cheaper too.

Mio Spirit 8670 LM

Price: Around £160

Coverage/updates: Europe/free

Rating: 3.0

With a 6.2-inch screen and lifetime maps and traffic updates, the 8670 LM is sat-nav and dashcam specialist Mio’s flagship unit. Unfortunately it can’t quite match the others here where it really counts - it missed key roadworks and stuck to main roads during busy periods (though road choice was generally good), it’s a little slower than the other units, and its voice instructions weren’t quite as good either.

Non-live sat-nav reviews

Garmin Drive 51 LMT-S

Price: Around £120

Coverage/updates: UK & Ireland/free

Rating: 5.0

Switch to non-live sat-navs and the Garmin Drive 51 LMT-S is our pick. It’s affordable at £120, and its Real Directions voice guidance is very impressive - it uses landmarks, traffic lights and buildings as cues when giving turn-by-turn directions, and reiterates road names just before turning to minimise mistakes. It’s good at picking up speed cameras and hazards in advance too, and if you pair your phone, you can still get traffic alerts.

TomTom Start 52

Price: Around £120

Coverage/updates: UK & Ireland/free

Rating: 4.0

The Start 52 packs the same menu interface as the other TomToms on test here, and it’s equally easy and responsive to use. It’s also got a good mount, so installation is easy and secure. Best of all though are the accurate directions and easy-to-read maps, with an easily-visible sidebar for extra information such as journey times and upcoming fuel stations.

Mio Spirit 5400 LM

Price: Around £100

Coverage/updates: Europe/free

Rating: 2.0

As we noted at the top, £100 is a good starting point for high-quality sat-navs, and you’ll find the Mio Spirit 5400 LM around this very point. It doesn’t have the long feature list of some of the others, and like the 8760 LM the 4.3-inch screen isn’t as intuitive or responsive as those of TomTom and Garmin. The screen also picks up more glare, while the routing had a habit of leading us into jams on main roads during peak hours. It’s a good unit, but misses the mark in a few areas compared to the others.

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 motorcycle sat-navs

Traffic jam alerts are all well and good, but there’s really no better way for beating the traffic than a motorcycle. Even so, your journey is only as good as your route, so satellite navigation can still be a benefit for riders, whether commuting or touring - and with tech that picks out scenic routes, the latest nav systems are better suited to biking than ever.

Clear guidance and mapping were key in our test, so we’ve awarded points here for traffic-beating features and those all-important scenic road options. Price was also once again considered. 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.

Motorcycle sat-nav reviews

TomTom Rider 550 Premium Pack

Price: Around £500

Rating: 5.0

This unit isn’t cheap, starting at £399.99, and you’ll need to find an extra £100 for the Premium Pack, which comes with a car mount (as there’s nothing stopping you using these bike-friendly sat-navs whatever your transport), plus an anti-theft kit for peace of mind on the bike.

That price does include Lifetime World maps though, and built-in WiFi allows for over-the-air updates. The case is durable too, which is handy when this unit’s more likely to be exposed to the elements. Compared to the Garmin on test the TomTom’s mapping is better, with clear maps and easy-to-follow instructions, and the scenic route choices were great, unearthing some fun roads.

Garmin Zumo 396 LMT-S

Price: Around £350

Rating: 4.0

If the TomTom is a little on the rich side for your needs, then you won’t lose too much by opting for the cheaper Garmin, as it has several of the same features, and its “Adventurous Routing” feature lets you pick from a wide variety of roads, even letting you pick depending on their severity. Updates are quick and easy thanks to built-in WiFi, though the TomTom’s traffic updates and mapping are better and the Garmin’s screen isn’t quite as easy to read at a glance. If you pair your phone you can use the unit to answer calls though, which is a useful feature.

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