In a world where app-enabled smartphones have seemingly limitless capabilities, one must ask whether the once-innovative GPS device has lost its relevance. Turn-by-turn navigation, real-time traffic reporting, satellite-tracked speed, voice guidance, and crowd-sourced alerts are all part of popular apps like Google Maps and Waze, so dishing out $300 for redundant features can seem foolish. Fortunately, the best in-car GPS devices can do far more than tell you how to get from A to B.
GPS manufacturers with years of experience and millions of real-world test miles now offer advanced driver assistance features, Bluetooth connectivity, geo-based recommendations, voice commands, and much more on large HD displays. For many smartphone users, day-to-day life includes watching their monthly data allotment dwindle, but modern GPS units can operate independently of Wi-Fi and your data plan.
Whether you’re upgrading your older car with new technology or simply looking for a high-quality navigation partner, our list of the best in-car GPS devices is sure to have something to meet your needs.
At a glance
|Garmin Drive 51 LMT-S||The best GPS overall||Not yet rated|
|Garmin Speak||The best voice-enabled GPS||3.5 out of 5|
|Garmin DriveLuxe 50 LMTHD||The most versatile GPS||4.5 out of 5|
|TomTom Go 520||The best GPS for globe-trotters||Not yet rated|
Garmin Drive 51 LMT-S
Why should you buy this: Garmin’s Drive can guide you to your destination safely, every time.
Who’s it for: Those who want to seriously upgrade their ride without breaking the bank.
How much will it cost: $150
Why we picked the Garmin Drive 51 LMT-S:
The Garmin Drive is packed with features to navigate the road ahead, and it can even help you find the best food in town. The intuitive user interface makes getting to your destination a breeze, and clear turn-by-turn instructions take the guesswork out of guidance.
The bright, 5.0-inch TFT navigation screen shows free lifetime traffic information, points of interest (such as gas stations and restaurants), and the names of each exit on your route via an “Up Ahead” feature. It also displays TripAdvisor ratings for restaurants, hotels, and other attractions. Finally, it helps keep you and yours safe by warning the driver of upcoming railroad crossings, animal crossings, dangerous curves, and even speed cameras.
Even as smartphones continue to invade GPS device turf, Garmin knows the right features to add to make its product worth the price tag. If you are looking for a great all-in-one device to help navigate, keep you alert on the road, and help you feel at home in a new city, the Garmin Drive 51 LMT-S is an easy choice.
The best voice-enabled GPS
Why should you buy this: You’d rather talk to your GPS than poke a screen.
The Garmin Speak gives directions while supporting many Alexa features.
Who’s it for: Those who want to get rid of the bulky screen.
How much will it cost: $150
Why we picked the Garmin Speak:
The Garmin Speak combines GPS navigation with Amazon’s digital assistant, Alexa, resulting in a compact unit with an OLED screen and plenty of voice-enabled features. It gives turn-by-turn directions like a standard GPS, while providing access to music streams, audiobooks, news, weather information, and a host of compatible smart home devices. It’s a clever all-in-one device that takes up far less space on your windshield than a conventional, screen-based GPS, though, you’ll need to tuck the power cables out of the way.
The Speak connects to your car and smartphone via Bluetooth, and responds to requests using your car’s speaker system. Garmin notes that older cars without integrated Bluetooth can connect to Speak using an auxiliary connection, though, that’s one more wire to tuck out of the way. We tested the Speak and concluded that the built-in microphone does a decent job at picking up commands, even on a noisy road, but the lack of a dedicated display can make navigating more difficult.
Garmin DriveLuxe 50 LMTHD
The most versatile GPS
Why should you buy this: Garmin’s DriveLuxe can complement your smartphone or replace it.
Who’s it for: Those who don’t want to drain their monthly data on navigation.
How much will it cost: $230
Why we picked the Garmin DriveLuxe 50 LMTHD:
While many GPS manufacturers seem terrified that smartphones will make their devices obsolete, Garmin has designed the perfect companion for your smartphone.
The Garmin DriveLuxe 50 LMTHD has a 5.1-inch TFT display with 800 x 480 pixel resolution. The device feels extremely solid at just over 8.0 ounces, and attaches easily to the magnetic front of the suction mount. Via Bluetooth, you can connect your phone with the free Smartlink application for Android and iOS. This enables the DriveLuxe to take Bluetooth calls through the device, get local weather information, and even read your phone notifications aloud. This feature instantly upgrades old cars that lack Bluetooth calling and goes a step further to read Facebook or Instagram notifications aloud. This should go a long way to cut down on driver distractions.
When it comes to navigation, there are few better systems on the market. DriveLuxe has all the latest map updates and can get lifetime locations updates using the Garmin Express program. Voice or text entry will let you quickly and easily search for specific destinations or points of interest. The touch interface is smooth and zooming in on the screen is easy with “pinch-to-zoom” features in addition to the “+” and “-” icons.
If you just want basic guidance with the most up-to-date mapping and traffic info, the DriveLuxe won’t waste a single megabit of data, but if you want advanced features, Garmin’s system is ready to pair with your smartphone at a moment’s notice.
TomTom Go 520
The best GPS for globe-trotters
Why should you buy this: The TomTom Go 520 is a superb navigator at an affordable price.
Who’s it for: Those who want intuitive navigation from a simple, easy-to-use device.
How much will it cost: $200
Why we picked the TomTom Go 520:
It’s easy to get caught up in robust feature sets, but sometimes the essentials are all you need — especially when on the road. For that, we recommend TomTom’s Go 520. It doesn’t feature the dash cams and driver-assistance tech that some of our other entrants have, but with its smart mapping technology and reasonable price tag, it’s difficult to ignore.
Among the TomTom’s highlights are an available 6-inch touchscreen, 16 GB of internal storage, and free lifetime map updates regardless of where your next adventure takes you. The device can guide you through the entire world — not just North America — and despite its competitive price point, it displays landmarks as 3D renderings that are easy to recognize. It will also run for about an hour on battery power before it needs to be plugged in.
There is one catch, however. Unlike the higher-priced competition, the Go 520 doesn’t include an integrated traffic receiver, meaning it leverages your smartphone to update traffic conditions. TomTom says the data drain is moderate, but if you live on the edge of your data plan and are concerned about overcharging, you may want to consider another product.
How we test
The Digital Trends automotive team evaluates GPS systems in real-world conditions, such as in-town driving, freeway cruising, backroad excursions, trips to unfamiliar areas, and more. The units are scored based on ease of installation, interface usability, available additional features, demonstrable accuracy, and compatibility with smartphones, but appearance, durability, and pricing are all considerable factors as well.
Would you like a dash cam with that?
If you’re pondering a dedicated GPS system, you may also be considering a dash camera. Some of our best in-car GPS picks include a dash cam, but only a high-end recording unit can offer 360-degrees of visual protection. Using a dash cam means irrefutable proof of fault in the event of an accident, and, while we don’t have quite as many insurance fraud cases in the United States as there are abroad, video can shut those cons down, too.
Still not convinced you need a dash cam? Consider all the video gold you’re missing out on. Chances are, you see a moronic maneuver on your way to work every single day. With a little editing, you could turn all those “WTF” moments into one beautiful YouTube compilation. Believe us, your internet friends will thank you for it.
At this stage, there are numerous options (and price points) for those who are ready to rig up a dash cam. It’s not easy to pick a clear winner, but our tests have elevated a few cams above the rest. Head on over to our list of the best dash cams you can buy for help picking your new video companion.