Best Vehicle Navigation Systems

Having a digital copilot you can trust is essential, so we've rounded up the best GPS systems to help you choose the right one for wherever your travels take you.
Written by | Updated July 18, 2019
Best Overall
image of Garmin DriveSmart screenGarmin DriveSmart
  • Voice control
  • On-screen smartphone notifications
  • Voice control
  • On-screen smartphone notifications
Best for RVs and Trailers
image of Garmin RV 770's screenGarmin RV 770
  • RV-specific route alerts
  • Hands-free operation
  • RV-specific route alerts
  • Hands-free operation
Best for Safety
image of Drive Assist's screenGarmin DriveAssist
  • Built-in dash cam
  • Collision warnings
  • Built-in dash cam
  • Collision warnings
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Last Updated: Less than 6 months
Since our last review of the best GPS systems for navigation, several of our old picks have been discontinued and new GPS devices have hit the market. We checked out the newcomers and found a few rising stars with smart features that we're excited to show you.

Bottom Line: Garmin Topped Our List

With a price tag just under $200, Garmin’s DriveSmart hits a GPS sweet spot with features that are fun but also extremely useful. The DriveSmart was our pick for the best GPS because it performs well at all the essential tasks but also has lots of extra features to make navigating on the road safer and more convenient.

We liked its large, clear screen, accurate turn-by-turn directions, and Bluetooth connectivity. Downloading the Smartphone Link app to your phone gives you voice control, on-screen phone notifications, and hands-free calling, which are a huge plus if you have a car that isn’t equipped with those features. It also comes complete with maps of North America and built-in Wi-Fi for free lifetime map and software updates.

The only drawbacks were minor annoyances, like the occasional loss of Bluetooth connection and inaccurate arrival times. But with everything else the DriveSmart has going for it, those minor flaws are easily overlooked. Read the full review below to learn more.

Compare the Best Car GPS Navigation Systems

Price
Screen Size
Best Overall
Best for RVs
Best for Safety
Garmin DriveSmart Garmin RV 770 Garmin DriveAssist TomTom GO 620 Garmin Drive 51
image of Garmin DriveSmart screen image of Garmin RV 770's screen image of Drive Assist's screen TomTom GO 620 Vehicle GPS
Check Price on Amazon Check Price on Amazon Check Price on Amazon Check Price on Amazon Check Price on Amazon
6.95 in. 6.95 in. 6.95 in. 6 in. 5 in.

The Best Car GPS Navigation System Reviews

Garmin DriveSmart 61: Best Overall

The DriveSmart 61 has Bluetooth connectivity that lets you control your GPS with voice commands, making it great for road trip safety. Linking the device to your phone with the Smartphone Link app also gives you hands-free calling, text messages on your GPS screen, and live traffic and weather updates.

Other fun and useful features include live parking updates to help you find both on- and off-street parking (with pricing) and TripAdvisor reviews for restaurants, hotels, and other businesses along your route. The driver alerts for school zones, railroad crossings, and animal crossings are helpful, but they can also get in the way of upcoming street names.

We like the big, clear screen, but we don’t like having to manually x out every text message that pops up. And we like beating the clock as much as the next person, but the arrival times on this GPS were wildly inaccurate, sometimes by more than 10 minutes on a half-hour trip. Still, overall, these annoyances were minor compared to the features offered by the DriveSmart 61.

Pros

  • Large screen
  • Voice control
  • TripAdvisor review info
  • Live traffic and weather alerts
  • Parking assistant

Cons

  • Annoying driver alerts
  • Inaccurate arrival times

Garmin RV 770: Best for RVs and Trailers

Anyone who’s ever tried to navigate narrow, windy roads with an RV or trailer knows that there are regular routes and there are RV routes. The Garmin RV 770 lets you input your type of RV or trailer hookup (RV, truck camper, travel trailer, etc.) along with its weight and size and then plans a route you can drive with ease.

It also includes a directory of waypoints like RV parks and services that you can search by amenities. If you’re in dire need of a laundry day or you need a propane refill, your GPS can help you find a spot nearby with everything you need. The RV 770 will also warn you of upcoming road hazards unique to large vehicles, like steep ascents and descents, weight limits, and sharp curves. We also like the Fatigue Alert that will remind you to take a break if you’ve been driving without stopping for too long, and will even suggest nearby places to park for a rest.

Like Garmin’s other top models, the 770 has a bright, almost-7-inch screen, hands-free commands with your Bluetooth-connected phone, smart notifications, traffic updates, and built-in Wi-Fi for free lifetime map updates. Keep in mind that the Bluetooth features work best if you have an unlimited data plan, as they’ll eat up data quickly. Voice commands can also be tricky, so it’s a good idea to make yourself a cheat sheet so you can remember specific wording to get the info you need.

Pros

  • RV-specific routes
  • RV services directory
  • Road hazard warnings
  • Fatigue warnings
  • Hands-free operation

Cons

  • Data-hogging app
  • Tricky voice commands

Garmin DriveAssist 51: Best for Safety

We all love dash cams for their ability to record significant—and usually unpleasant—driving events. The Garmin DriveAssist combines a GPS system with a dash cam to give you that ability plus camera-assisted navigation features like visually confirming a specific address with Real Vision. We also like the lane departure warnings and the front collision warnings, but they don’t allow much wiggle room and can get annoying, especially if you’re in stop-and-go traffic. Adjusting the sensitivity settings can help a little bit.

The DriveAssist 51 comes with a built-in collision sensor and will automatically save a recording if it detects a collision. And it includes a micro SD card for recording when and where the collision happened. You can also set it up to send an alert to loved ones if a crash is detected. The DriveAssist is pricey, but it has all the same smart features as the DriveSmart for hands-free operation.

Pros

  • Dash cam
  • Lane departure warnings
  • Front collision warnings
  • Real Vision address confirmation
  • Smart features

Cons

  • Annoying alerts
  • Short battery life
  • High price tag

More Car GPS Systems That Are Worth a Look

It’s okay to be picky about your navigation system—we get it. When you’re far from home you want a device you can trust. Here are a couple more GPS systems that didn’t make the top three but are SafeWise-approved and might be a better fit for your needs.

TomTom GO 620

We couldn’t let Garmin have all the fun. The TomTom Go is a GPS option for the adventurous traveler, because it’s the only device on our list that offers world maps, not just North American maps. It takes onscreen text alerts to a new level by reading your texts out loud to you, and it also has hands-free calling. We also like that the TomTom MyDrive app lets you plan routes on your phone so you’re all ready to go as soon as you get in the car. On the downside, it’s glitchy and users report that it doesn’t always take the best route.

Garmin Drive 51

The Garmin Drive 51 was close to making the top three, but it doesn’t always select the fastest route to a location and it’s more sluggish than we’d like. It’s one of the more affordable devices we reviewed, and it comes with lifetime map updates, driver alerts, and TripAdvisor ratings. We like the Real Directions feature that uses landmarks to help you navigate, and Direct Access to help you find the right area to park for a store at the mall or gate at the airport. It’s a good choice for basic navigation, but we found that it’s not as user-friendly as some of Garmin’s older models like the Nüvi.

Things to Consider before You Buy

We know this list is pretty Garmin-heavy, but the truth is that in all of our research, Garmin products consistently came out on top in user reviews for reliability and ease of use. I’ve personally had non-Garmin devices try to lead me into a lake twice and up a mountain hiking trail once, but my Garmin has never steered me wrong, so it was no surprise when the research backed my personal experiences. Garmin’s software is simply more reliable when it comes to GPS navigation.

Consider Buying Refurbished

If you’re in the market for a GPS navigation system but you’re on a tight budget, check Amazon for refurbished or “renewed” models. You can find used refurbished models of many of the GPS systems on this list—along with some of the older Garmin models—for nearly half the price of the same devices new. As long as you use the free map updates and keep the maps current, they perform just as well as the pricier brand-new models. If you’re looking at a particular model, it’s also a good idea to check the reviews on both the new listings and the refurbished listings, as they’re reviewing the same product. The refurbished listings often have more user reviews.

Numbers and Letters: Here’s What They Mean

The numbers in the names of GPS devices usually have to do with screen size, and the letters give you a hint to the features. For example, when shopping for a Garmin, the first digit in the number after the name will give you a clue to screen size (ex: 61 = 6 inches or bigger, 51 = 5 inches or bigger). The letters following the number indicate the kinds of features included on the model: LM = Lifetime Maps, T = Traffic updates, and  S = Smart features.

FAQs

Do I need a separate navigation device if my car already has a built-in GPS?

It depends. Having in-dash navigation is a great feature—when it works. Remember how we said Garmin is at the top of the GPS game? Many vehicle manufacturers cut costs by using less-reliable GPS software for their built-in GPS systems. If you don’t have total confidence in your built-in GPS, you might want to invest in a backup.

What is GPS Glonass?

Glonass is short for “Global Navigation Satellite System” and is a Russian-designed alternative to the American-made GPS satellites. Its coverage and accuracy are comparable to GPS, and it’s actually often used to improve traditional GPS devices because it provides additional satellite imagery positioning, especially in areas where satellite reception might be blocked by tall buildings. You might see “GPS + Glonass” as a feature on GPS navigation devices.

How is a GPS navigation system different from a GPS tracker?

A GPS navigation system uses maps to give you directions to where you need to go. A GPS tracking device helps track the location of an object or person. Parents may use a GPS tracker for kids or teens, and businesses often use GPS fleet tracking to track vehicles. The best GPS vehicle trackers have real-time location updates and geofencing to alert you when the device you’re tracking goes outside of a specified area.

Are GPS systems battery operated?

Yes, most GPS devices run on a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, but the battery is more for backup use, as most will only last for about an hour before needing to be recharged. We recommend using the included car charger to keep your GPS unit running without interruption.

How We Picked the Best Vehicle Navigation Systems

To choose the best GPS systems we thought about why people want a dedicated GPS rather than just a free smartphone navigation app and we searched for the most reliable devices with the highest ratings from real drivers. Our full methodology explains more about how we review various products.

Written by Kasey Tross

Kasey is a trained Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) member and a freelance writer with expertise in emergency preparedness and security. As the mother of four kids, including two teens, Kasey knows the safety concerns parents face as they raise tech-savvy kids in a connected world, and she loves to research the latest security options for her own family and for SafeWise readers. Learn more

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