With a price tag just under $250, 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 car navigation system 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.
Best Car Navigation Systems
Compare the best car GPS navigation systems
Garmin DriveSmart 61
|$249.99||6.95 in.||Touchscreen||View on Amazon||Read review|
|Best for RVs and trailers|
Garmin RV 785
|$494.49||6.95 in.||Touchscreen||View on Amazon||Read review|
|Best for safety|
Garmin Drive 61
|$254.99||6.10 in.||Touchscreen||View on Amazon||Read review|
|Best for international travel|
TomTom GO 520
|$199.99||5.00 in.||Microphone, buttons||View on Amazon||Read review|
The best car GPS navigation system reviews
1. 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 this GPS 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.
2. Garmin RV 785: 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 785 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 785 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.
3. Garmin Drive 61: Best for safety
The Garmin Drive 61 is one of the more affordable car navigation devices we found. 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 sometimes sluggish.
4. TomTom GO 520
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.
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 system but you're on a tight budget, check Amazon for refurbished or "renewed" models. You can find used refurbished models of nearly every GPS navigator 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 reviewed 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.
Related articles on SafeWise
*Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. Safewise.com utilizes paid Amazon links.
Certain content that appears on this site comes from Amazon. This content is provided “as is” and is subject to change or removal at any time.