"Hearst Magazines and Yahoo may earn commission or revenue on some items through these links."
GPS navigation was introduced back in the early aughts, limited to a few high-end vehicles. These days, the feature comes standard in most new models, but there are still plenty of older cars on the road that don’t have access. As a fix, drivers use smartphones and a compatible mount for navigation—though that isn't the best solution.
That's where portable GPS navigators comes in.
A phone that's constantly tracking discharges quickly, plus it can have a negative impact on long-term battery life. And if you journey anywhere without a decent signal and get lost, you're basically out of luck. Another downside is that phones have a tendency to overheat if left running under the sun for long periods of time.
Alternatively, stand-alone car GPS navigators are more reliable in remote areas, like the desert or woods, because they use satellite information as opposed to cell tower data. Their batteries last multiple hours on one charge, some up to three hours. And, they're arguably safer to use while driving than a smartphone.
Ahead, check out our reviews and recommendations for the best car GPS navigators worth considering, along with expert advice on the most important things to help you find the right device.
Best Car GPS Navigators
Best Overall: Garmin DriveSmart 65 GPS Navigator
Best Value: Garmin Drive 52 and Traffic GPS Navigator
Best Upgrade: Garmin DriveSmart 86 Car GPS Navigator
Best for World Travelers: TomTom Go Supreme 6-Inch GPS Navigation Device
Best for Outdoor Adventurers: Garmin Overlander Multipurpose GPS Navigator
What to Consider
Models like the Garmin Overlander are purpose-built for outdoor activities like off-roading and hiking, and come with extensive weather sealing. Most GPS devices provide national map data right out of the box, and some models, such as the TomTom GO Supreme, contain full international map information as well.
Although they can be used without updates, most of these devices are able to download new map data to maintain accurate directions, usually through a cable tethered to your PC or a Wi-Fi connection. GPS units with smartphone compatibility can also be used as a hands-free receiver to easily take calls on the road.
Below, we've outlined a few other important points to think about before buying.
Screen Size and Resolution
One of the first things to consider while picking out a car GPS navigator is screen size and resolution. A larger high-resolution screen can make information more legible, but it can also take up extra space around your car’s dashboard. Most screens available are about five or six inches across, but the Garmin DriveSmart 86 boasts an eight-inch screen for greater clarity. A larger screen may also make it easier to access onscreen touch menus.
Most car GPS navigators mount to the windshield of the vehicle using a simple suction cup arm. However, depending on the size of your dashboard and personal preferences, it may be worth springing for a third-party mount to increase reach and functionality. There are also devices with magnetic suction cups for a stronger mount.
Charging and Battery Life
Suction-mounted devices feature a built-in battery, which can be charged using your vehicle’s 12V outlet. If you plan to take the GPS with you outside of the vehicle, battery life may be a concern. Car GPS navigators hold a charge from roughly 30 minutes to three hours. For durations longer than that, handheld survival GPS devices demand much lower power consumption.
Pricier GPS devices may add bonus features like lifetime map updates, real-time traffic data, and integrated media apps. Some include access to databases with restaurant and hotel recommendations and points of interest, which is a nice extra if you're on a road trip.
How We Selected
I cover the automotive space and write about vehicles and car accessories, and use first-hand experience with products during my research. Over the last five years, I've had my hands on built-in vehicle navigation systems, as well as standalone GPS units. When selecting car GPS navigators, we focused on highly-rated models and looked for devices across for a wide variety of price points to suit as many needs and budgets as possible. We compared the devices' screen sizes and resolution, along with key attributes like built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for smartphone pairing, easy onscreen menu navigation, and driver alerts so you can anticipate things like road blocks and sudden speed changes.
DriveSmart 65 GPS Navigator
The DriveSmart 65 is the best car GPS navigator for most people, with a high-res large screen, built-in Wi-Fi for free map and location data uploads, and Bluetooth to pair the device with your smartphone. It also punches above its price point with features like a pre-loaded National Parks directory and hotel and restaurant reviews from TripAdvisor.
Thanks to its seven-inch screen and user-friendly onscreen menus, it's easy to quickly find and switch up what you need to look at any given moment.
The driver alerts and voice commands are a big plus so you can keep your eyes on the road. Hands-free calling and hearing your text messages read aloud also helps you drive safety.
The device is ready-to-use out of the box, too, with an included traffic cable. Live traffic updates are available once your smartphone is connected.
Drive 52 and Traffic GPS Navigator
For about $70 bucks less than our top pick, this Garmin car GPS navigator is worth a look. It has many of the same bells and whistles, including hotel and restaurant recommendations from TripAdvisor, and point-of-interest. You even get the DriveSmart 65's bright high-res display, easy-access onscreen menus, and driver alerts so you can focus on the road.
What you don't get with this model is built-in Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to pair with your smartphone. Also, the screen size is slightly smaller at five inches and the battery life is a measly 30 minutes, so you'll definitely want to keep it plugged in.
Still, if you're currently using a smartphone to navigate, this device is a great investment.
DriveSmart 86 Car GPS Navigator
This premium Garmin device includes an extensive set of features, the most obvious being its high-res eight-inch screen. It also has Alexa built in and two USB ports for charging devices.
Beyond all that, the DriveSmart 86 goes head-to-head with the DriveSmart 65 for features. That includes built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for smartphone pairing, a database of restaurant and hotel recommendations from TripAdvisor, and maps for National Parks and other points of interest. Driver alerts, live traffic and weather information, and free software updates as part of the package.
If screen size is a priority and you want access to a voice assistant, consider the $100 upgrade well spent.
Go Supreme 6-Inch GPS Navigation Device
This TomTom GPS is great for international travelers because it includes not only North American map data, but data for the entire globe. The user can also update these maps using a built-in Wi-Fi antenna to maintain accuracy and get real-time traffic data. The six-inch screen is on the smaller side for this price range, but it also gives a decent two hours of battery life per charge.
Overlander Multipurpose GPS Navigator
The Overlander is built for off-roading, and comes in a durable, dust-proof casing. The GPS contains North American map data for not only roads, but for popular off-road routes as well. Additional maps can be downloaded over Wi-Fi, and installed on up to 64 GB of internal storage.
Using built-in gyroscopes, the device also keeps track of vehicle pitch and yaw angles. Battery life is up to three hours, giving the user enough time to bring the GPS along during hikes on-foot. The seven-inch screen sticks to a windshield using a magnetically-mounted suction cup arm, but compatible ram mounts can be purchased separately that allow the Overlander to be attached to things like ATV roll cages or motorcycle handlebars.
Kenwood eXcelon Car GPS Navigation
This Kenwood unit comes with a whole suite of features, including GPS navigation, HD radio tuning, and a built-in CD player. The device can also Bluetooth sync to your smartphone in order to utilize Spotify and other streaming apps over Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. The 6.8-inch screen can also be connected to up to three dashboard and backup cameras for improved visibility.
As an all-in-one head unit, this device is intended to replace a factory stereo, which requires removing the old head unit, custom wiring, and possibly an adapter bracket to make it slide into your dashboard. Unless you have prior experience with stereo wiring, plan on hiring a professional for installation.
You Might Also Like