Garmin is one of the biggest names in automotive technology, and it’s been manufacturing in-car GPS systems ever since the original StreetPilot back in 1998. Today, smartphones and integrated navigation systems have taken over much of the market, but Garmin still produces an extensive range of standalone satnavs, from budget models to premium big-screen devices.
This means buyers have plenty to choose from, but don’t worry: if you have your heart set on a great Garmin satnav, we’re here to sort the best from the rest.
How to choose the best Garmin satnav
Garmin currently offers three lines of satnavs. They all use the same maps and have the same basic features, however: the main differences come down to style, screen technology and connected features. At the low end you have the Drive models, which feature 5in, 5.5in and 6.9in screens, and if you connect the satnav to your smartphone they can deliver traffic alerts, safety camera warnings and weather forecasts too.
Above this there’s the DriveSmart line, which feature more modern looks, sharper screens and options for built-in live traffic alerts, 3D displays and a bunch of smartphone-friendly features. Finally, the DriveAssist range adds a dashcam, which constantly records video to keep you covered in the event of an accident – and can even proactively warn you if you’re driving dangerously.
Which model is right for you depends on your needs and your budget. The Drive satnavs are easy to use and very affordable, while the DriveSmart models give you a classier look and feel. We’re not 100% sold on all the DriveAssist features, but if you want a dashcam as well as a satnav it’s a convenient all-in-one solution.
What features should I look out for?
All of Garmin’s current satnavs use the same maps and feature “Real Directions” instructions, which direct you with reference to street names, local landmarks and so forth. They also all have the useful “Up Ahead” feature, which splits the screen between the standard map view and a list of upcoming points of interest, including petrol stations, rest areas and nearby towns and cities. Lifetime map and traffic updates are included in the price; you may need a connection to your smartphone to enable these, but it’s worth setting up, as you’ll get other useful information as well.
The DriveSmart adds a few extras that the regular Drive models lack, including 3D views of buildings and the landscape on the map, plus voice control and smartphone integration, enabling hands-free calling and text messaging through your satnav. There’s built-in Wi-Fi for easy map and software updates too. While these features may be useful, they’re not must-haves if you just want to get from A to B.
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The Best Garmin satnavs to buy
Garmin Drive 52: The best budget satnav
Price when reviewed: £99 | Buy now from Amazon
Garmin’s entry-level satnav gives you sensible routes, clear directions and a 3D view to help you navigate junctions. Instructions are delivered clearly and promptly, with helpful references to road names and landmarks. Like the more expensive DriveSmart models, the Drive 52 also highlights points of interest, provided by TripAdvisor and FourSquare, and if you connect it to your smartphone through Garmin’s Smartphone Link app it’ll deliver live traffic alerts, speed camera warnings and weather forecasts too.
What you don’t get, however, is any advanced Bluetooth features, like text-message display and hands-free calling, and perhaps the biggest compromise is the 480 x 272-pixel screen. It’s not awful, but it’s slightly dim and fuzzy, and it uses resistive technology so you need to prod the keys firmly when entering text. Since the Drive 52 has no onboard Wi-Fi, you’ll also need to hook it up to a PC over USB to download updates. Still, for under £100 it’s an excellent functional satnav.
Key specs – Screen: 5in resistive; Navigation features: Live traffic data, lifetime map updates, speed camera alerts, POI from Trip Advisor and Foursquare
Garmin DriveSmart 55: The best all-round Garmin satnav
Price when reviewed: £130 | Buy now from Amazon
The Garmin DriveSmart 55 looks classy, with small bezels and an excellent 5.5in 720p capacitive screen. Maps and displays look good, especially if you’re travelling through an area with 3D buildings and landscapes, and the touchscreen makes light work of text entry. The turn-by-turn instructions are as clear as you could ask for, complete with 3D plans of complex junctions, and you can use Garmin’s split-screen Up Ahead feature to stay abreast of petrol stations, food outlets and towns en-route.
Like all DriveSmart models, the 55 also includes hands-free calling and onscreen notifications for your Bluetooth-connected phone. Built-in Wi-Fi is a bonus, too, as this means you don’t have to connect to anything else to update your maps. Choose the more expensive Full Europe version and you get full voice commands too, although we’ve found these hit and miss. In all, the DriveSmart 55 is a cracking satnav for surprisingly little money – in terms of bang per buck it’s unbeatable.
Key specs – Screen: 5.5in capacitive; Navigation features: Live traffic data, live parking and weather, lifetime map updates, POI from TripAdvisor and Foursquare
Garmin DriveSmart 65: The best big-screen Garmin satnav
Price when reviewed: £214 | Buy now from Amazon
The DriveSmart 65 takes everything that’s good about the DriveSmart 55 and transplants it into a larger frame with a luxurious 6.95in, 1024 x 600 resolution screen. The big display makes it a breeze to set routes and follow directions, not to mention type in text when you’re searching for a destination. You also get voice commands with this one as standard, though the accuracy isn’t as good as you’d expect if you’re used to Siri, Alexa or Google. For £60 extra you can even have a version with Alexa built in, but be aware this only works for the usual Alexa tasks – you can’t use your voice to programme driving routes.
The rest of the smaller DriveSmart’s features are all here too, with hands-free calling through your smartphone, live traffic, live parking and speed camera alerts when connected through Garmin’s app. Landmark guidance and 3D junction views are an asset when you’re driving on unfamiliar roads, and instructions are delivered well before you need them – occasionally a little too long before on some country roads, if we’re honest. The big screen might look a little out of place in a small car, but if you’re in the market for a premium satnav, this is it.
Key specs – Screen: 6.95in capacitive; Navigation features: Live traffic data, live parking, lifetime map updates, speed camera alerts, POI from TripAdvisor and Foursquare, voice control
Garmin DriveAssist 51 LMT-D 5: Best high-end navigation and dashcam system
Price when reviewed: £210 | Buy now from Amazon
Combining a satnav with a dashcam makes a lot of sense, especially if you have limited power outlets in your old jalopy. It means the DriveAssist 51 LMT-D can not only get you from A to B, but also provide evidence should you end up involved in an incident, and even warn you when you appear to be too close to the car in front or drifting out of your lane. We found these safety features threw up occasional false alarms, but you can turn them off if you don’t want them.
As a satnav, the DriveAssist gives you a slightly different set of features to the Drive and DriveSmart models. You miss out on 3D landmarks, but you still get live traffic and weather updates when connected through your smartphone, along with hands-free calling and text messages, and even voice control on the Full Europe version. If your car needs a high-tech update, this satnav conveniently covers all the basics in one box.
Key specs – Screen: 5in capacitive; Navigation features: Live traffic data, live parking, lifetime map updates, speed camera alerts, POI from TripAdvisor and Foursquare, voice control
Garmin Camper 780: Best for campervans and caravans
Price when reviewed: £345 | Buy now from Amazon
A standard satnav is fine for a car, but bulkier vehicles may struggle to negotiate narrow lanes, village streets and tricky one-way systems. The Camper 780 is the answer: it’s a camper-friendly version of the DriveSmart 65, with maps and navigation systems optimised for campervans and caravans, to ensure you can get to your next stop without getting stuck or causing a commotion. What’s more, it comes with a database of relevant points of interest, so campsites and campervan-ready rest stops appear directly on screen.
It comes with all the same bells and whistles as the in-car version, including hands-free calling, built-in traffic alerts, 3D visuals, smart notifications and voice commands. You can also buy it in a pack with the BC40 Backup Camera, which can be mounted on your rear number plate or boot to gain a handy rear view for parking.
Key specs – Screen: 6.95in capacitive; Navigation features: Live traffic data, live parking, lifetime map updates, speed camera alerts, POI from TripAdvisor and Foursquare, voice control, vehicle-specific guidance, campsite database