Navigation Systems Test: BMW vs. Infiniti vs. Acura vs. Garmin

Interesting | September 12th, 2010 by 3
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After the usual car comparisons, here comes this month an unique approach from The automotive publication decided to test the navigation systems found in …

After the usual car comparisons, here comes this month an unique approach from The automotive publication decided to test the navigation systems found in BMW, Infiniti and Acura, and also, from a third-party specialized manufacturer, Garmin.

After years of customer complaints and frustration caused by what some called a cumbersome user interface, BMW’s iDrive Navigation System prevails and takes the top spot in this comparison:

The Winner: BMW 3 Series

“All four systems took recently completed sections of the I-355, and all four found a new subdivision in Plainfield, Ill., though the BMW’s showed a few more roads than the others. In the end, the 3 Series’ system put us on the most expedient routes, even lopping off some time at the end. After a rough start, it completed the evaluation with few of the G37’s wrong-headed instructions and none of the smaller routing issues the TSX and Garmin incurred. It’s not the cheapest or most feature-packed system, but for simply getting the job done, BMW’s system won the day.”

Here is how it all started:

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With three navigation-equipped cars on hand — a 2010 Acura TSX, a 2011 BMW 3 Series and a 2010 Infiniti G37 — we put their routing to the test. All three cars use different navigation suppliers, and all three systems vary in price and features.

The G37’s $1,850 navigation system requires upgrading, at minimum, to the G37 Journey — one rung up from the base model. It includes Zagat restaurant ratings, traffic and weather, Bluetooth streaming audio a larger hard drive for storing music, DVD capability and voice recognition. With upgraded graphics and technology for 2010, this system represents that latest and greatest Infiniti has to offer, spokesman Ray Daniels told us.

BMW’s $2,100 navigation system is available on any 3 Series. Besides a traffic display, it also adds the automaker’s iDrive system, now in its latest generation, with improved graphics, a host of shortcut buttons and the requisite additional configuration menus.

The TSX’s navigation system is part of a hefty $3,100 Technology Package that includes upgraded ELS audio, a six-CD changer, traffic and weather, a backup camera and nominal enhancements to the Bluetooth and climate control systems. Its grainy graphics reveal its age: The only DVD-based system in the test, the TSX’s navigation will be replaced by a faster hard-drive unit for 2011, spokesman Gary Robinson said.

To establish a baseline, we brought along a Garmin Nuvi 255W. Purchased last April, it retails today for $180. We configured all systems, including the Garmin, to eliminate any routing preferences, meaning highways and toll roads were fair game.

Most systems allow for route choices — a quick route or a short route, for example. We always selected the quick route. More importantly, we also eliminated traffic-based routing. Traffic conditions, reported to each car through a streaming data feed, can change by the minute. A slight variance in traffic could result in a navigation system directing a car another way, skewing the results simply because it was last in the convoy.

The routing is what counts. With three teams of drivers, we set out to see how the systems handle a series of progressive route complications. After all, seldom does a road trip go without a missed turn or a bathroom detour.

Navigation Systems test Part 1 and Part 2