Product Review: Five in car navigation systems auto articles auto tech
2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

Article and photos by Frank Rizzuti

The history of in-car navigation systems goes back to 1985 when Steven Lobbezoo introduced one at the Hanover Fair in Germany. Code named “Homer,” it used a modified IBM PC, a large disc for map data and a flat screen built into the glove compartment.

Alpine Electronics, in conjunction with Honda Motor Car Company, developed the first commercially available system. Introduced in the 1990 Acura Legend, the “Electro Gyrocator” system used an accelerometer to navigate using inertial navigation.

In 1990, Mitsubishi Electric and Pioneer claim to have developed the first GPS-based (Global Positioning System) automotive navigation system, however in 1995, Magellan was the first to have manufactured a GPS-based vehicle navigation system in the U.S.

In 1995 Oldsmobile was the first to offer a GPS-based navigation system called “GuideStar” in the Eighty-Eight.

The year 2000 saw a rise in the number of GPS systems as the United States made a more accurate GPS signal available for civilian use. Today, GPS systems are available from just about every automobile manufacturer.

Here are some impressions of five that I tested recently.

2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid

Manufactured by Harmon Becker, it’s a $5,700 Basic Package option which includes Bi-Xenon headlamps and a tilt/slide moonroof. The screen size is 18 cm.

Product Review: Five in car navigation systems auto articles auto tech
2011 Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

A qwerty-style keyboard is the method of inputting destinations and the voice command module is an additional $680 option, which my test vehicle didn’t have. Route guidance was very accurate with pleasant sounding voices to alert you to upcoming turns rather than those annoying chimes and bongs. The resolution and clarity of the display was excellent at all light levels and like the BMW, Porsche also uses a small display, located to the right of the speedometer to give navigational information. Unlike the BMW’s sub-display, the Porsche has the ability to show a small version of the map as well as audio settings, phone status and trip information. I found all controls were easy to use and intuitive. The Bluetooth functions worked well and sound quality was excellent.

2011 Ford F150

Manufactured by TeleNav, it’s a $2,300 option which includes Sony Audio and Ford’s SYNC voice-activated phone and entertainment system. The screen size is 21 cm (measured diagonally).

Product Review: Five in car navigation systems auto articles auto tech
2011 Ford F150. Click image to enlarge

Destinations are inputted via a touch-screen on a standard qwerty style keyboard or by voice commands. There are also some quick options on the main screen for hospital, police and six slots for favorite destinations and nearest POI (Points of Interest).

I found that voice commands worked flawlessly with little to no repetition required. Once the destination is programmed you can choose the fastest, shortest or unrestricted route. A series of pleasant tones and a friendly voice will alert you to upcoming turns. The system was very accurate and pronunciation of street names was spot on. Screen resolution, clarity and brightness is very good.

I also found that Bluetooth connectivity was instant and phone functions worked as designed. Audio quality was excellent.

2011 Hyundai Sonata

Manufactured by Mobis (a division of Hyundai), it’s only available in the Limited w/Navigation trim which adds an additional $1,800. The screen size is 16 cm.

Product Review: Five in car navigation systems auto articles auto tech
2011 Hyundai Sonata. Click image to enlarge

Touch-screen and voice commands are the method of inputting destinations. The main screen also had a POI button for quick access, but the small screen size and its position make it nearly impossible to see on bright, sunny days. Luckily, the voice recognition worked well and only a few times did I have to yell out my commands to be understood. At times, the pronunciation of street names was comical and the series of tones that alert your next turn were annoying and should be reprogrammed to be more pleasant. The system was accurate, but the screen resolution and small size made it difficult to see.

Bluetooth connectivity and phone functions worked well with acceptable quality audio for both incoming and outgoing calls.