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The best Garmin satnavs for navigating in style

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Garmin manufactures many of the best satnav systems out there, but which is the right one for you?

Garmin has just updated its class-leading DriveSmart line of satnavs, making this a great time to buy into the range. The company has a long history in automotive tech and has been manufacturing in-car GPS systems since the original StreetPilot in 1998. It’s also behind the excellent Dash Cam line of cameras and has been forward-thinking in getting its products working with smartphones and voice assistants. While smartphones and integrated navigation systems have taken over much of the market, Garmin’s satnavs make a strong case that you can’t beat a dedicated unit.

Buyers have plenty of models to choose from, but we’re here to help you understand the differences and pick the ideal Garmin satnav for you.

How to choose the best Garmin satnav

Garmin has streamlined its range to focus on two core lines of satnavs, plus some models aimed at caravans and campervans, vans, heavy goods vehicles and motorcycles. All use the same maps and have the same basic features, but differ when it comes to the user interface, style, screen technology and connected features.

At the low end you have the Drive 52, with its 5in display. It might be Garmin’s entry-level satnav, but you can still connect it to your smartphone for live traffic alerts, safety camera warnings and weather forecasts.

Above this there’s the DriveSmart line, which feature more modern looks and larger, high-resolution screens. These add live traffic alerts, useful 3D and split-screen views, and a bunch of smartphone-friendly features. We’re not going to cover the models aimed at vans and heavy goods vehicles, but Garmin also produces some satnavs aimed directly at caravan and campervan drivers, with special features designed to help you navigate in a larger vehicle and make the most of your time when you’re travelling around.

Which model is right for you depends on your needs and budget. The Drive 52 is as easy on the wallet as it is to use, but the DriveSmart models feel slicker and have some really useful features. Generally speaking, they’re worth the extra cash.

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 Drive 52 lacks, 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. Some models even have Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant built into the satnav, though you need it connected to a smartphone with the Alexa app installed to really make the most of it. There’s built-in Wi-Fi for easy map and software updates, too. These features aren’t must-haves if you just want to get from A to B, but they turn the DriveSmart satnavs into something that’s less like a basic satnav, and more like a hub for your devices so that you can access their features while you’re on the road.

Read Next: The best satnavs to buy

The best Garmin satnavs to buy

1. Garmin Drive 52: The best budget satnav

Price: £89 | 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

2. Garmin DriveSmart 66: The best Satnav for value

Price: £159 | Buy now from Amazon

The DriveSmart 66 replaces the entry-level DriveSmart 55, albeit with a slightly larger 6in screen. It still has the feel of a premium satnav, with a slimline, smartphone-style form factor, a bright, responsive 1280 x 720 resolution capacitive display and a bundled suction-cup windscreen mount. It’s a great vehicle for Garmin’s software, with clear voice instructions, handy references to buildings and street names, and useful 3D visuals to make those tricky junctions slghtly easier to fathom.

Voice control isn’t the DriveSmart’s biggest strength – recognising town names and addresses can be hit and miss – but planning routes is easy, and the integration with Tripadvisor and Foursquare helps when you’re trying to find a coffee or snack en-route. And while you’ll need to find an extra £50 for a version with Amazon’s Alexa, even the basic model includes Bluetooth calling and smartphone notifications. Move up the DriveSmart range for a bigger screen and extras, but this is a rock-solid satnav for the price.

Key specs – Screen: 5.7in 1280 x 720 capacitive touchscreen; Navigation features: Live traffic data, live parking and weather, lifetime map updates, POI from Tripadvisor and Foursquare, junction assists, driver alerts; Smart features: Bluetooth calling, notifications, voice commands

3. Garmin DriveSmart 76: The best Garmin satnav for most people

Price: £229 | Buy now from Amazon

The DriveSmart 76 is Garmin’s new mid-range, mid-sized DriveSmart model, which makes it the best option for most drivers. It’s not as big as the mighty DriveSmart 86 with Amazon Alexa, but if you want a less obtrusive satnav and don’t need Alexa features (here, a £20 extra) this is arguably a better buy. The 6.95in screen is vibrant, clear, and large enough to make the most of Garmin’s slick UI, and whether you’re setting up a new route or looking for fuel or a snack stop mid-journey, it’s not hard to find what you’re after, helped by a solid, up-to-date database with content from TripAdvisor and Foursquare.

Voice commands suffer from the same issues as the DriveSmart 66, and it’s particularly frustrating that you can’t choose from a range of search options without glancing at the screen. However, the spoken and visual guidance is excellent, making good use of street names and landmarks. On rural journeys there are still some odd omissions, not to mention situations where a bear right becomes a right turn or you’re directed down a minor lane, but that’s an issue across most satnavs and satnav apps. And you still get a full range of smart features, including notifications and hands-free calling. As an all-round satnav, this one’s hard to beat.

Key specs – Screen: 6.95in 1024 x 600 capacitive touchscreen; Navigation features: Live traffic data, live parking and weather, lifetime map updates, POI from Tripadvisor and Foursquare, junction assists, driver alerts; Smart features: Bluetooth calling, notifications, voice commands

4. Garmin DriveSmart 86 with Amazon Alexa: The best big-screen satnav

Price: £320 | Buy now from Amazon

How big do you want to go with your satnav? Well, depending on where you have it mounted, the 8in DriveSmart 86 can obscure a sizable portion of your windscreen, and you might wonder whether there’s really any benefit to all that screen. In practice, though, it makes it easier to see the displays if you need a quick glance at a turning or a complex junction, or if you need to select an option from the screen if using Garmin’s voice commands. The additional screen space is also a real bonus when using Garmin’s split-screen features. Navigators pressed into riding shotgun during our satnav tests were particularly keen.

Another key selling point with this model is its built-in Amazon Alexa features, though these are available as an extra on the smaller DriveSmart 76. Alexa can be useful for quick questions, controlling audio playback and searching for nearby petrol stations and other points of interest, and we found the speech recognition a little more reliable than Garmin’s. It’s just a shame that, while Alexa’s smart enough to read through the results so that you don’t have to take your eyes off the road, you still need to tap the screen to select the right one.

All in all, though, this is a cracking satnav, and one of the nippiest and most responsive we’ve ever used. If you’re happy with the price and a big display, this is the one to buy.

Key specs – Screen: 8in 1280 x 800 capacitive touchscreen; Navigation features: Live traffic data, live parking and weather, lifetime map updates, POIs from TripAdvisor and Foursquare, junction assists, driver alerts; Smart features: Bluetooth calling, notifications, Amazon Alexa

5. Garmin Camper 780: Best for campervans and caravans

Price: £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

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