To Nav or not to Nav

To nav or not to nav, that’s the million dollar question…or rather the £2,000-ish one that I’ve been mulling over for the past week or so. Sorry to jump right into a post like that but it’s a little easier for all rather than some antiquated ramble about finding oneself and linking it into the rest of my writing!

The nav in question of course refers to in-car navigation/infotainment systems which have become pretty much must-have items in the last decade or so, especially in the types of higher end luxury cars which I am looking to buy. However the rapid pace of development in in-car technologies means that in this time period things have changed so much that vehicles launched even just 5 years ago are now falling behind the latest systems…and as for cars launched way back in 2000 (a la BMW X5) things inside can be positively prehistoric!

Audi’s latest MMI is beautiful and features Google Maps

Nowadays manufacturers seem to include some sort of colour screen as standard, and although navigation can still be a pricey option it is usually bundled with a host of other functions in a ‘comms package’ or something similar. Whilst these packages did exist 10 years ago they were not quite as enthusiastically ticked as they are now; as a result there seem to be a fair few examples on the used market which lack the navigation and large central screen which most current day buyers seem to crave. This desirability seems to have led to a noticeable price difference between cars which feature navigation and those that don’t…a £2,000 gap, which seems a lot for what can be a very outdated system.


OK so by far the most likely option for me to buy is the original (E53 designation) X5, a car which debuted at the turn of the millenium and stopped being produced nearly a decade ago! Earlier cars had a small LCD screen but the majority of X5s came with a impressively large (for the time) 6.5″ screen, which was included in a Comms pack alongside Bluetooth connectivity and even a digital TV reciever! These decent extra features sort of make up for the fact that the navigation system itself is a little pants; 2D graphics and a simplistic control method mean that even my 6 year old TomTom unit is better equipped to provide navigation, even if it does lack the traffic alerts that I quite like the sound of. In terms of price it’s difficult to say how much the navigation system adds to used X5s – the majority of them seem to have it but cars without can retail for up to £2,000 less…a sum which would buy a lot of diesel!

Mercedes ML:

Although the X5 may be a more realistic choice, if the price were the same I would probably plump for the significantly newer (in terms of design age) Mercedes option. One of it’s main strengths is the more modern COMAND system, which while not as good as similarly vintage systems from BMW (iDrive) and Audi (MMI) is at least better than the other two options here. I have some experience of this version of COMAND and with the large screen and simple buttons have found it easy to use on occasions…but even the ML’s system has some short comings, such as limited post-code input and poor graphics. Another issue is that ML’s with navigation appear to be a fair bit rarer compared to the X5; non-nav ML’s have a plasticky looking stereo which does show a decent amount of information but nevertheless is no comparison to the full system. Again cars with navigation can cost thousands more but that is partly down to trim levels…the cheaper ML’s seem to be base ‘Edition S’ whereas top ‘Sport’ cars tend to come with navigation alongside other bits-given that ML’s are usually £2k more than X5’s in the first place that can add up to a lot!

Volvo XC90:

Compared to the other 2 cars here the Volvo is at a distinct disadvantage-not only is it less desirable and much slower, it also has by far the most dated technology…surprising considering also that the XC90 is still on sale! As I have pretty much ruled it out there seems little point in focusing too much on things, but essentially the navigation system is just a pop up module built into the dashboard, controlled either by remote control or a nodule on the side of the steering column. A small monochrome screen on the centre console controls audio functions, but overall it appears like a system which lacks any sort of cohesion…possibly the reason why it appears rare on XC90’s apart from Executive models which had it as standard.

Facebook whilst driving? Safe apparently!

Given another few years my choice of infotainment systems and indeed vehicles would be much different and improved; Audi’s MMI now features Google Maps integration and handwriting recognition, as does BMW’s iDrive which gets inbuilt apps and can even be configured from your sofa with an iPhone! Also interesting is the premium features that mainstream manufacturers are adding to their vehicles to give their cars a unique selling point; Ford’s SYNC offers features to rival Germany’s best and many others are catching them up. But for now it seems likely that the most sensible thing is to look at examples which suit my budget irrespective of navigation, and buy on the condition of the car rather than whether I can update my status or watch TV!


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