The 8 Best GPS Systems for Cars to Buy in 2018

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The advent of navigation apps may make a dedicated GPS system feel like overkill. But that’s only because you don’t know today’s GPS systems. Modern devices can do a lot more than simply offer turn-by-turn directions. They utilize real-time traffic data to help define the most direct route, locate gas stations and repair shops, take actual dash cam video to help you gather evidence in case of an accident, and let you roam the rugged off-road environs that live just beyond the pavement—and then let you share your journey via your preferred social media. Now GPS’s can be voice-commanded, allowing you to add something to your Amazon list when you remember you’re out of paper towels, warn you of speed traps and upcoming exit speeds, or download reliable maps to cities throughout the world. Here, our favorite GPS systems on the market now.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Magellan Roadmate RV9490T-LMB

Magellan Roadmate RV9490T-LMB
Courtesy of Amazon

In many ways, the Roadmate RV9490T-LMB works like a traditional GPS unit, which is a good thing. It utilizes a seven-inch glass touchscreen to display the map and provide directions, as well as other salient info like weather forecasts, delay warnings (with time impacts), area attractions and restaurants supplemented by Yelp reviews, and the price of nearby gas stations. Powered by Android’s operating system, it replies to commands and runs calculations fast and responsively, and works off real-time traffic info to help define the most optimal route. Rather than simply shouting out street names, the Landmark Guidance feature will use recognizable road features to help you navigate more intuitively—things like “take a right at the next gas station.”

Map updates are guaranteed for the life of the product, along with highway lane assist, speed limit displays, traffic alerts, multi-destination routing, and a one-touch favorite menu, which can also help you find a nearby locale of your favorite chain establishment (Starbucks vs. Dunkin Donuts?). Best of all, it also includes an army of RV-specific features, including the ability to create custom routes based on your RV profile, RV-specific points-of-interest locations, a pre-loaded campground directory, and more.

Best Budget: TomTom VIA 1425M

A 4.3-inch touchscreen makes it easy to follow directions on the TomTom VIA 1425M—or to tell the system where you want to go by simply tapping the desired destination. TomTom uses advanced lane guidance to help you maneuver into the right position for exits and intersections by highlighting the optimal route, with an easy-to-assemble reversible dashboard mount. It runs for one hour per charge, with both USB and car charger options, as well as a micro SD card slot if you want to supplement the onboard 8MB internal memory. Out of the box, you get maps for the United States, Mexico, and Canada, with free updates for the life of the navigation device, and the spoken instructions can be configured to more than 30 different languages.

Best Hands-Free: Garmin Speak Plus

The Speak Plus is what you’d get if you married your favorite GPS with one of the industry’s best digital personal assistants. This device uses Amazon Alexa as its core AI, allowing you to play music from Amazon Music, Pandora, IHeartRadio, and other apps—and you can also control your smart devices at home, ask about the weather, or order up just about anything. Garmin’s stellar legacy with GPS tech handles the navigation, including turn-by-turn audible directions (with screen prompts) that you can trigger just by pinging Alexa to ask Garmin to get you home, to work, or to the Empire State Building.

A built-in dash cam adds a layer of comfort in the unlikely event that you’re in an accident, along with driver assist features to fight off those chances, including forward collision and lane departure warnings. The GPS also works with Bluetooth-enable devices for hands-free calls and integrates with your car stereo wirelessly or via a standard AUX cable.

Best for Off-Road Adventures: Magellan TRX7

Most GPS units can handle the paved roads of the world well enough, but if you want to put your all-wheel-drive to the test, there’s no substitute for the Magellan TRX7. It comes with loads of hi-res 2D topographic and 3D base maps of the United States and Canada, along with free lifetime updates and more than 160,000 4WD, ATV, motorcycle, and snowmobile trails all pre-loaded.

This device isn’t just focused on helping you find your next off-road paradise, though. Thanks to track recording and one-touch social sharing, it’s a breeze to record your exploits and upload them to Facebook, or to add to Magellan’s massive crowd-sourced track database, a resource you can also use to find more off-the-beaten-path adventures. You can also fire an update off to Twitter, using your phone as a hotspot. Pre-trip planning is also easier. Review details and satellite map imagery via a dedicated website to get all the latest trail info, then save your bucket-list trails as favorites in the GPS device. A companion app makes it easier to customize on the fly. Safety features include off-course notification and a backtrack feature that can safely guide you back to your starting point.

Best for International Travel: TomTom Go 520

Most GPS units come with pre-loaded maps of North America, but the TomTom Go 520 has a more global point of view and comes with maps of the entire world pre-loaded. Best of all, with built-in W-iFi connectivity, the device will notify you whenever new updates are available, so you can update without a computer. The device also communicates with your smartphone; it can read out text messages upon request, or find contacts and dial for hands-free calling. You can also trigger Siri and Google Now with the tap of a button on the device.

Maps update for the lifetime of the device, and it uses real-time traffic data to plot out your optimal route. When back from exploring the world, the Go 520 can also learn your driving habits to predict when and where you most drive to help carve out your ideal route. The only (potential) drawback: the five-inch screen isn’t as massive as some of the others on this list, but it’s still plenty big, especially if you’re driving a Euro mini sports car.

Best for Motorcycles: Garmin zumo 396 LMT-S

GPS devices geared toward helping motorcyclists face a mountain of considerations that car-friendly devices don’t, and the zumo 396 LMT-S has all those variables covered. The rugged, glove-friendly 4.3-inch device resists damage from fuel vapors, UV rays, and harsh weather, and remains easy to read in bright sunlight. As with most devices, you also get real-time traffic notification and hands-free calling via Bluetooth, and you can control your music and playlists from the GPS screen.

Embracing the fun nature of motorcycling, the device includes a choose-your-own-adventure-style Adventurous Routing navigation feature that lets you modify the route by preferring curves and hills, and avoiding the dull drone of major highways. For group rides, you can dial your preferred route and share it via GPX files with fellow riders, and when you sync the device to a smartphone, you can share your whereabouts in real time. Alerts include traffic and weather updates as well as speed and red-light camera notification as well as when sharp turns are approaching. The device utilizes a built-in trip computer that tracks every important stat on your bike, including gas, air filters, brake pads, and fluids—and will tell you when to stop for fuel by providing options for nearby gas stations. The only thing the zumo 396 doesn’t do is drive your bike — but you’ve got that part covered.

Best for RVs: Magellan Roadmate RV9365T-LMB

Magellan Roadmate RV9365T-LMB
Courtesy of Amazon

The open road carries a whole host of hazards when you’re driving a big rig of an RV or dragging your camper or rec vehicle behind you on a trailer. No tight turns, please, and definitely no cobblestones. But other factors are equally important to avoid, including streets that restrict U-turns or are dodgy and unpaved. The Roadmate RV9365T-LMB lets you program your vehicle’s dimensions into the device, along with other driver preferences, and then plots a route that caters to those considerations.

The Magellan Roadmate also comes pre-loaded with a Good Sam RV Travel Guide and Campground Directory (including info on each site like whether they have Wi-Fi or are pet-friendly), along with a list of RV Sani-Dump Station Locations. The 7-inch touchscreen adjusts for day or night viewing, and works with real-time traffic updates to dodge delays, and includes other navigation tips like nearby gas stations, traffic cam alerts, lane-assist guidance, and a personalized favorites menu. Map updates are good for the life of the device, and it also tracks your speed as well as the speed limit.

Best for Recording Footage: Garmin Dash Cam 65W

Get into one controversial accident and you’ll understand the implicit value of reliable evidence to help support your side of the story. While the Dash Cam 65W is GPS-enabled, it’s not focused on navigation. Instead, this device lets you capture 1080p-resolution video footage with 180-degree coverage via voice command. It’ll also automatically save footage on impact thanks to GPS-enabled Incident Detection, which captures both the when and the where of what happened to supplement the video.

The Garmin Dash cam also delivers useful navigation alerts like forward-collision and lane-departure warnings and notifications on red-light and speed cameras. It's not all about bad news, though; the device offers fun ways to capture the highlights of a stellar road trip. Simply command the device to take a photo, record video or audio, or activate the Travelapse feature, which condenses hours of driving into a minutes-long stream of the road trip highlights. Naturally, it syncs with your smartphone thanks to built-in WiFi, so you can wirelessly add videos to your device after downloading the VIRB Mobile app, making it easy to share footage with friends, family, insurance companies, and legal authorities.

Our Process 

Our writers spent 5 hours researching the most popular GPS systems on the market. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 12 different GPS systems, screened options from 5 different brands and manufacturers, read more than 10 user reviews (both positive and negative), and tested 1 of the GPS systems themselves. All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.