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Girl TORQUE: The brilliance that is SatNav


I reckon the satnav system is an idiot-proof invention that could even prevent divorce

I’ve grown to like satellite navigation, not because I keep getting lost, but because it’s shown me some great short cuts. But let’s face it; it’s a bit of an indulgence on home ground, especially in NZ with its relatively sparse roading network.

But try getting out of Heathrow after 29 hours of flying, and with your body clock reversed, and you’ll be sold.

My last visit to the UK netted me a Land Rover with satnav; had I not had it I think I’d still be on the same bloody roundabout outside terminal five.

So this trip, I was determined to book cars with the system fitted. Only problem is, that wasn’t possible. Hence the portable Tom Tom One140 currently stuck to the windscreen of the Citroen C3 Picasso I’m driving this week.

Now, I kind of know how these things work, triangulating their position off satellites. But these portable units are so small, it still seems like magic – and I wasn’t entirely convinced I could use the same unit that took me to Auckland airport, to get me out of Heathrow.

But you can. This one lets you download overseas maps from the internet, for a fee. And fancy voices, too. So my trial unit came with the UK loaded – plus Homer Simpson, John Cleese and a few other entertaining alternatives.

It travelled in my hand baggage and when I arrived, I switched it on, expecting a time delay before it realised it was on the other side of the planet.

Well, forget time delay. Within two minutes it was showing my location and in another, I’d changed the units from metric to imperial, and was on my way.

What was most interesting was that first car I drove – a VW Golf GTD – had its own satnav system to let me compare. And I think I prefer the portable one.

That’s not just because I’m a tourist and can use it to navigate between London’s more famous sites on foot, but because its icons are so readable.

Best of all on these multi-multi-lane motorways, as an exit approaches the map of the network ahead changes to a map of the roadway, including lanes with green arrows marking your direction. Neat.

I suspect a number of systems would do as well, of course. Though if they all offer Homer Simpson, forget it. He’s far too distracting. I much prefer Mister Cleese, who refuses to carry your bags on arrival, and who is prone to such phrases as “In half a mile, or 800 metres as we have to use metric because of that bastard Napoleon”. Keeps your passenger riveted.

I’ve never got so far, so peacefully, with a parent in the passenger seat and I’m sure these satnavs must prevent divorces. No instructions are delivered too late, and as soon as you get used to the phrases used (keep right often just means don’t take the left-hand exit lane) they’re almost idiot-proof.

Speaking of which, I’ve discovered this one’s got enough detail to take me to the Tate Modern’s main entrance, and from there to the National Portrait Gallery, without my having an address. Wonder if it can lead me to the best fashion sales?

Read previous Girl TORQUE columns here.

Jacqui Madelin is our expert car reviewer and on the board of the AA Driver Education Foundation.

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