If you don't care about a lot of fancy frills, the Garmin nuvi 42 is the car GPS for you. It navigates reliably, speaks directions aloud and even includes lane assist (to hold your hand through tricky interchanges) -- yet it's still one of the cheapest GPS navigators you can buy. Consider step-up models with free map updates, though.
Rock-solid navigation. This is a dependable navigator, experts say. You can rely on it to get you from Point A to Point B (adding a stop in between, if you like), and it feels a little speedier than previous budget Garmins. Lane assist is a big help in tests: The nuvi 42 guides you to the proper lane at an exit, with junction view showing you the road signs to follow. One drawback: The nuvi 42 charges $50 per map update. For just a little bump in price, the Garmin nuvi 42LM (Est. $130) adds free map updates. For Alaska and Canada maps, step up to the Garmin nuvi 44 (Est. $125) or Garmin nuvi 44LM (Est. $150) .
Basic features -- but no traffic. To cut costs, the nuvi 42 cuts a lot of extras. Traffic alerts are absent, and you can't add them in this Essential series (step up to the four-digit nuvi Advanced series for that). There's no Bluetooth, no trip planner, no exit services (to tell you what's available at the next exit), and you can't save routes. You can't automatically sort multiple destinations into one efficient route, either. The nuvi 42 does have a route avoidance feature (avoid tolls, etc.). It accepts custom points of interest. It also displays your speed, the speed limit and your arrival time as you navigate.
No voice commands. The nuvi 42 has a 4.3-inch color touch screen. It speaks directions, but you can't command it with your voice -- a helpful feature you'll find on pricier GPS navigators like the Garmin nuvi 2597LMT (Est. $220) that lets you keep your hands on the wheel. The nuvi 42 comes with the same suction-cup windshield mount as the more expensive nuvi 2597LMT. It uses a plastic locking ring -- easy to operate one-handed, as GPSTracklog.com's Rich Owings demonstrates in a video -- and the power cord plugs into the navigator itself.
Best bet for a good, cheap GPS for your car. The Garmin nuvi 42 covers all of the basics, with none of the frills. Lifetime maps are a smart upgrade, though, for just $20 extra on the Garmin nuvi 42LM.
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Editors here test the Garmin nuvi 44LM (which adds Canada and lifetime map updates to the nuvi 42). They rate its ease of use, routing, info for driver, mount design, display and traffic interface, before ranking it alongside other car GPS navigators. A short write-up lists the model's pros and cons.
Review: Garmin nuvi 44LM, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, Not Dated
2. GPS Tracklog
The Garmin nuvi 42 is "highly recommended" after Owings' test. It's basic, but it includes the features most people need. In fact, the free-map-update version (the nuvi 42LM) is one of Owings' top picks.
Review: Garmin nuvi 42, Rich Owings, April 1, 2013
A customer favorite here, the Garmin nuvi 42 earns a rating of 4.3 stars out of 5 (some of the more than 170 reviews are for the nuvi 42LM model with lifetime maps, or the nuvi 44 with Canada maps). Owners like its reliable performance and low price.
Review: Garmin nuvi 42 4.3-Inch Portable Vehicle GPS (US), Contributors to Amazon.com, As of October 2013
Owners here rave about the Garmin nuvi 42, too -- 4.3 stars, on average, following about 30 reviews. A couple of owners got dud models, but most are very pleased with this cheap car GPS model's strong performance.
Review: Garmin - nuvi 42 Essential Series 4.3" GPS, Contributors to BestBuy.com, As of October 2013