Our First Fiat: Fiat 500 Sport Has Nav Only When You Need It

Sections: Infotainment, Navigation

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2013 Fiat 500 Sport Photo Shoot 031

(Lyndon Johnson photo)

In a world of $2,500 OEM nav systems, the Fiat 500 went the unconventional route by equipping a nav unit from TomTom that disappears when not needed.

I was at first taken aback at the small screen perched atop the Fiat 500 Sport’s already cozy dashboard. It had a 4.3-inch screen and sat upon a pedestal of sorts just to the right of the gauge cluster. When I started the car, the screen came alive, eventually landing on a display of the current map.

I left the screen in place for the first couple of days of my test week and put several local destinations into it during my regular travels. To its credit, it never sent me down a wrong path or a dead-end road. Also to its credit: Punching up a street address destination was as easy as texing on a touchscreen smartphone, and the screen itself could be moved on multiple axes to reduce glare or better align it with your line of sight. That’s certainly more than I can say for some vehicles’ stationary infotainment/navigation screens. The bonus here is that this added functionality comes in a nav unit that’s part of a $600 option package. That’s half what most mass-market brands charge, and less than a third what some luxury makes charge for their options packages that get you a navigation system this capable.

After those first couple of days, I decided to focus on enjoying the surprisingly well-tuned chassis and powertrain of the Fiat 500 Sport, so I removed the TomTom screen and chucked it in the glovebox, where it stayed the rest of my test week because I didn’t have any adventures on the agenda that would necessitate driving directions, unfortunately. But after the test week concluded, I did a little reading from the official TomTom press release issued when this navigation unit first started being equipped in U.S.-bound Fiat 500s. That’s where I learned:

There are a number of features designed to work when the unit is installed in the dashboard receptacle,  including a low fuel warning function, ability to control the unit from the steering wheel, and even a “dead reckoning” mode that allows the unit to continue guiding the driver even in areas of spotty GPS signal reception — something that could surely come in handy in my rural part of the country. The screen also features multi-touch gesture controls including swipe-to-scroll and pinch-to-zoom. Meanwhile, the unit’s TomTom IQ Routes calculates the best route based not just on distance or time at the posted speed limit but also on the actual historical speed of traffic along the route, taking into account the expected traffic congestion at any given time to provide a faster route other nav units might not. Finally, the unit is user-updatable by connecting it to the web.

So while I think it might not have been the most attractive navigation unit available in cars today, the TomTom Blue&Me satnav was certainly better than expected, and downright laudable for its ability to get out of the way when it’s not needed. I only wish it had the capability to pipe its voice directions through the Fiat 500’s main speakers instead of through only its own tiny speaker, which was nigh on impossible to hear when traveling at high speed with the radio turned up enough to drown out the car’s sometimes considerable road- and wind noise. Other than that, good show.

Disclosure: Fiat provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.

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