Portable navigation companies are fast becoming original equipment suppliers, providing software and/or hardware to car companies looking to offer contemporary route guidance at an attainable price. Subaru is now offering integrated TomTom navigation devices on the Forester and Impreza. This strategy hands navigation development to an industry expert, leaving Subaru to design in a cradle, power supply, and audio system connections. In the end, the customer benefits from a modern navigator at a price well below those of typical, in-dash systems.
Given the long, multi-year development cycles that cars have, an automaker would be challenged to keep up with the pace of the GPS market, where a new generation product is introduced about every six months. In fact, even though it went on sale this fall, the TomTom Go 720 that is the basis for this system could be considered two generations old, with a newer Go 730 taking its place and the impressive Go 2405 taking over as the latest flagship portable navigator. Both devices retail for $299. (See our GPS ratings and buying advice.)
The integrated, 4.3-inch TomTom unit routes audio through the car speakers, and it mutes the stereo system when issuing navigation guidance. Plus, it adds Bluetooth connectivity and audio input. It remains a portable, removable unit, and with an available mount and power cord, the TomTom device could be used in another car. However, it cannot be readily replaced in the vehicle with a newer TomTom device down the road. Due to the design, a replacement would likely include the double-DIN cradle, as well.
Subaru is not the first to explore this strategy. Toyota offered a 4Runner with similar integration, and Suzuki offers a flip-up Garmin in the SX4. We wouldn't be surprised to see this trend continue, and our talks with major navigations providers suggest it will.
I continue to hope for a time when units can be easily traded out. As we have seen in our testing, GPS technology moves so quickly, that after two to three years, there can be real benefits to trading up to a new device. Given that new cars are typically owned for five years, and for many households, much longer, it would be a nice advantage to be able to swap in the latest device midlife.