The Vexia Econav 480 is a relative newcomer to the world of sat-navs. It hopes to win a few hearts and carve a niche in the market by showing drivers not only how to get from A to B, but also how to use less fuel in the process. Those with a poor sense of direction and a strong sense of ecological responsibility can pick one up for around £130.
Follow the fashion
The Vexia Econav is available in two guises -- the 380, which sports a 3.5-inch screen, and the 480, which uses a slightly larger, easier-to-read 4.3-inch display. Both models are available with either UK & Ireland or European maps on pre-installed SD memory cards.
Our test model, the Econav 480, is beautiful to look at and easy to mount thanks to its fancy twist-for-suction mounting arm. The device itself is slim, weighs almost nothing and has a gorgeous gloss-black chassis that -- in our opinion -- would make a great portable media player. Sadly, there's no media functionality, but it does boast plenty of navigation-based extras.
The Econav's claim to fame is that it can reduce fuel consumption by up to £400 and CO2 emissions by 30 per cent every year. Its methods for achieving this are rather elementary, though, and should be recognisable by anyone who's ever travelled with a nagging back-seat driver -- it annoys the hell out of you.
Once you tell it what sort of vehicle you're driving (it contains a database of 11,000 vehicles) it'll calculate how fast you're going and tell you in real time what gear you should drive in in order to use the engine more efficicently, reduce CO2 emissions and increase fuel economy.
While the idea is sound, the eco mode often seemed plain wrong in practice. While reviewing the unit, the Econav suggested we drive our 2002 Vauxhall Vectra test car at 30mph in third gear when we could have achieved better fuel economy, less engine wear and less planet pollution by doing the same speed in fourth or even fifth gear.
The same applied to other speed and gear combinations. When we followed the Econav's gear recommendations, we felt as though we were mimicking drivers who had no sense of economic driving habits, working the engine harder than was strictly necessary.
Pain in the ears
Even if they weren't wrong, the gear recommendations are exceptionally annoying. Only those with the calmest of dispositions will be able to tolerate the device hollering "one!... two!... three!... four!... five!" every time you're in motion -- particularly if those instructions lead to unnecessarily high engine revs and more fuel use.
It's possible to deactivate the audible prompts and rely only on visual cues, but if you have to take your eyes off the road to get reassurance from your sat-nav about what gear you should be in, you've got bigger problems than high fuel bills.