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Pioneer's nav unit: Turn on, zoom in

Pioneer GPS on streets of San Francisco

The nice people at Pioneer just took us out for a spin on wild streets of San Francisco to try to generate some more buzz around their now 10-month-old AVIC Z-1 navigation unit. While this kind of hands-on demo would have been more useful prior to our test-bench review of the unit earlier in the year, the chance to see the touch-screen double-DIN nav system working in a real-world situation was worth the ride. Aside from its plentiful entertainment- and communications functions (10GB of hard-drive media storage, Bluetooth interface, iPod adapter, MP3- and WMA-playback, XM and Sirius Satellite Radio pre-wiring), the AVIC Z-1 does have a couple of advanced navigation features that we haven't seen anywhere else.

Most impressive was its level of map detail, which not only showed streets, points of interest (11 million in total), and real-time traffic information, but also the individual outlines of the buildings and landmarks that we were driving past. This feature is only available for 50 downtown metro areas nationwide, but it hints at the shape of the next generation of GPS maps. Also built into the based AVIC Z-1 hard-drive database are 7000 unique pictograms of freeway on- and off ramps to help drivers to make the right choice from multiple options in close proximity. The Pioneer rep did reveal that it costs a hefty $200 annually to keep the navigation database up to date (in addition to the $1600 or so that you'll drop on the unit itself), but for those who want a slice of Google Earth in their dashboard, it may be worth the cost.