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.
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.
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.
If you're considering this product because you often find yourself in the wrong gear, may we recommend you do what our driving
instructors told us years ago: drive the car in as high a
gear as possible, selecting a slightly lower gear when it feels like
you're about to stall.
The Econav has another interesting trick up its sleeve. 'Less Points Less Fines Technology' (shouldn't that be 'Fewer Points, Fewer Fines'?) promises to reduce the number of speeding tickets you get by informing you about excess speed.
Unfortuntely, it has many of the same shortcomings as the eco mode. The system is extremely basic, triggering a verbal warning of whatever speed limit you're breaking, how many points you're susceptible to and how big a fine you could receive. It's an interesting and (for the first few minutes) useful feature, but if you're the sort of person who thinks nothing of doing 32mph in a 30mph zone (you absolute nutter), this is a feature that will probably enrage you.
The Econav has a raft of gimmicks, but there's a sat-nav in there somewhere, and though it's fairly basic, it isn't too bad. It's easy to use and supports full seven-digit postcode entry, which guides you more accurately to your destination and reduces the need to enter lengthy street names.
It's not without its faults though -- the annoying voice commands that plague the eco mode and 'Less Points Less Fines' feature haunt the navigation section, too. When asking the driver to turn left at a roundabout with three or more exits, for example, the unit will say "go straight over the roundabout and take the first exit" -- even though going straight over and taking the first exit is a complete oxymoron.
The same goes for taking the third, fourth or even fifth roundabout exits. The unit will always tell you to go straight over before giving you the exit number -- except when you're legitimately supposed to go straight over, in which case it'll say "go straight over". So at least it's right some of the time.
The Econav 480's bonus features should have given it the edge over its rivals. Sadly, these features are either so flawed, so basic or so annoying that the Econav is best used as a pure (albeit fairly average) guidance tool.
Edited by Emma Bayly