Up Close: Hyundai's New Navigation System

Hyundai is clearly late to the navigation game. As recently as 2007, top-of-the-line models like the Veracruz and Azera didn't have any system, while competitors offered it all the way down to their compact cars. That's changed: The Veracruz, Santa Fe and Azera offer navigation for 2008, the all new Genesis sedan has a different high-end system entirely while the restyled 2009 Sonata debuting at the Chicago Auto Show features Hyundai's all-new proprietary system.

The Sonata's navigation system is the real deal. I spent some quality with a fully operative unit and here's what I learned.

The unit sits high in the Sonata's dash on a 6.5-inch screen — not as big as the 8-inch screen in the Accord, but competitive with most others. The graphics are first-rate, with clear labels for streets and landmarks, though individual buildings aren't outlined, as they are on Toyota's navigation system. Hyundai put a premium on usability, and it shows: There's a POI button on the main map to bring up points of interest, and under the Setup display there's a full help menu with descriptions of each button. Should you need to find an intersection, the system allows you to input the city it's in. That's helpful. I've used systems without a city input, and if you can't remember the exact name of each street (boulevard, lane or avenue?) you can get stuck with every 3rd and Main from here to Cleveland.

The system uses a touch-screen, and it's pretty adept at figuring out what you're trying to do. I wish Hyundai had placed a few more shortcut buttons along the side, though. Honda is a champion of this, as most of its navigation systems employ a joystick to scroll the map. The Sonata's system works like most others, so you have to hold your finger on the map to move around. Sigh.

On the audio menus, the radio presets display their stations, so instead of 1 through 6 you have 93.1, 104.3, etc. That's nice, especially if you forget your presets like I do. On satellite radio, you can punch in exactly which station you want with a number pad instead of having to browse a list of 100-plus channels. (If you prefer, you can do that, too.)

Unfortunately, Hyundai doesn't break out the radio presets onto hard buttons above or below the screen, so setting a station requires holding your finger down on the on-screen button. Other systems that do this prove especially vexing - if you're driving and hit a bump, you're back to whatever old station was there.

All told, this isn't a bad start. I'm looking forward to seeing how well the system routes us around Chicago. Some of my favorite ones have become hopelessly befuddled with foul weather or tricky one-way roads — and if the system can't get you where you need to go, all those tidy graphics start to look a lot less friendly.

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