Garmin ecoRoute HD review
The price looks high, but this ingenious add-on could end up paying for itself
Garmin’s satnavs might not be as good as TomTom's, but their “eco” features are stronger than any other. The recently reviewed Garmin nuLink 1695 lets you enter the cost of fuel and the quoted fuel consumption of your car, and it will then estimate how efficient your driving is, even displaying a line graph of recent driving efficiency.
The information is based on acceleration and speed information from the GPS receiver, the idea being that you’ll work to improve your driving efficiency, and therefore save fuel, by trying to beat your best score.
Pure acceleration and speed data can only go so far however - to improve accuracy, Garmin offers its ecoRoute HD. By plugging this small Bluetooth module into your engine’s OBD II diagnostic port (usually found in the cockpit of your car, under a flap), the ecoRoute HD can read data directly from your car’s sensors and, among other things, tell how hard you’re pressing the accelerator.
You can check if your vehicle is compatible at Garmin's website. Most cars made after 2000 should be fine, although Renaults aren’t.
Once the dongle is paired with the satnav, two new icons appear: Gauges and Diagnostics. The first provides a virtual instrument cluster, adding five extra gauges to your dashboard. You can choose what each displays from a fairly long list, including speed, revs per minute, oil pressure, oil temperature, coolant temperature, mass air flow, fuel flow, engine load and throttle position. The list will vary depending on the data available on your particular vehicle.
In addition, to the gauges, an eco icon appears on your satnav's main navigation view, updating every second or so with your eco "score", so it's easy to keep tabs on how you're driving. The throttle position information is what’s most important here, as it enables the ecoChallenge scores to be far more accurate than using GPS alone. Without the attachment, you can get away with being heavy-footed and still appear to be driving economically. With it, you’re forced to drive with a very light right foot to get high scores.
The system can also track fuel economy. Enter your car’s details, including its fuel type, claimed fuel economy and the fuel price at the last fill-up, and the satnav will provide an estimation of how much fuel you use on each trip, how much it cost, your average miles per gallon, plus your carbon footprint.
The data is automatically displayed when you switch the engine off, but it’s also stored in a CSV file you can access when you connect the satnav to your computer. Fortunately, the module can store data even if the satnav isn’t in the car; it will then upload the trip data next time it pairs.
ecoRoute HD’s last trick is to read engine fault codes, and explain why the warning light has appeared on your dashboard. If there’s a problem, you can tap the Diagnostics menu option and the unit will show a description of the fault such as “random/multiple cylinder misfire detected”. There’s also an option to reset the light once the problem has been fixed.
It’s an impressive piece of kit, and when driving with it plugged in, we found it really did affect our driving behaviour. We found ourselves accelerating more gently and braking much further in advance of junctions and that will inevitably pay dividends with fuel costs currently so high. The only potential problem is the price, which looks high, especially when you add it to the cost of a satnav. When you consider how much you could save, however, it's a price worth paying.