Vexia’s Econav is a sat-nav that adds a novel angle to standard navigation functions, cleverly combining GPS data with an integrated vehicle database to try to help you drive more economically. We were a bit sceptical at first, but although we still have a few reservations we eventually had to admit that it’s not a completely mad idea.
It has a 3.5-inch screen, measures 73 x 97 x 13mm and weighs just 112g, making it shirt-pocket size. The OS is Windows Embedded CE 6.0, powered by a 500MHz dual-core processor. A Sirf Atlas IV GPS chip does the navigation grunt work, and we found battery life to be around 2 hours in normal use. Mapping is from Tele Atlas.
In the box there’s a suction mount, car charger and USB charging cable plus a small and rather badly-produced user manual (quick guides are available on the unit itself). There’s a single power button on the top of the unit, with mini-USB and micro-SD card slots at the side. On the back is the surprisingly loud speaker, reset button and an ambient light sensor to control backlight brightness.
You can select your car from the database, which contains around 11,000 models (2001 onwards) from over 70 manufacturers, or create a custom entry; the details required include gearbox type, number of gears, fuel type and body style (saloon, sports, van, SUV and so on).
On the road there are three operating modes: standard navigation, navigation with basic Econav functions or full-screen Econav mode. Let’s explain the Econav bit first. This calculates speed, acceleration and gradient information (inclines up to 3 percent) and tells you (audibly and visually) which gear you should select for optimum economy.
Heavy acceleration and braking are flagged by warning icons. Speed limits are displayed and ‘Ecolights’ – a coloured band below the gear indicator – show whether your speed is economical for the gear you’re in. It even tells you how far from the car in front you should be for safety. A reporting function keeps tally of your driving efficiency on all your trips.
It’s important to realise it has no idea of corners, traffic lights or any other obstacles or road conditions, so you still need to use your judgement. If you use the mixed Econav/navigation mode you only get small visual prompts on a sidebar at the right of the map; if you have no route set you also get gear-change voice prompts.
Our biggest reservation is that all the visual information can be too distracting: you really shouldn’t be looking at a screen this cluttered while driving. Audible prompts or tones for everything would be a better option. And although there’s a night-time colour palette for maps, inexplicably this doesn’t extend to the Econav screen.
On a 15-mile test run on A-roads we were pleasantly surprised to find a 5 percent improvement in fuel consumption and a 2mph increase in average speed. However, any improvements will depend entirely on your normal driving style: Vexia claims 15-40 percent savings are possible.
As a sat-nav, the Econav 380 is perfectly acceptable, with a decent mid-range set of features for the price, including full postcode entry, lane assist and road sign display, but with the surprising omission of TMC traffic capability, something you would have thought essential for the most economical journeys. Text-to-speech for road names is also lacking.
The menu is easy to navigate and the touch screen bright and responsive. Re-routing is extremely fast. Speed camera information is included but updates to this will cost extra: pricing was unavailable at the time of writing. UK and Ireland or full Western European versions of the Econav 380 are available.