Review: Pioneer's AVIC-Z1 car GPS system gets you where you need to go

It's been said that the journey is as important as the actual destination, and this is very true… except when you're lost, running late, or far from home. Sure, you could go and ask for directions, but that seems so 19th century. There is also something with the male gene that keeps guys from asking for directions, but fortunately that gene also includes a love of gadgets, and just as often the need to upgrade our cars. Thus it seems like fate that the Pioneer AVIC-Z1 would arrive to help us find the way.

This all-in-one navigation system utilizes a 30-GB hard drive and provides detailed directions, voice guidance, and voice recognition. The system is compatible with cell phones via Bluetooth and even works with iPods. Of course, there's the usual DVD/CD/AM/FM/satellite radio (with subscription) goodies, too. All this comes at a price, and saying the AVIC-Z1 is no small investment is an understatement. The $2,250 price tag is a princely sum, but can you really put a price on directions fit for a king?

Drive On
In my test drive around the New York City, the AVIC-Z1 showed its stuff. Most impressively, it does offer real-time traffic updates of the area's major highways. Traffic is shown in green for light, yellow for congested, and red for standstill (or something along those lines). These real-time updates are part of the XM NavTraffic Service, and a subscription (on top of the already hefty price) is required, but if you're commuting on major roads, or doing a lot of urban highway driving it is probably worth it.

This is because the AVIC-Z1 has a few advanced features that many GPS devices simply don't offer. The most impressive is the smart routing algorithm, which takes road data into account, figuring out the best routes based on speed limits and the number of turns. The Pioneer also offers up to six unique routes. In our tests this was good, but some of the routes really took us out of the way and were far from the most direct. But the system also has a learning capability, keeping track of the roads most frequently traveled, and will take this into account when compiling future directions.

The visual directions are straightforward, and multiple views are provided to get you from point A to point Z. Some of the views are less useful however, but at least the system gives you a bunch of options. Finding directions is also easy enough, and the unit's navigation is just as intuitive. You can look up where you're going in a number of ways, and even finding directions to a hole-in-the-wall DVD store was simple enough. Locations can also be found via a point-of-interest overlay on the maps. And proving that we live in a world of chain stores and restaurants, the system uses a number of brand icons including Chili's and Olive Garden. Starbucks isn't a part of the system yet, but we can only imagine what the maps will look like once the coffee house signs up.

At the End of the Day…
The AVIC-Z1 isn't cheap, which puts the unit in a unique category. Many high-end/upscale rides come with built-in GPS devices, so you're unlikely going to want to switch units. And if you're driving around in a 1990 Saturn, the car probably isn't worth as much as this system. But if you do a lot of driving, already have the desire to listen to XM, and need directions a lot of the time then this unit might be the way to go. It won't pay for itself, however, no matter how much driving you do!