Best online route planners 2020
Weekend road trips may not be in anyone’s diary in the immediate future, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start planning for that long-awaited post-lockdown adventure in your car.
The return of people taking long drives to visit family or for seaside holidays will also mean a sharp rise in traffic, making route planning all the more vital.
Sure, you can just pack up the car and hit the motorway, but it’s probably smarter to plot your journey in advance to avoid traffic hotspots, and add in any potential stop-offs en route.
Some drivers like printed directions, too, while getting an overview of what traffic and road closures there might be on your route before you head off is useful.
These eight online route finders feature the basic A to B directions, while many add live traffic, the option to adjust your departure or arrival time, and the ability to share your map with a smartphone app.
Plus, these sites are all free to use, so you don’t have to pay for not getting lost.
First, each planner was graded for route accuracy on a drive from central London to the British Motor Museum in Warwickshire to see how it fared on a variety of roads. We rated each for ease of use, the routes offered, and whether traffic was taken into account. Printing and sharing results with an app were also taken into consideration, along with extras like fuel calculators.
Our reigning champion, Google Maps, still can’t be topped, because it combines everything you need in a route planner with a user-friendly interface. Bing Maps and Waze have made some good improvements to leapfrog onto the podium.
When somebody asks “How do I get to X?”, the answer is invariably, “Why don’t you just Google it?” – and for good reason. Google Maps is the undoubted king of the route planners, scoring impressively in every category and taking the crown for an impressive fourth time in a row. It proves exceptionally easy to use, has a wealth of options to tailor your trip, includes live traffic to adjust arrival time on each of the routes, while printing and app-sharing are intuitive. There’s also the bonus of being able to use Street View, satellite imagery and landmarks at the click of a button. A more than worthy winner again.
Since our last test, Bing Maps – Microsoft’s Google rival – has undergone a modern facelift that makes it more enjoyable to navigate. The direction and place search is very good, and the ability to add points of interest or café rest stops along the route is a match for our winner, Google Maps. The routes for our A to B journey were accurate and live traffic was clearly colour-coded on the screen. There’s a step-by-step print option, but its only downfall is having no obvious way to share your planned journey directly with a smartphone mapping app.
A long-term favourite for sat-nav apps, Waze has flattered to deceive as a web-based journey planner. However, in this latest test we were very impressed with how easy it was to use, and the varied routes it gave us to shave off a few minutes on our journey using its community-based traffic data. If you want to add points of interest or stop-offs we’d recommend others, and you can’t print turn-by-turn; but the website is now fully integrated with its award-winning app by simply using a QR code, meaning Waze has genuine use as a route planner before you set off.
Here provides sat-navs for a number of car makers and uses that data for its in-depth journey planner, Here WeGo. The interface looks more like a traditional road atlas than the more familiar and stripped-back design of Google or Bing, which has its pros and cons. At its core, Here WeGo is a reliable route planner, but it’s a little less intuitive to use than these rivals, and it only offered us one route option during our test, which was a little disappointing. Still, you can print the directions easily enough and transfer your planned route to the companion Here app.
TomTom’s online route finder is predominantly built as a companion site for those with one of the brand’s award-winning sat-navs, but it can be used as a standalone journey-planner, too. It is on par with all of the major test performers here, offering varied routes and estimated time of arrival based on an editable leaving time and live traffic. If you want a more scenic trip rather than simply sitting on a motorway, the “Thrill” route will provide you with a more exciting journey. It’s easy to print turn-by-turn directions; and, if you have a TomTom unit, you can send the directions to your in-car sat-nav at the click of a button.
Breakdowns, insurance and route planning – the AA is at the heart of British motoring. However, when rated against the technology giants in this test, it can’t keep pace for ease of use or functionality. Yes, you can plan a route from A to B easily enough with the AA’s vast database of live traffic alerts, but it feels a little disjointed, and there are too many adverts on the page, which make using it quite a tricky experience. There doesn’t appear to be the option to adjust your departure time, and you can’t share the journey with any app. However, the turn-by-turn directions are impressive for those who want a more analogue experience.
In our last test, the RAC Route Planner felt outdated next to its rivals, especially the AA’s. A new look has helped put it on a par, although it is still lacking compared to the best. The search is quite frustrating, with a poor location look-up, and you can’t alter the leaving time. However, the routes for our test were accurate and we could add traffic alerts and print instructions easily. A nice addition is the ability to calculate the cost of the journey by entering vehicle details. Just like the AA, though, there’s no app-sharing option, and the invasive adverts detract from the experience.
In our previous tests, we’ve always been fans of ViaMichelin’s fuel-cost calculator and expense receipt functionality, but criticised the messy and confusing layout. We’re delighted to see the tools are still available and the design has been slightly updated, but the many adverts make for a cluttered interface that’s not easy to use. The routes are varied and accurate, though, and feature live traffic to give you an update before you leave, plus you can adjust departure time. Instructions can be printed from the site, but there’s no option to share details with your smartphone.
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