Citroen Dispatch Technology Focus Review
|Facts At A Glance|
GROSS VEHICLEWEIGHT: 2,963kg
CitroenDispatch- Technology Focus
Citroen’smarketing department pulled off a bit of a coup in getting SmartNavsatellite navigation included as standard on their Dispatch van but howgood is it?
There was a time when any reviewof the technological features contained within a panel van would haverun out of subject matter soon after examining the electric motor thatdrove the windscreen wipers and the hinge that stopped the sun visorfrom falling off. Today, it’s a different story with top commercialvehicles sporting all manner of gadgetry as a matter of course.Citroen’s Dispatch is one of the most tech-laden vans on the market andour long term test of one provided a golden opportunity for us to get abit nerdy with its two, count ‘em, satellite navigation systems.
Satellitenavigation is the automotive gadget of the moment. The technology thathas promised to consign the nation’s tatty road atlases to history andeliminate the in-car inter-spouse argument is proliferating at adramatic rate but of all the vehicles we’ve tested, from tiny citycarsto luxury saloons, the Citroen Dispatch was the first to arrive withtwo satellite navigation systems installed. Yes, that’s right, it’s gottwo sat nav setups and it’s a van.
Thereason for this slightly odd specification can be traced to the link-upbetween Citroen commercial vehicles and TrafficMaster. The deal is thatall Citroen Dispatch Vans have TrafficMaster’s SmartNav as standard butCitroen also offer an integrated map screen sat nav system as anoption. Our Dispatch had the optional arrangement installed but as theSmartNav system comes free, it had been chucked in anyway.
"SmartNavis more than a standard satellite navigation package"
Thisquirk of fate presented the perfect opportunity to assess botharrangements side by side. It isn’t just the cost that separates thembut as ever, it is a crucial factor. Where SmartNav comes as standardwith the Dispatch in a package that includes a three-year subscriptionto the navigation service and to the stolen vehicle tracking service,the optional system comes at a premium of just over £1,000. This is thepoint where fleet managers nationwide form a distinct bias towardsSmartNav.
Thereason why the Dispatch is able to bring us the SmartNav system asstandard is that SmartNav isn’t your average satellite navigationsystem. In the small blue touch screen mounted on the top righthandcorner of the Dispatch fascia what you have is a real time interfacewith the TrafficMaster control centre. You programme in yourdestination as you would with an integrated system then SmartNavconnects to the remote TrafficMaster computer which supplies the route.This enables the TrafficMaster to incorporate real time traffic updatesusing information gleaned from the average speeds of SmartNav users asthey traverse different sections of the road network. The dispatchpackage includes a 3-month subscription to this service which advisesyou of delays and gives you the option of re-routing to avoid them.
SmartNavis more future proof than most of its rival products as the softwarecan be upgraded remotely by TrafficMaster. The screen is the onlyon-board component acting as a link to the mapping and processingcomputers back at TrafficMaster HQ. The lack of any expensive on-boardcomputers or mapping CDs also helps to keep the costs down and meansthat fleet operators are not forced to invest in expensive on-boardtechnology that isn’t valued highly by the used market. The questionis, how well does it work?
Citroen’sNaviDrive on-board system provides the competition in our Dispatch andthere’s no doubt that its large full-colour map screen is easier tofollow than the SmartNav’s small monotone display. It offers individualgraphics to indicate the direction to turn or the correct exit take offroundabouts but you’re largely reliant on the voiced instructions. Onedrawback to NaviDrive is that the mapping CD has to be inserted in theCD player in the Dispatch for the system to work. Navigating withNaviDrive and listening to your favourite music is not an option.
WhereSmartNav excels, it in its use of live traffic updates. TrafficMastermonitors average speeds across the entire UK road network and candetect delays feeding the information back to its customers. When adelay is detected on your route and there’s a faster alternative, theSmartNav system offers to recalculate to avoid it. This has thepotential to save businesses significant amounts of time but we foundthat it’s also handy when you’re stuck in traffic. SmartNav constantlyadjusts your ETA based on the road conditions ahead so you always knowroughly how much longer the journey is going to take. This can bebrutally depressing when your arrival time spirals out of control asyou sit motionless staring at the rows of brake lights snaking off intothe distance but at least you know.
SmartNavis less effective when it comes to dealing with human error. Take awrong turn and the system can become flummoxed, clamming up completelywhile it connects to headquarters to re-programme the route. It usuallysorts itself out again in time but without a map screen showing you howto get back on track, you’re forced to wait while it gets its acttogether which isn’t always convenient.
Inthe final toss-up between SmartNav and the integrated NaviDrive systema number of factors must be considered. If it comes down to the basicact of route guidance, that is getting drivers to destinations in thesimplest way possible. The NaviDrive system with its large map screenand button operated control interface, just about shades it. TheSmartNav option takes a bit too long to react when you foul up itsroute with a wrong turning and it lacks a map of any kind, although thetouch screen controls are reasonably intuitive.
Thisisn’t the whole story though. SmartNav offers a whole extra dimensionwith its real time traffic updates and its ability to steer you aroundthe worst hold ups. It also warns you when you’re approaching a fixedposition speed camera at a speed in-excess of the limit and it has theintegrated Trackstar stolen vehicle tracking system. SmartNav is morethan a standard satellite navigation package and it’s free with theDispatch. Although we can see the logic in some operators paying the£1,000 premium of the NaviDrive system that covers the basics better,SmartNav does a decent job for a lot less.
Youget three years’ use of the navigation and tracking services withSmartNav but the standard package on the Dispatch only includes threemonths of live traffic updates and one month of speed camera alerts.Having tried them, we think most owners will want to continue thesubscription once the initial period has expired. They’re what setSmartNav apart.