The VIA 52 is a new mid-range satnav from TomTom. The company’s model options have become a little confusing of late, with the GO brand expanding across a wider array of prices. But the Start brand is making a comeback, and the entry-level GO 51 – which arrived earlier in 2016 – is already seemingly on its way out, with the VIA returning to replace it.
Perhaps the reason for TomTom to resuscitate the Start and VIA is to make a clearer distinction between the entry-level and mid-range models, while keeping GO for the premium end of the market. Two of the key differences with the VIA and the remaining GO models is that it comes with an integrated mount, as does the Start.
Related: Best Satnavs to Buy
The GOs use a magnetic mount with integrated power, so you can clip the satnav in and out very quickly while leaving the mount in the car. The VIA, like a snail, carries its mount with it always, which means you have to re-attach this to the windscreen every time you want to use it.
On the plus side, this is quite handy when you’re travelling abroad with a hire car, since the whole package is less bulky and easier to pack in your hand luggage, or even a pocket during transit. It can also be reversed easily so that the satnav can hang down from the top of your windscreen, rather than stick up from the bottom.
The other key difference is the screen. While the remaining GOs use multi-touch-capable capacitive screens with 800 x 480 pixels, the VIA uses a cheaper resistive screen with just 480 x 272 pixels. In practice, the display isn't as responsive as a capacitive one, and it's also harder to see in bright light. But it keeps the costs down.
The version of the VIA 52 I was sent included UK and Republic of Ireland maps only, but it can be purchased for a tenner more to include Western European maps as well. The latter appears to be a better deal, particularly considering that the maps come with a lifetime subscription to updates.
A physical improvement of the VIA 52 over the GO 51 is that it now includes 16GB of memory, as well as a microSD slot. The 8GB allocation of earlier models was becoming a little tight, considering that new maps are almost always bigger than the previous versions – and particularly if you want to add another region when travelling abroad. The 16GB quantity should be ample for adding future maps.
The VIA’s main menu system is the now-familiar single ribbon of icons, with the most useful ones on the first page – so scrolling won’t be necessary all the time. When scrolling is required, arrows are used rather than finger gestures, because the resistive screen doesn’t support the latter.
The menu ribbon provides a universal keyword search that operates across both the address and Points of Interest (POI) databases. You can set up a home location for single-click navigation, and optionally a work location too. On the second page you'll find access to a list of favourites, plus direct access to Parking and Petrol Station POIs, and a route planner.
The VIA 52 also incorporates TomTom’s voice-command system, which is very effective. A predefined phrase is used to activate the system, which can be customised, and then further keywords provide access to the main menu functions. The system works pretty well, and is useful if you need to enter a destination while driving, without taking your hands off the wheel.
There's no major difference in the navigational experience from the past few TomTom generations. One area that has been cleared up is the way alternative routes discovered during driving are displayed. Previously, if a faster route was found, this would be indicated on the right-hand bar and map screen; now, the alternative turning is also shown at the top of the display as you approach.
This is a welcome tweak, since it was easy to miss the better route suggestion in early versions of TomTom’s interface. The main reason for suggesting a new route will be changing traffic conditions, because the VIA 52 does come with a lifetime subscription to TomTom’s traffic services. However, you have to pair your phone using Bluetooth and use its data connection to deliver this.
The end result is pretty much the same experience as with the TomTom satnavs that have their own mobile data connection built in, such as the GO 5100 World. As I’ve argued many times before, TomTom retains the crown for most effective traffic service, with greatest accuracy and most real-time updates. So if you regularly drive during rush-hour conditions, it’s a very attractive feature.
Once the satnav has a data connection, which I found also required my iPhone to have Personal Hotspot enabled, it’s also possible to use the MyDrive website or smartphone app with your live services login to send destinations and routes to the VIA 52 – handy if you’re planning a trip with multiple waypoints. This will be easier to set up using a desktop or smartphone interface than the satnav itself.
The final live-enabled service is speed-camera locations. This includes an excellent indication of average speed cameras, where your actual average speed between each checkpoint camera is calculated. However, this is one service that doesn’t come with a lifetime subscription. Instead, only three months are included, after which it costs £19.99 a year to keep the database up to date.
The TomTom VIA 52 is an incremental improvement over the GO 51 that it partially replaces. If you own any TomTom or Garmin satnav from the past generation or so, with lifetime map updates, safety cameras and traffic, the VIA 52 isn’t a worthwhile upgrade.
However, if your satnav is getting on a bit – which means more than three years old, or purchased before the lifetime deals began to appear – and you’re looking for a price-conscious upgrade, this makes a decent budget choice.
Note that the version with Western European maps is the better value than the UK and ROI version I was using for this review.
Related: Best Dash Cams to Buy
The TomTom VIA 52 is a capable satnav, although you need a smartphone for the traffic service and the European maps version is the best option.