navigation panel
Sophie's navigation panel

No, I will NOT make a legal U-turn!

| I generally love the navigation system in my Prius.

Generally. As a rule. Usually. If I don't know at all where I am going, it is terrific. Just put in the destination and listen and watch carefully as Sophie recites directions. She will get me there.

Even when I do know where I am going on a long trip I prefer to use the navigation system because it lets me know how far to the next turn or exit, how many lanes are in the exit ramp, whether it is a right or left exit, and so on. This takes away a lot of the stress and lets me pay attention to what really counts: staying clear of horrible drivers.

There are also times when I absolutely loathe the damn thing. She can be very trying, indeed. My trip to Twain Harte last week is a prime illustration of what makes the system so unbearably frustrating.

Compare two mapping systems

Route by Google maps
Route drawn by Google Maps, exactly how I wanted to go

On Google maps, I simply entered my destination address in Twain Harte, selected my starting address (for this you can simply type in "home"), and voila! Google drew exactly the route I had in mind, plus an alternative. I printed out the turn-by-turn instructions, which would take me west on I-10 then angle up through Palmdale and eventually join CA-99 for the bulk of the trip.

On Sophie's navigation system, I simply entered my destination address in Twain Harte, and voila! Sophie determined that I should drive to Los Angeles and take the I-5 nearly to Sacramento before turning east to Twain Harte. I set about trying to make her choose the route I preferred to follow, namely the one generated by Google maps.

You can customize the route created by the Toyota system by entering intermediate destinations that force it to recalculate the route more to your liking. And if you are artful in choosing the intermediate destination, you may only have to enter one. But therein lies the rub: the system offers several ways to enter a destination, and in one way or another, all of these ways are difficult or impossible to use.

Address. Number, street, and, if necessary, city. Easy enough, except that the system often replies, "That number does not exist on that street." A helpful response would be, "Here are the numbers that do exist" and you could pick a number close to the number you know. But no, you have to backspace out the name of the street, go back to the number and guess again, then go back to street and see if that guess will be accepted.

Point of interest. Let's say you want to go to Macy's or the Grand Canyon. You can select from a list or key in the name of the place, and the system will respond with a list from which you can pick. Terrific. I used that all the time last summer on my road trip. But that only works for places with wide name recognition.

Map coordinates. If you know them, you can put in the latitude and longitude of the place you want to go to and the system will locate it precisely. Good luck on knowing the latitude and longitude of that intersection in the Mojave desert.

Map. If you can find the place on the system map, you can select it as a destination. But the screen is about 4 inches by 6 inches. When you zoom out to get a big-picture view, all the smaller roads disappear along with the names of things. Not helpful. If you zoom in to reveal enough detail, you can't see enough to know where you really are on the map. And moving about the map by touching compass arrows superimposed on the screen is tedious to the max.

Intersection. This is the method I would most like to use if it actually worked. You can enter a destination as the intersection of two roads. I often think of a route in just those terms: I-10 to I-210 to ... etc. Except. After you put in the first road, it probably won't show the intersection you want! For example, I wanted to take CA-138 to Palmdale and then join CA-14 north to join CA-58 to Bakersfield. The system recognized CA-138 but did not show an intersection with CA-14. It recognizes that intersection only if you enter CA-138 as "Pearblossom Road." Similarly, CA-58 must be entered as "Bakersfield-Barstow Hwy" to intersect with CA-14.

Now, it so happens that CA-14 branches left and right so that it intersects twice with CA-58. By happenstance I picked the wrong branch. As I was driving I immediately saw that I needed to go straight and not take the branch. But Sophie insisted that because she had been given the other intersection as a destination I must go through that intersection. Fifty miles along the road she was still trying to get me to "make a legal U-turn" and go back so I could touch up with that intersection. There was nothing for it but to pull to the side near Tehachapi and delete the offending destination from the route. Sophie then happily directed me along CA-58 to Bakersfield and CA-99 north.

To make a long story shorter, while it had taken me about a minute to have Google Maps generate and print out the route I wanted, it took me close to an hour to convince Sophie to create a reasonable approximation of that route. All the more frustrating because, except for the bits to get off the 99 freeway in Merced and wend my way across the hills, I already knew the route well enough anyway.

On the other hand, when I arrived at Twain Harte, Sophie was able to guide me flawlessly through the maze of twisty back streets directly to the house, whereat she announced "You have arrived at your destination." Good girl.

Coming back

Exit and then left turn
"Exit and then left turn"

For the return trip, I decided to just take the easy way out: I simply told Sophie, "Go home." My plan was to just make the necessary turns for my customary route and let Sophie do her recalculating thing. When I turned from CA-108 to La Grange Road, she immediately complied by recalculating for the exact route I wanted: "Continue on the current road." And when I arrived in Merced, she directed me onto CA-99 south without hesitation or quarrel.

All was well until I made the turn from CA-99 to CA-58 to cross the high desert. For the entire distance from Bakersfield to Tehachapi, some 40 miles, she kept trying to make me "make a legal U-turn" or take "exit <number> on the right , and then left turn."

After Tehachapi, she finally relented and recalculated a route that would take me south on US-395. All fine and good, except I had no intention of taking US-395 in the first place, and in the second place it is under construction and signs told me to take an alternate route.

Then when I passed up the intersection with US-395 Sophie again made a scene. It was only when I was on my way to Lucerne and ultimately Yucca Valley on CA-247 that she stopped with the caterwauling and nagging about U-turns and multiple left turns.

And another thing

The Toyota navigation system by default shows how long it will take to reach your destination. But there is an option to change from "time to destination" to "arrival time" — which it shows in EASTERN time! Like I really need to know that I will arrive home at 11:38pm eastern time.

Think about it. The car knows what time it is, albeit the time in New York. Also, it knows the time independent of the clock in the dashboard. Furthermore, it has a GPS so it knows your exact location on the face of the earth at all times. But it can't adjust for the time zone you are actually in?!?!

And by the way, since it knows these things, why does it not automatically set the clock?

Last updated on Apr 29, 2016

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