How to hack your car

Since Henry Ford first produced the Model T, personalised motorised transport has been a world-changing technology. In recent times, however, it’s lagged behind the machines we have on our desks and in our bags and pockets.

That’s beginning to change. The latest versions of BMW’s iDrive, Audi’s MMI and Mercedes’ Comand APS systems are building voice controls, apps and even 4G into vehicles. And it isn’t just the premium marques, either. Earlier this year, Ford announced Spotify support in its EcoSport compact MPV.

The trouble is, most cars on the road aren’t new. They’re secondhand, reasonably priced automobiles. The closest most of these cars will have come to a computer is having a laptop slung in the boot.

But it shouldn’t be this way. Computers are everywhere – and they’re cheap. To prove it, reviews editor Jonathan Bray upgraded his gold, 2008 Citroën Berlingo XTR with the latest, greatest tech.

Head-up display

Equipment used

Garmin Head-Up Display
Price: £122 (£146 inc VAT), including Garmin satnav app)

We started with satnavs, but we wanted to do more than mount a smartphone on a windscreen bracket or purchase a TomTom Go 500 – we wanted a head-up display (HUD). Handily, Garmin has recently launched its very own retro-fit HUD device.

An HUD projects turn-by-turn instructions and other data onto the windscreen. Driving with a unit mounted on the dash has a few key benefits.

head-up display

For one, it offers an unobscured view of the road ahead. Even the display area is transparent, and since you’re looking at a reflection in the windscreen, rather than an LCD screen, your eyes have less refocusing to do, which makes them less tired.


Installation isn’t as much of a hack as you may think. The device sticks to the top of the dashboard, and you apply a small, reflective square of transparent plastic film to the windscreen to reflect the instructions without ghosting.

The HUD comes with an integral plastic reflector for those who don’t want to stick something permanent to the windscreen.

To get it going, we paired an iPhone 5s with the HUD over Bluetooth, installed the Garmin satnav app, and plugged the unit into a cigarette-lighter power outlet. It took time to get used to having turn icons on the windscreen, coupled with the audio instructions from the phone, but otherwise it worked flawlessly, and the display was viewable in all conditions.


There are a few problems. First, you can only use Garmin or Navigon satnav software with the HUD. These work well enough, but we prefer TomTom and CoPilot. Second, the apps cost extra; we’d have hoped the software would have been included.


If you’re feeling flush, Pioneer’s £600 NavGate HUD offers a much richer, full-colour display; hooks up to the driver’s sunvisor to deliver a larger display area than the Garmin; and pairs with our preferred satnav app, CoPilot.

You don’t have to spend hundreds to get a head-up display. The effect can be achieved on the cheap via a dedicated smartphone app. Sygic sells a HUD plugin as an extension to its excellent satnav app – just place your phone screen-side-up on the dashboard.

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