Shopping: Hard to keep your eyes on the road

A tour of the CD players, navigation systems and even TVs you'll wish you had when stuck in the Easter gridlock.
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The Independent Culture
There's Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and Father's Day. Why isn't there an annual holiday when we all get our elbows greased with Turtle Wax and pay homage to the most overlooked member of the family: the motor- in-law?

Is it because Halford's isn't as media savvy as Cadbury's? Or is it because, deep down, we all recognise that there is a universal truth: modern cars are rubbish?

Now Max Power readers can blow cash on Oz Polaris alloy wheels and designer gear knobs until the cows come home, but they might as well hang fluffy dice from their chrome-plated rear-view mirrors for all the good it will do them.

No amount of cosmetic surgery can disguise the fact that beneath the trimmings they are in possession of the automobile equivalent of bull mastiffs: fierce, plug-ugly, little monsters with large growls but no balls. Fiat Puntos, Honda Civics, Citroen AXs, and their ilk don't deserve an occasional car-wash, let alone a perennial treat.

You, however, do. It's something of a paradox that people who would happily spend more than a grand installing a decent hi-fi in their homes will spend more time listening to music on the cheap stereo that came fitted- as-standard with their car. To ensure that an out-of-tune DJ's whine doesn't spur you into an act of road rage with a wheel brace, perhaps it's time you considered installing the following hardware:

THE KENWOOD MIXER

Name: Kenwood In-Car Navigation System and CD Receiver

Price: pounds 2,500

Stockists: 01923 816 444

Description: If you didn't know that it was there, then you wouldn't notice it, because the brains of Kenwood's navigational system - a 2kg silver box of tricks called the KNA-V100 - is housed in the car boot. This machine uses a global-positioning system to pinpoint exactly where your car is located and guides you to any other address you wish.

The FM tuner unit is also tucked away at the back, while the user interface (the VZ907, main picture) is a secretive, pop-up, 5.8-inch wide colour screen (with CD player) located in an unmarked panel in the dashboard. An on-screen virtual keyboard allows you to punch in a specific destination, or you can use various databases to search for garages and car parks. Simply select whether you want the most direct or the speediest route and it will map it out for you, guiding you both on-screen and verbally.

Spending more than two grand on an electronic road map might seem like something of a luxury, but the navigational function is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg in terms of this gizmo's potential. The screen also acts as a control panel for the unit's built-in CD player, and you can install a video and TV tuner in your vehicle, and both watch and operate it via this screen.

Suitable for: Anyone who couldn't find a beer bottle in a brewery unaided.

Style: *****

Anything else worth recommending?

Kenwood do a number of additional, bolt-on units, including a six-disc Mini Disc Autochanger (KMD-C80, pounds 600), a 10-CD Autochanger (C907, pounds 300) and a Digital Audio Broadcast Receiver (KTC959, pounds 1,000).

TV QUICK

Name: Clarion VRX8470R

Price: pounds 1,300

Stockists: 01793 870 400

Description: Like Kenwood's system, this is an ever-pulsating brain that can be expanded with all sorts of extra accessories. Instead of using a navigational system as its centrepoint, Clarion's VRX8470R revolves around a TV/radio and a 4x30watt amplification unit. The dashboard interface (above) looks like a straightforward AM/FM radio tuner, but at the touch of a button it pops out to reveal a five-inch LCD screen and TV tuner (which stores up to 12 pre-set channels).

Suitable for: TV-addicted reps.

Style: ****

Anything else worth recommending?

If you're one of those people who never seem to be able to spot either low walls or bollards when reversing, then the Clarion Reversing Aid Camera (CC850E, pounds 350) is a vital accessory. At the flick of a switch, you can see what's behind you through the dashboard screen.

SIX APPEAL

Name: Nakamichi MB-75

Price: pounds 700

Stockists: 0181-863 9117 (from July)

Description: Multi-disc CD machines are bulky affairs usually housed in a car boot. Invariably, this inaccessibility results in you playing the same CDs for months. Nakamichi has now managed to cram a six-disc CD changer and radio receiver into a standard-sized, in-dash machine (above). What's more, the audio quality is magnificent, the styling superb (you can chose amber or green illumination) and the machine has several other neat benefits, including a removable front panel (to deter theft), anti- roll suspension, palm-sized remote, soft eject system and magnetic disc clamping. No, that's not a bulky yellow cage that a warden attaches to your stereo while you nip into the newsagent, but the way in which a CD is held in position, cutting out the vibrations that occur in units which use conventional spring systems.

Suitable for: anyone who gets bored with CDs after track three.

Style: *****

Anything else worth recommending?

If you would prefer a CD, radio and MiniDisc all in one self-contained unit, then your best bet is probably JVC's KD-MX3000RB (0181-208 7654, pounds 550). Its neat gimmick is Cruise, a system by which the volume increases the faster you drive.

AMPLIFICATION AND SPEAKERS

Name: Phoenix Gold QX2100 amplifiers and JL Audio 10W0-8 10-inch subwoofers

Price: pounds 160 and pounds 115 each, respectively

Stockists: 0181-863 9117

Description: Boring but essential parts for your block-rocking beats. Both amplifiers and speakers are available in a mind-numbing range of sizes and strengths. The silver powder-polished QX2100s (above) are capable of handling most drivers' audio requirements; the 10W0-8 speakers look unremarkable but boast VRC technology, a system which apparently locks the critical joint between the spider, cone and voice coil. None the wiser? Don't worry, you only have to listen to them, not talk about them.

Suitable for: people with ears on the sides of their heads.

Style: ****

Anything else worth recommending?

If you want something more flamboyant, though, invest in Soundstream's Da Vinci, a seven-channel amp (0181-863 9117, pounds 2,700, above). With the sort of taste that would appeal to the Sultan of Brunei, the Da Vinci is a humungous, 24-carat gold-plated box with a cut-out of Leonardo's Proportions of the Human Figure, tastefully backlit by a scarlet light. Nice.

Shaun Phillips is deputy editor of `ZM' magazine

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