What you see is what you get

Six of the best road maps.

With Britain's landscape in a constant state of flux, keeping up with change is a demanding task. The AA, as map publishers, employs a team of people whose job is to travel around the country and monitor all alterations, major and minor: new roads, widened carriageways, even different pub names. About 3,000 revisions are made every year to existing AA titles. Michelin, similarly, has a group of cartographers on the move - as have other map publishers.

It certainly makes sense, therefore, to buy a new atlas about once every two years. But which one to choose? Does detail impinge on clarity, are size and scale more important than quick readability? You can spend as little as pounds 1.99 and buy a pocket-size Michelin Mini-Atlas, or blow pounds 20 on a plushly-bound hardback AA atlas that is worthy of a place on a library shelf rather than the backseat of a car. Between these extremes lies a multitude of map-books. We selected six of the most widely available - in garages and bookshops - and have assessed them here (shown in 100 per cent scale), in ascending order of price.

The Sun Road Atlas Britain 1995, pounds 3.99. This is a cheap print run (slightly out of register, too) of a familiar Bartholomew atlas, itself available in hardback for pounds l2.99.

Format: Stapled, 15 x 11in, 3 miles to the inch. Green tint all over, green primary routes, blue motorways.

Ease of use: Easy to follow, pages large enough to avoid excessive turning over, presentation could be brighter, page overlaps clearly marked.

Detail: Minor road shapes are rather approximate, but tourist attractions well marked, and shows heights and woodland. No key.

Extra features: Detailed central London map, but limited area. Detailed route planning maps.

Verdict: Basic atlas at a bargain price. Flimsy feel with thin paper, but a good buy if you feel you can live with the Sun logo in your car.

A-Z Great Britain Road Atlas 1995, pounds 6.95. An atlas from the publishers of the familiar city street maps, also available in hardback at pounds 9.95.

Format: Stapled, 151/2 x 101/2in, 4 miles to the inch. Very colourful, green primary routes, blue motorways.

Ease of use: Very small type for minor place names, populated areas are visually congested, dual carriageway intersections accurately depicted (the only atlas to do this), very clear overlaps, each page covers a large area.

Detail: Excellent, with a multitude of villages and places of interest, heights and woodland, good key.

Extra features: First-class London, Birmingham and Manchester approach maps, town, port, airport and Channel tunnel terminal plans, sparse route planner.

Verdict: Good value with lots of information, but rather hard to read in mid-journey.

Ordnance Survey Motoring Atlas 1995, pounds 6.99. Published by the people who actually do the land surveys in the first place.

Format: Squareback, 151/2 x 11in, 3 miles to the inch. Colour scheme is green and yellow dual carriageways, green primaries, crimson secondaries, blue motorways.

Ease of use: Clear type, good compromise between scale and page size, clear overlaps, rather heavy to handle.

Detail: Good on antiquities and rivers, cryptic on tourist attractions - gives symbols instead of names. Heights and woodland marked, good key.

Extra features: Has a reasonably good route planner with more city approach maps than the A-Z but less detail; includes town and Channel tunnel terminal plans, detailed central London map and also has a local radio frequency guide.

Verdict: Has an air of authority, but ultimately contains less useful detail than the A-Z publication.

Philip's 1995 Road Atlas Britain, pounds 8.99. A weighty tome that looks comprehensive.

Format: Spiral-bound, 15 x 11in, 3 miles to the inch. Thorough, with red and yellow primary routes (curiously), blue motorways.

Ease of use: Airy enough layout for easy assimilation mid-journey. Much the same page size/scale relationship as OS altas, clear, well-spaced typeface, pages fold flat and turn easily, heavy to handle, liable to get damaged if roughly treated. Overlaps not clear.

Detail: Excellent for tourist information but road numbers have no A and B prefixes. Heights and woodland shown, sparse key.

Extra features: Two sizes of route-planning maps, including parts of Ireland, weather forecast telephone map, city approach and town plans, Channel tunnel terminal maps.

Verdict: Copious detail and a large scale, plus peripheral features. Let down by lurid colours and invisible page overlaps.

Michelin Motoring Atlas Great Britain and Ireland 1995, pounds 9.95. Part of the Europe-wide Michelin mapping system.

Format: Spiral-bound, 12 x 9in, 4.75 miles to the inch. Looks a bit sparse and unconvincing, red and yellow motorways, red and white dual carriageways, red A-roads whether primary routes or not.

Ease of use: Small scale means that small page size is not a problem, pages lie flat but weight and construction could lead to damage long-term. Overlaps clear but intrusive. A snag is that many minor roads simply are not marked, yet there is no clear logic as to which ones qualify for inclusion.

Detail: Cryptic symbols abound. Heights and woodland make an appearance. Good key - and it needs one.

Extra features: Some town plans and city approach maps, complete set of Irish maps, Channel tunnel terminal, ferry routes map.

Verdict: Fails as a road atlas because it does not show enough roads.

AA Motorists Atlas Britain 1995, pounds 9.99. Also in hardback, pounds l7.99 or pounds 20, and in a larger page format but same scale, and minus town plans, from Granada Service Areas at pounds 5.99.

Format: Spiral-bound, 12 x 9in, 4 miles to the inch. Pleasant colours, dense information but not too difficult to follow thanks to clear type, green primary routes, blue motorways. Minor roads crisp and clear.

Ease of use: Very easy to follow despite smallish scale, because information presented in co-ordinated way. Clear page overlap, compact size makes for easy handling and pages lie flat, but durability problems of spiral binding apply here, too. Good key.

Details: Not best on place-names, but good for tourist information. National Parks and woodland are marked, but not heights.

Extra features: Reasonable route planner, restricted-access motorway junction guide, road sign chart, map of Ireland, central London street plan, excellent city plans.

Verdict: Best-looking and easiest to read.

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