We've all (mostly) been there. You're driving along, thinking about your upcoming plans, when all of a sudden there are flashing lights in your rear-view mirror. You pull over and ask the officer (politely) what you did wrong, and he notifies you that you missed a sign that announced a lower speed limit over the stretch you are currently traveling. This is not an unusual occurrence, especially in areas where there is a mix of different types of neighborhoods and the speed limit may change frequently. While the aim of most traffic enforcement is to make sure everyone stays safe on America's roads, we like to think that for most people, speeding is an unintentional lapse, not their normal behavior. For those drivers, radar detectors can be a valuable tool to remind you to slow down and avoid that speeding ticket.
Not all radar detectors are perfect, of course, and can't detect every tool used to track speeders, for example, speed cameras, which photograph and measure the time it takes for a car to pass between two points, are impossible to spot in advance with any type of active detector.
Still, as with all electronics, radar-detector makers continually update designs and add features, such as built-in Laser detectors and GPS and social media features that track the locations of fixed-position speed-enforcement (speed traps and speed cameras, for example).
There are also challenges to the effectiveness of radar detectors from car makers. Safety features such as automatic emergency braking, lane assist and blind spot monitoring are appearing in more and more automobiles. The challenge for radar detectors is that they work using the exact same K-band frequencies as used by police radar in many locations, and that can trigger a cacophony of false alerts as you drive. Radar makers now offer models with filtering designed to address this issue, and firmware fixes are available for some older models, but for other detectors, particularly lower-cost models, lots of false alerts are now commonplace.
Evaluating feedback on radar detectors can be challenging. That's because aside from occasional articles on mainstream sites like Car & Driver and Road & Track, most feedback comes from sites that have some "skin in the game" because they make, sell or service radar detectors, which, of course, introduces some (or lots of) bias. Because of that, while we looked at those sites for background, we based our recommendations on sources we considered to be impartial, as well as feedback from users at retail sites and enthusiast forums. We looked for common threads among the feedback we gathered, recommending radar detectors that score well across the review spectrum based on performance, of course, but also factors such as important features and ease of use.
Finding a consensus among experts, enthusiasts and owners as to which radar detector is best for most users under most circumstances can be a challenge, but the Escort Max 360 (Est. $635) rises to the occasion on all fronts, except, perhaps for price. "If you can afford the price, the Max 360 offers confidence-inspiring insurance against a cop with a radar gun," says Eric Tingwall at Car & Driver.
Accolades also come from most other experts. "Given my experiences with the Max 360, Escort's most advanced detector ever provides drivers the highest level of protection and awareness today and is highly recommended," says Rob R , the "Veil Guy," founder and CEO of the Veil Corporation, maker of an automotive spray designed to absorb laser light in order to reduce a laser gun's targeting range
User satisfaction is excellent as well -- though how excellent depends on which set of users you ask. Some enthusiasts are a bit hard on the Max 360 as it's beaten as far as absolute best range by some other, less expensive radar detectors. However, most concede that the Max 360 is at least more than good enough for most typical situations, and it's more feature packed and easier to use than other flagship radar detectors. In terms of ratings, the feedback at Amazon.com is rather soft, just 3.8 stars after nearly 210 reviews. However, we see much higher satisfaction elsewhere, including a 4.7 star rating at BestBuy.com following more than 200 reviews, and a 4.5 star rating at RadarBusters.com following more than 70 user reviews.
There's no doubt that this is one feature-packed radar detector. It earns its 360 designation because it includes front and rear antennas and a direction-indicator on the unit to show the heading and band of any detected signals. It includes filtering to minimize false alerts triggered by vehicle technologies such as collision avoidance systems. Reviews indicate that the filtering is still a work in progress -- and might need some user tinkering with settings to best adapt to radar conditions in your area -- but that it is among the most effective available in a radar detector to date. "It did give me a few false hits—I'm pretty sure an Acura was at fault at one point—but it was remarkably quiet," reports Road & Track's Jason Harper following a month-long test.
It's also GPS equipped and pre-loaded with a database of known, fixed speed-enforcement locations, such as speed traps and photo enforcement. You can update your unit with locations you discover. Automatic updates to the database are available for free for the first three months, after which it is subscription based (Est. $20 per year or $40 for three years).
Like many radar detectors, the Max 360 also incorporates a Laser detector. Feedback indicates that, for a Laser detector, it works fairly well. But keep in mind that most expert and user guidance indicates that if the Laser indicator goes off while you are exceeding the speed limit, it's very often too late to do any good.
Finally, it's Escort Live! compatible. Escort Live! crowdsources information on speed enforcement activities. Subscribe to the premium version of Escort Live! (Est. $50 per year), pair your detector to your Android or Apple smartphone, and you can send and receive real-time updates of fixed and recent mobile police-radar locations.
All of these features could be daunting to a radar neophyte, but one big advantage of the Max 360 compared to other top-of-the line units is ease of use. "I think the Max360 is a great option for people who want all the bells and whistles and also want something easy to use that does everything for you," says "Vortex" of VortexRadar.com. "Everything just kinda works on its own and that's pretty refreshing sometimes," he adds.
Prior to the introduction of the Max 360, only one radar detector had front and rear antennas and display arrows to indicate the direction in which the speed enforcement activities lay. That was the Valentine One (Est. $400). It is the darling of a lot of enthusiasts; has many of the same features as the Max 360, albeit in a "roll your own" way; and it slightly outperforms the Max 360 in some controlled tests.
The V1, as it's also known, has been around for years (since 1992). But it's being continuously updated with features, the newest of which is Junk-K Fighter, a software filter that fends off K-band false alerts now being generated by automotive systems, and similar to the filtering in the Max 360. It's built into all currently shipping V1s, and available as an upgrade on older units.
Some things are missing, however. GPS, for example, though some limited GPS features (for example, the ability to lock out known sources of false positives, such as store automatic door-opening systems) can be added via third-party apps, but only if you also spring for a Bluetooth adapter (Est. $50) to connect to your Apple or Android smartphone. There's also no live gathering of speed enforcement activities nor is there a database of known, fixed, speed enforcement locations.
The VI is highly programmable. That's the good news; the bad news is that feedback indicates that you need to do some programming to get the best experience. "Vortex" says that "The V1 is pretty chatty out of the box," but that with a little work you can wind up with a quiet unit and maximum performance; he provides details here.
The bottom line: These two radar detectors are terrific top-of-the line options, and each could be the right choice for different users. The Valentine One edges out the Max 360 in performance, is highly programmable, and somewhat cheaper, but is probably best suited to enthusiasts willing to spend the time to get the best results. The Max 360, while pricier, is richer in features and easier to use, and is likely the better choice for drivers that just want a radar detector to work.
Not everyone wants to spend $400 or more (and in the case of the Max 360, much more), but lower-priced radar detectors struggle to get much love. Still, if you are willing to live with some compromises, the Uniden DFR7 (Est. $300) looks like it's worth considering. "Vortex" even names this radar detector as the best option among in-vehicle mounted models. "It offers a more performance and capability than most anything else in this price range, making it a great bang for the buck," he says.
This model is a re-badged version of the Uniden LRD950, with only cosmetics and updated firmware setting the two units apart. Both Uniden detectors get decent respect in the enthusiast community, and among users -- albeit with limited feedback. Be that as it may, the LRD950 earns a 4.4 star rating at Amazon.com based on more than 80 reviews (but don't buy that discontinued model as it's priced higher than the current version). On its own, the DFR7 earns just over 10 reviews so far (although Amazon.com lumps together the reviews of all current Uniden radar detectors into one score), with all but one rating coming in at 4 stars or higher.
The feature set is pretty good for this price point. It's GPS equipped, with a periodically updated database of speed camera and other fixed traffic enforcement locations that you can download for free, and you can store any locations you spot yourself to the unit for future reference. It's got K-band filtering to minimize false positives from vehicle safety systems as well. There's a Laser detector, too.
Those looking to spend less than $200 for a radar detector will find themselves with relatively few options that get much in the way of positive feedback. One exception is the Whistler CR93 (Est. $180). This is the successor model to the Whistler CR90 (Est. $155), a model that earned good expert feedback, especially when compared to other radar detectors in its price class. The CR93 builds upon that model by offering improved sensitivity per testing by "Veil Guy."
For the price point, this is a well-equipped radar detector. Of particular note is a feature that alerts you to the presence of potentially disruptive signals from collision avoidance systems in nearby vehicles. This is different from systems that use digital processing to filter out these signals -- your detector will still sound, though with a "less intrusive alert." While that leaves the ride a little noisier than with some detectors, the plus is that you won't be lulled into a false sense of security. Though it's a rare occurrence, if you happen to come within range of actual K-band radar being used while active K-band filtering is engaged, most radar detectors --including many even more powerful, and pricier detectors, such as the Max 360 -- will leave you vulnerable, notes "Veil Guy."
The CR93 is also GPS-equipped, with a database with known red light and camera speed enforcement locations. That database can be user updated via a USB connection to a computer.
Performance is good for a radar detector in this price range, though some enthusiast feedback indicates that pricier models -- even the DFR7 -- beat it in terms of range. One concern, noted by "Veil Guy" is that X-band radar sensitivity has dropped a little compared to its predecessor -- but that's only a concern in the handful of states that use that less popular frequency. User reviews at retailer sites are limited -- but the handful that weigh in at Amazon.com all rate it 4 stars or better.
There's a bit of a wild-west mentality among radar-detector enthusiasts, and reviewers, which makes this one of the tougher categories to evaluate. Credible expert reviews by mainstream sources are relatively hard to come by, though we did find some limited feedback at sites like Road & Track and Car & Driver. Beyond that, we looked at enthusiast feedback and testing at busy forums, such as RDForum.org, as well as owner reviews at sites like Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, and RadarBusters.com. The bulk of the feedback in this category, however, comes from individuals and sites that are in the business of selling or making radar detectors and related products. Those include RadarTest.com, RadarDetector.org, StealthVeil.com, Vortex Radar, and others. While we looked at those sites, and have shared some of their evaluations, those opinions and ratings were not relied on when finding the Best Reviewed radar detectors.