The newest, priciest radar detectors don't just detect radar and laser guns. They now use GPS receivers to warn you about speed/red-light cameras.
"GPS also eliminates false alerts," and it's the most important new radar-detector feature since the early 1990s, say the experts at SpeedZones.com.
Reviewers say the Escort Passport 9500ix (*Est. $500) does the best job at both tasks: It is among the keenest at plain old radar detection in Speed Measurement Laboratories' latest tests, and it correctly alerts testers to red-light cameras.
Meanwhile, the 9500ix is "90 percent less irritating than any other detector on the market" in a Popular Mechanics test, because it's smart enough to automatically figure out which alarms are false and quit alarming about them -- which means this detector will actually get your attention when it counts.
Edmunds.com Editor-in-Chief Karl Brauer says he especially appreciates the 9500ix's ability to save you from speed traps. "If there's a specific spot where speed measurements are commonly taken (often at the bottom of a hill, where even the most cautious drivers can let their speeds drift up) the 9500ix lets you mark it via the GPS technology," Brauer says. "After that, the detector will give you an audible alert ('Caution -- Speed Trap Ahead') 1,200 feet before you reach the location."
Only one thing is missing from the 9500ix, Brauer says: Arrows showing you where the radar/laser gun is. "Are you approaching the radar/laser gun? Are you past it already? There's no way to tell … but if Escort ever adds this feature, there will be no reason to buy any other radar detector." The Escort Passport 9500ix is already picked nearly twice as often by our sources as any other detector, with recommendations from Edmunds.com, Popular Mechanics, SpeedZones.com, Wired, RadarTest.com, RadarDetector.org and LaserVeil.com. It's also a favorite of owners who post reviews at Best Buy's website.
A somewhat less expensive alternative is the Beltronics GX 65 (*Est. $425) , another Escort-owned brand. It's about as good at detecting radar guns, laser guns and red-light cameras as the top-rated Escort Passport 9500ix in tests, but the Beltronics model doesn't automatically remember where false alarms are -- you have to program these spots manually.
The Escort Passport iQ (*Est. $650) is a radar detector and GPS navigator rolled into one. It easily masquerades as an innocent Garmin or TomTom -- as one owner says at Amazon.com, "Cops are less likely to let you off with a warning if they see a radar detector up on the windshield." (Police can still detect the iQ with their radar detector detectors (RDDs), though; see our section below for "Radar detectors the police can't detect.")
Like a regular GPS unit, the iQ has a five-inch touchscreen display, shows 3D maps and speaks turn-by-turn directions. In addition to displaying the speed limit, it can overlay its map with known speed traps and speed/red light camera locations. It's also a full-featured radar/laser detector, with "excellent range" on par with other Escort radar detectors, according to a test at SpeedZones.com. The Passport iQ also has the ability to auto-learn false alarms.
The iQ navigates perfectly, according to SpeedZones.com testers: "During a 3,000 mile test of the iQ, we compared its GPS locations to two Garmin stand alone GPS units for accuracy. No difference." But owners posting their own reviews at Amazon.com don't always agree. Several complain that it navigates incorrectly, doesn't know about roads that have been there for years, or doesn't warn about upcoming turns early enough. Some owners don't like the menus, and some find the iQ is too quiet to hear. Others say that it's so bulky that it's hard to carry and vibrates on its mount. It's not Mac-compatible, so Mac users can't download the necessary updates. Some owners, and CNET reviewer Antuan Goodwin, point out that despite its steep price, the iQ omits live traffic updates and Bluetooth for hands-free calling. Escort says it will include those features in the next model. "At this price range, that's the one we'd wait for," Goodwin says.
The Valentine One (*Est. $400) doesn't have GPS capabilities, and it can't warn you about speed or red-light cameras, annoying some reviewers with its frequent false alarms. Some experts still recommend the Valentine One because until now, it sensed radar from farther away than any other detector. However, some other models -- including the Escort Passport 9500ix -- have caught up with and even surpass the Valentine One in some of Speed Measurement Laboratories' latest radar-detection tests.
Karl Brauer at Edmunds.com writes: "When one considers the size and cost of GPS technology these days, along with the many advantages it offers when combined with a radar detector, it's hard to believe any of these devices will be competitive without location-based awareness in the not-too-distant future (Hello? Valentine One?)."
GPS is the only way a detector can warn you about speed and red-light cameras. But if you're not worried about those, experts say you can get a good radar/laser detector for hundreds of dollars less.
The best models in this category all come from Escort and its subsidiary Beltronics. The top-rated Beltronics RX 65 (*Est. $300) detects radar and laser guns in plenty of time for the driver to slow down, and its city mode reduces false alarms, reviewers say. However, it doesn't suppress false alarms or detect faraway radar guns quite as well as the top-rated Escort Passport 9500ix in tests.
Two runners-up offer similar performance, but fewer features. The Escort Passport 8500 X50 (*Est. $320) lacks voice alerts and Ku-band detection for European use. The Beltronics Vector 995 (*Est. $220) lacks the RX 65's multiple-threat alarm (which tells you if more than one type of radar gun is detected), but it does have a basic voice alert.
Radar detectors are legal in passenger cars in most jurisdictions in the U.S. (Virginia, Washington, D.C. and military bases are the exceptions, and they're also banned in most of Canada), but the picture is considerably different for drivers of commercial vehicles. Federal law prohibits radar detectors in commercial vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds in all 50 states. Most radar detectors give off signals of their own, which can be picked up by police using a radar-detector detector (RDD). That makes using radar detectors risky for commercial drivers, as well as for regular passenger-car drivers who sometimes travel through locations where radar detectors are illegal.
The best "invisible" radar detector is the Escort RedLine (*Est. $500) , according to reviews. It proves undetectable to three different police RDDs -- the popular Spectre Elite, as well as the older Spectre III and VG-2 -- in tests conducted by SpeedZones.com. In addition to being stealthy, the RedLine joins the Escort Passport 9500ix as one of the best performers at its basic job, detecting police radar, even over hills and at nine-mile distances in SpeedZone.com's test.
"This is a vicious predator," SpeedZones.com says of the RedLine. "Last year we tested it from thirteen miles and still couldn't get it to be quiet." The RedLine performs just as well when "Radar Roy" Reyer of RadarBusters.com tests it on a cross-country road trip, side-by-side with the venerable Valentine One. "The RedLine has outperformed the Valentine One and every other radar detector we put up against it" at long-range detecting, Reyer says, even while driving through New Jersey where the police use old X-band radar. He says it's a great choice for people who routinely drive long distances, especially those who want an undetectable radar detector. The main thing the RedLine lacks, reviews say, is a GPS chip -- so it can't warn you about speed cameras, red-light cameras and speed traps like the Escort Passport 9500ix can.
Neck-and-neck with the Escort RedLine in reviews is the Beltronics STi Magnum (*Est. $150) , a stealth radar detector that had just replaced the Beltronics STi Driver (a former Best Reviewed pick) at the time of this update. The Magnum is a corporate cousin to the Escort RedLine, and it performs comparably in tests at SpeedZones.com.
Compared to its predecessor, the STi Magnum promises to detect radar from 60 percent farther away, with even better invisibility (the old STi Driver already proved completely undetectable in tests). But since it's new, the Magnum hasn't been tested as much -- by pros or owners -- as the Redline. Like the Redline, the Magnum lacks a GPS chip to locate speed traps and red-light cameras.