It's going to be tough to beat the new Escort Passport Max (Est. $550) , experts say. With class-leading radar detection and all the latest high-tech features, Roy Reyer of RadarDetector.org declares it "the best dash mounted radar detector ever made."
High praise -- and the Max proves worthy in tests. It sniffs out radar guns from nine flat miles away in Speed Management Laboratories' tests. Even sneaky instant-on radar spurts can't stump the Max. When Reyer tests it on a South Dakota highway, the Max's quick processor detects a trooper sniping with instant-on Ka-band (from over a hill, no less), giving Reyer plenty of time to slow down.
Meanwhile, the Max quiets false alarms better than any other detector, thanks to its unique "digital signal processing" technology, plus GPS (so it remembers where false alarms lurk on your route). GPS also keeps track of thousands of speed/red-light cameras nationwide, with optional updates (Est. $20 for one year or $40 for three years).
If you want help from the crowd, an optional Escort Live smartphone app (Est. $40) is designed to automatically alert you whenever another Escort Live detector nearby notices a speed trap. (Some owners say it works, but others say the app crashes or fails to alert.) Even without Live service, Graham Kozak at Autoweek -- a skeptic at the beginning of his month-long test -- has to admit that the Max justifies its hefty price tag.
"Before using it, we would have written the Passport Max (and other devices in its price range) as overpriced toys for reckless, exotic-driving Gumballers," Kozak writes. But after the Max saved him from a big fat ticket (it spotted a speed trap more than half a mile away, around a sweeping curve), he calls it "an investment -- an investment that could quickly pay dividends after half a year of fairly average driving."
Escort's previous flagship radar detector, the still available Escort Passport 9500ix (Est. $470) , offers almost all of the same high-tech features (including GPS and optional Escort Live) for less. You do give up some range, but the 9500ix still provides more than enough warning to slow down in tests, and owners are extremely happy: It's a customer favorite at Amazon.com, BestBuy.com and RadarBusters.com.
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 top-rated Escort Passport 8500 X50 (Est. $320) raises some eyebrows in a test by the East Coast Countermeasure Testing Group, where it spots the most common Ka-band radar from nearly as far away as a $1,300 custom-installed detector. It does an admirable job sniffing out K-band, too.
Without GPS, the 8500 X50 can't suppress false alarms quite as well as the top-rated Escort Passport Max (it's compatible with Escort Live, a subscription service that pairs with your smartphone's GPS, but that gets spotty user reviews). However, the 8500 X50 does have City and Auto modes to intelligently cut down on unnecessary alarms; for example, it shuts up when you're crawling in rush-hour traffic.
Radar detectors are legal in passenger cars in most of the U.S. (Virginia, Washington, D.C. and military bases are the exceptions, and they're also banned in most of Canada) -- but not for truckers. 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. Regardless of the local laws, having a radar detector that announces its presence might make you more likely to be stopped in the first place and certainly won't help you get much in the way of leniency if you are stopped.
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 proves to be one of the best performers at its basic job: It detects police radar from more than a mile away in tests by the East Coast Countermeasure Testing Group.
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 in 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 Max can.
Neck and neck with the Escort RedLine in reviews is the Beltronics STi Magnum (Est. $480) , another stealth radar detector. The Magnum is a corporate cousin to the Escort RedLine, and the two are nearly identical under the skin. The Magnum performs nearly as well in long-range detection tests -- just a smidgen behind the RedLine.