Radar Detector Test: Escort Passport 9500i and Cobra XRS 9955

If you haven’t been ticketed for speeding recently, keep your license, registration, and proof of insurance handy. With the economy in the dumper, government agencies are expecting you to fund their bailout with revenue accrued from speeding citations.

Case in point: the four major roads encircling Detroit Metro Airport, the transportation hub of necessity for Automobile staff members and contributors. This is a free-fire zone for dedicated radar and laser enforcement with rising suspicion that state, county, and municipality troopers will soon escalate to VASCAR, NASCAR, pacing, and Kentucky windage if it helps to generate more tickets. A friend and his wife were both stopped on the same day by the same cop on the same stretch of road. This is no coincidence.

The counter-measure suppliers have responded in kind. A cursory Amazon check revealed a hundred or more radar detectors on the market by a dozen or more manufacturers. Prices range from $33 for the cheapest new model to well over $400 for top laser/radar detectors such as the esteemed Valentine One. Cheapskates should be happy to hear that used expensive models are readily available at discount prices.

No one, short of a government agency, has the resources to thoroughly evaluate all the detectors on the market for what matters–sensitivity, resistance to false alarms, operational convenience–and countless other factors that might help you decide which unit best satisfies your needs.

That said, we have conducted what noted Lockheed engineer Kelly Johnson called a chicken test. When it was necessary to prove that an experimental aircraft could successfully withstand a bird strike at altitude, Johnson invented away to avoid risking a priceless plane and a valuable test crew. Instead of flying through debris at altitude, Johnson had his Skunk Works engineers purchase a few frozen birds at the local supermarket. The chickens–or turkeys–were then hurled into spinning jet engines or fired by means of a cannon into the plane’s windshield while it was safely on the ground.

Our chicken detector test consists of pertinent observations garnered from recent life on the road with two high-end detectors–the Escort Passport 9500i and the Cobra XRS 9955. Checking Amazon, I found the Passport available for just over $400 and the Cobra listed at just under $300. Both are state of the art anti-enforcement weapons boasting high sensitivity, 360-degree signal reception, and a built-in connection to the GPS system.

After living with each unit successively for several weeks, I spent one day running errands with both mounted to my windshield in an attempt to see which had the best balance of sensitivity to legitimate threats combined with a reluctance to cry wolf while cruising past static door-opening radar devices that constitute the most common form of false alarm.

The Passport won the sensitivity contest by a small margin with an earlier warning on multiple occasions. It also proved the least likely to sound off when no legitimate threat existed.

One highly endearing Passport feature is the ability to mark and hold in memory those annoying false alarms you encounter on your daily commute. The GPS location and signal frequency are stored to block warnings that only distract. Speed traps, cameras, and other threats can be marked to provide a useful reminder when you travel through perilous enforcement areas.

The less expensive Cobra is the detector for the gadget afflicted. It not only receives a claimed 15 bands (though only 13 distinct radar and laser frequencies are listed in the manual), it also displays a compass reading and battery voltage in its color monitor screen. Like the Passport, it is possible to store locations in memory – up to 1000 of them according to the instruction manual – but that requires sifting through a 40+page booklet printed in type small enough to glaze the eyes of a monk. I was surprised to notice that many known stop-light camera locations are already in memory and available for automatic protection.

Bottom line: The Passport provided excellent warning, good resistance to false alarms, and easy plug and play operation. The Cobra probably has equivalent performance but dialing it in to suit your preferences requires negotiating several operating menus.