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Vette Product Review

Vette

Radar Love...Two Subjective Impressions of the Escort Passport 8500 Radar Detector

Somebody's Always Watching

by John Nelson

www.vetteweb.com
January 2002

I've always thought it would be nice to have a radar detector. I'm in favor of anything that helps me to avoid the Local Government Revenue Enhancement Programs that most municipalities run. A few things have kept me from making the investment, however. The first would be just that - the investment. Second and third were more practical matters. I wasn't traveling very much, and most of the vehicles I've owned weren't all that conducive to pell-mell street runs past radar-wielding cops.

The travel issue has changed - sometimes I'm out of the office more than I'm in it. I'm also on the verge (precipice?) of buying my first Corvette, a vehicle which, even in its milder forms, has much more potential for trouble than my past conveyances. So, I was ready and willing to try out Escort's top-of-the-line detector, the Passport 8500. Team VETTE's test unit made a recent trip to Texas with me. After reading the directions on the plane, I had a good idea of how the thing worked.

After covering the Lone Star Corvette Classic in Dallas-Ft. Worth, I was heading out across the state to Houston for another assignment, giving me a perfect chance to try the 8500 out. It easily mounted to the windshield of the rental car with the included suction cups, and I must say that it's a sharp-looking device, as well. Once plugged into the cigarette lighter, I was ready to rock. The 8500 has three basic modes: City, Highway and Automatic. It's easy to change settings on the fly, and the volume and light dimmer controls are all handy. It seemed to be a snap.

Call me paranoid, but I was concerned that I wasn't getting any "hits." They had to be out there, right? I did get some hits, but they were from police cars that were in plain sight, dealing with someone who'd already been caught. What kind of help is that?

Upon returning to the office, I expressed my concerns to Editor Bob. We talked about the fact that there has to be radar in the area you're driving in for a detector to be effective, and that the speed gun emissions have to reach the unit. I wasn't very receptive to Bob's suggestion that I go drive somewhere with radar - why tempt fate? Fate, however, took care of itself.

I was heading to Auto Perfections in La Habra, California, for a tech shoot, I was late, and I had my foot in it. While hauling up a curvy stretch of road the Passport 8500 went off. I wisely slowed down, and there it was right around the corner where I couldn't see it; a nice, shiny California Highway Patrol unit. I was, however, obeying the speed limit by the time he saw me, and that, to me, is worth the price of admission.

I still don't know that much about radar detectors, but I do know that the Escort Passport 8500 works pretty well. Simple controls, easy mounting, a clear LED readout that shows how strong the radar emissions are, and an alert signal that can be set at ear-splitting volume for those who aren't paying attention. The 8500 does what it's supposed to do, and does it pretty well. If you're in the market for a radar detector, it's worth checking out.



Evening the Odds

by Bob Wallace

www.vetteweb.com
January 2002

I always find it interesting, sometimes entertaining, to compare the results when Nelson and I combine forces on one specific topic. We approach things from such different perspectives, and yet we often agree and even use some of the same terminology, like."...Local Government Revenue Enhancement Programs..."

Fast cars are a large part of my life. So is driving fast, exploring the limits, but definitely not in situations where I might put any other persons or their property at risk. I may be a little crazy, but I'm not nuts.

Most, if not all, speed limits are aimed for the lowest common denominator of driver, the sort who really shouldn't even be behind the wheel of any motorized conveyance. On the other hand, I slow way down in school zones or on residential streets where a kid or dog might unexpectedly dart out in front of me. I also drive very cautiously in rain or other bad weather/bad visibility conditions. I may be a little crazy, but I'm careful, haven't been in a collision for over 30 years, and have gotten only one ticket (a truly C.S. in the waning days if the 55 mph limits) in all the years I've been driving. And yet my approach to speeds is usually posted plus 15 to 20.

I've used radar detectors for a lot of years; everything from cheapo (sub-$100) units that are set off by automatic doors at the local supermarket, to premium units (currently in the $300-400 range). When it comes to radar detectors, you definitely get what you pay for! I currently use one - another premium brand - on a daily basis, and it has saved my cookies a couple times in radar speed traps. So I was very interested in checking out the Passport 8500.

The hype that abounds in some advertising for the radar detectors is astounding. One firm that markets lower-end detectors claims their product can detect 10 different radar bands - quite an achievement, a useless one at that, when you consider that there are but three bands, X, K, and Ka used in the U.S. There are, to the best of our knowledge, two places in the country (Virginia and Washington DC) that ban the use of radar detectors (bad for collecting added revenue enhancements?). One of them, Virginia, uses something called VG-2 to actively search out the illegal use of detectors, so immunity to these radar detector-detectors seem to be of rather dubious usefulness except in Virginia. Another farce, more accurately an impossibility, is so-called 360 degree detection. Radar detectors - all of them - pick up best in the direction in which they are pointed. Instructions almost always direct the user to locate the detector on the windshield or dash top with a clear and unobstructed view forward (not blocked, for instance, by a rearview mirror or wipers). If it's so important to have a clear view in front of the detector, how can it do a good job to the rear, through roof panels, driver and passenger heads, and other detritus? 'Nuff said!

Of the three radar bands that actually are in use, Ka band is the one to be most concerned about. Police use of the antiquated X-band radar is diminishing rapidly. The majority of police radar currently in use is K-band, but many state and local jurisdictions now use or are switching over to Ka-band radar, so if you're in the market for a detector, shop for one that is especially effective in Ka-band detection. From experience, we'd also suggest picking a unit that is driver/user programmable, which allows the user to set up the unit to best to his or her needs. These modes include separate city and highway settings, alternative audio and visual signals, voice alerts (it's kinda cool to have the detector "go off" and start flashing and/or beeping, then have a synthesizer voice start saying something about, "Ka-band, Ka-band..."), and ways to shut off alerts for one or more bands.

What really matters in a radar detector are sensitivity, selectivity, good and clear alert systems, and a unit that is user-friendly. Sensitivity is the range or distance that a detector can sense radar being used. Selectivity is what keeps a detector from alerting you to the supermarket's automatic doors or a fast food restaurant's microwave oven being used, while alerting you to the police radar, i.e. no false alarms. Ideally, a detector will have a different audio and visual signal or alarm for each of the three bands.

After John completed his round of trying out and evaluating the Passport 8500, I took my turn. It's about the same size as my less-than-two-year-old Brand B detector, mounts to the windshield with a clean and simple suction cup bracket (similar to my Brand B), and plugs into the cigarette lighter or auxiliary power receptacle with a "SmartCord®" (I guess my trusty Brand B's power cord is dumb) that has a built in LED status indicator, an alert light, and a mute switch.

The 8500 can be manually set for city or highway modes as well as put in an automatic mode where the unit automatically regulates its sensitivity. There are five levels of display brightness, multiple audio alerts, and the user can override alerts for one or more bands if desired.

My daily commute is about 15 miles, one way, roughly two-thirds surface streets/one-third freeway. In that commute I drive through five different cities, in two counties, and two of those communities are veritable radar traps from city limit to city limit. Both of these communities have several highly traveled roadways with ridiculously low posted speed limits - you know, the sort of wide, two-lanes-each-direction, straight and level road where 85th percentile traffic moves at 45 and the posted limit is 30 or 35. Entrapment is a word that comes to mind.

Anyway, I've lived in the same area (actually, in the same house) for well over 20 years and made the same basic commute for over seven years, so I've gotten a pretty strong sense of where the more popular radar traps, i.e. revenue-enhancement zones, are located - places that I generally avoid like the plague. So, I intentionally drove those thoroughfares, looking for the radar bike in the driveway into one small park, and the guy who likes to park where the road widens and he and his Crown Vic are blocked from view by a tree. Granted, my methods are highly unscientific and purely subjective, but what I did was do the "radar trap" drive for a couple of weeks with trusty old Brand B, then swap over to the Passport 8500 and repeat the process.

My old faithful buddies on or in their black and whites were in their usual haunts several times during my informal trials - enough times that I was able to form some opinions. My old radar detector still works pretty well, well enough that it alerted me well before I came upon the local revenue enhancement collectors and more than soon enough to slow down to posted rather than normal and reasonable speeds. It also went bonkers almost every morning as I'd pass by a particular Carl's Jr.

With the 8500 on board, I was alerted to the same bogies a little sooner, a little farther away from where they lurked. A couple of details that I found very interesting and impressive were that I never once was alerted to Carl's Jr. nuking breakfast cholesterol-bomb sandwiches (or whatever), and it seemed to work just as well on its "Auto Mode" as when I manually set if to the city mode.

It may be unscientific and highly subjective, but I want one of these puppies for myself. The price ($309.95 plus the usual shipping and handling) is a lot less than the cost of a speeding ticket and its resultant impact on insurance rates, at least in Southern California. I'm not advocating civil disobedience or mass lawlessness, but most enthusiasts and owners of cars like Corvettes tend to drive faster than average, and most speed limits are set artificially low. With a radar detector like the 8500, you can drive in your normal manner and not have to worry too much about supporting some local community's budgetary excess.

(Editor's note: If you're interested in some truly scientific tests of radar detectors, check out www.radartest.com. It's the best source of radar and radar detector data I've ever come across.)