Tested: Escort Passport Qi45
A remote radar detector/laser jammer for the masses?
A custom-installed remote model may be the best radar detector for low-profile, discrete protection but traditionally, it's had a downside: price. In our last comparison of the two radar detectors occupying the high end of this market segment, neither could be had for less than two grand. The Escort Passport 9500ci is $1,999, including installation, and a similarly optioned K40 Calibre DL was $2,028, installed.
At the other end of the segment is the entry-level Whistler Pro 3450, about $219, but as befits its price, the Whistler is more modest in performance and offers no laser jammer option. If you want to add protection from the police lidar, you'll need to add a Blinder M27 ($449) or Escort Passport ZR4 ($449) laser jammer and lay out another $200-plus for installation.
With the opposite ends of the segment being occupied, until recently there has been no midpoint model, no remote radar detector available with laser jammers that's priced under a grand. But the newly arrived Escort Passport Qi45 claims to fix that.
According to Escort, the Qi (Quick Install) appellation isn't mere puffery; the unit is a fresh-sheet design whose installation time is claimed to be a remarkably low 45 minutes. This contrasts with the 6.0 to 7.0 hours typically needed to install an Escort Passport 9500ci and 7.5 to 8.0 hours for a K40 Calibre DL with Laser Defuser EX jammers front and rear. (Installation times vary widely depending upon the vehicle and the customer's preferences.) Installation time may seem a small matter on its face, but with shop labor at $50 per hour and up, time matters.
The Escort Passport Qi45 doesn't compete with its big brother, the Escort Passport 9500ci, as it lacks GPS capability or a provision for rear laser protection. So although the similarly configured K40 Calibre SL model costs almost half again as much, with installation, it's the Escort Passport Qi45's only direct competitor.
For a comprehensive test and review, we acquired an Escort Passport Qi45 ($550) with companion [laser] Shifter Pack ($250) and also a K40 Calibre SL-P ($850) with a K40 Defuser EX-10 front laser jammer ($330). Testing these would identify the best midrange remote radar detectorówith comprehensive protection from both radar and lasers.
The installation time required for a remote radar detector is heavily dependent on three factors. First is the detector's design, particularly its mounting brackets, the complexity of its wiring and the method for connecting the wiring of its components. Second: the installer's skill level and integrity. Slipshod installation generally takes less time than quality work and rookies always seem to need more time. The third factor is the vehicle. Of the three - assuming at least average installer competence - the most influential is the vehicle's design, followed closely by detector design.
Here are two examples of how these factors influence installation labor costs. For a recent laser jammer test one of our target vehicles was a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. On this occasion we mounted four laser transceivers (a.k.a. heads) - two each in front and rear - and had the system running in 25 minutes. It wasn't a permanent installation and the wiring was strung about casually, but the jammers had to stay put for the day's testing, remaining in alignment on the stiff-legged Jeep during 150 miles of driving, including endless U-turns using the cratered shoulders. The Jeep's angular surfaces and flat bumpers allowed us to affix the jammer mounting brackets using industrial double-sided tape. Had this been a customer vehicle and a permanent installation, we'd have drilled holes and used sheet metal screws for a tidy job, about three man-hours' worth of labor. This is a best-case scenario.
For this review we created a worst-case scenario and installed each remote radar detector on a 2010 Acura ZDX. This limited-production Acura's front bodywork is a vast swath of plastic, punctuated by a gaping center maw and a pair of elliptical lower fascia cutouts. The radar antenna could have been hung from an angle bracket suspended from the radiator support, behind the central grille. But that would require the removal of 22 trim clips and at least 10 bolts, then pulling off the entire bumper cover. This stuff comes off a lot easier than it goes back on, once a few of the special clips are lost or broken. Figure on at least 4.5 hours of labor for the installation, including the bracket fabrication, if the guy knows what he's doing. But it can get a lot worse. (The manual quotes 2.7 hours of labor for R&I of the bumper cover alone.)
Each ZDX fascia opening is covered by a fine-mesh plastic grille and the outer half of the cutout near the foglight is a solid sheet. This leaves no way to covertly mount a jammer, since it requires an unimpeded view of the road. We could have cut rectangular slots on each side, but aside from the destruction of a megabuck grille and spoiled aesthetics, the cutouts would be veritable arrows pointing to the jammers. Time for plan B.
We started with the Escort Passport Qi45, affixing its radar antenna to the lower air dam with industrial double-sided tape. Each laser jammer was clamped to the lower bumper cover using the Escort adjustable brackets. These clever articulated brackets swivel through a 360-degree arc and their jaws clamp onto a flat panel. Once in place, Allen screws are tightened to make them immovable. It also allows for alignment, critical to jammer performance.
Neither laser shifter could be positioned outboard as far as we'd wished, closer to the headlights and foglights. Curvature of the lower panel prevented this, but as a result the jammers were optimally positioned to protect the license plate area. Jammers asked to protect both the plate and headlights optimally should be mounted midway along an imaginary line between these locations. But Acura and many other manufacturers are somewhat less concerned about accommodating jammers than in creating curvaceous, aerodynamic bodywork. It's up to the installer and the jammer designers to adapt.
Each Escort Laser Shifter wire was plugged into the radar antenna with its indexed, O-ringed connector, a foolproof, reliable method. Then the single antenna wire was routed under the left front fender liner and into the interior through the E-brake cable grommet. Inside, the interface box was wire-tied to the E-brake cable bracket and the control/display unit was flush-mounted on the cluster, between the tach and speedo. Save for the power lead - tapped into a switched 12-volt source with a Scotchlock - and the ground, each connector is a telephone-style RJ-11; they attach instantly and never come loose. After securing the wires with ties and powering-up the system, we checked the stopwatch: 35:10.
The K40 Calibre SL-P installation was next. Although K40 says the Calibre benefits from "wire-free technology" by its use of Bluetooth, that's not entirely accurate. Connecting the interface box, amplified speaker, Defuser EX jammer and alert-lamp pod entailed connecting eight wires using butt connectors and ring terminals. Many of these circuits use wispy, 22-gauge stranded wire whose insulation is nigh impossible to strip using a professional wire stripper. Most veteran installers resort to using their teeth - at least if they've still got some of their own - or a razor blade, and the wires are prone to breaking if care isn't taken.
Using double-sided tape we mounted the K40 Calibre radar antenna to the same spot on the lower fascia used for the Qi45's antenna, a simple task. The Defuser EX laser jammer is housed in a polycarbonate license plate frame that easily attaches over a front plate using the stock upper bolts. This entails some compromises. To the knowledgeable, it's easy to spot and also subject to being flattened by a modest bumper-tap of a vehicle in front. In the plentiful number of states where front plates aren't required, the owner must either install some type of front plate - giving lasers a welcomed extra target - or the Defuser EX must be mounted sans plate frame.
Mounting the K40 Defuser EX over the Acura ZDX front license plate wasn't an option for it had no front plate. No mounting holes either. So we removed the K40 jammer from its frame and fabricated an L-bracket from 3/16-inch flat stock. Holes were drilled to mount the jammer to the bracket and more holes to bolt it to the fascia next to the radar antenna. We spray-painted the bracket black to match the lower fascia and while waiting for it to dry, drilled the fascia holes.
Next task: the wiring: We used a ring terminal to attach the radar antenna power lead to the battery positive terminal and another ring terminal and sheet metal screw to ground it to the chassis. The Defuser EX cable was routed into the cockpit along the same path as the Escort Qi45's cable.
Inside, the interface module was wire-tied to the E-brake cable bracket and the piezo speaker was mounted next to it. Last, the radar LED alert pod was placed in the same spot on the cluster used for the Qi45 control/display module. Wiring the components was only a matter of connecting the wires with butt connectors, a process that experienced a delay while we ran to the auto parts store to buy more connectors.
Upon returning we completed the installation and with the bracket's paint now dry, attached the jammer to it and that in turn to the fascia for a trial fit. Our bubble level indicated a nose-up condition, so the assembly was removed. The bracket was placed in a vise and bent a few degrees, then reinstalled. This time it was nose-down a few degrees. After another visit to the vise and a third installation, it was secure and in alignment. Total elapsed time: 1:55, not counting our shopping expedition.
OPERATION and CONTROLS
The Escort Passport Qi45 has a small control/display module that handles all operations: power, volume, manual audio muting, five-step display brightness with auto-dimming and a menu of user preferences. The latter includes three sensitivity options: Highway, Auto and Auto NoX for unfiltered, maximum warning range; computer-adjusted variable sensitivity and auto-adjusted sensitivity with X-band disabled, respectively. The latter is intended for urban operation where disabling X band helps to limit false alarms from radar-controlled automatic door openers.
There's a choice of pilot displays including full-word (Highway), single-letter (e.g., H for highway); a single letter with a left-to-right red scanning dot, or a digital readout of vehicle voltage. Meter options include Bar Graph (these increase progressively to depict signal strength); Spec Mode or Expert Meter. The latter will track up to nine simultaneous radar sources, displaying the band ID and relative signal strength for each. For the knowledgeable, Spec Mode (a.k.a. Spec Display) is invaluable, allowing non-police radar signals to be dismissed with a quick glance.
The K40 Calibre SL is operated with a remote control that measures about 1.0 by 1.5 inches. A row of three multi-function switches controls city/highway mode selection, audio on/off/ and volume hi/lo settings; voice/tone mode selection and system manual-mode power on/off.
There are no backup controls and with dead batteries or without its remote, the Calibre is helpless. But permanently mounting the remote in an easily-reached spot can also make it visible to curious eyes, defeating the biggest advantage of a remote radar detector.
Mode changes on the K40 Calibre SL are leisurely, averaging four seconds. Then a voice or tone confirmation arrives. Get it wrong and there will be extended pause after another button is pressed. In comparison, I timed the mode changes in the Escort Passport Qi45 at 0.22 second.
According to the installation instructions, the remote can either be mounted using the supplied double-sided tape or it can be left loose. Upon first use, I left it in a storage bin at the bottom of the Acura ZDX's center stack. When I went to change audio modes, it had already disappeared. Using a set of mechanic's forceps, I later recovered it from the narrow gap between the console and the passenger seat's inboard track. This is one reason why many automotive electronics do not come with remote controls - it's tough enough to keep track of one in the living room, much less inside a moving vehicle.
There's no visual indication of the Calibre's operating mode or volume level or whether it's set to voice or tone alerts. To gain that information you'll need to press a button on the remote to see which LED lights momentarily and then press the button again to change the setting. A voice alert confirms the selection. If it's in mute mode, the LED alone provides confirmation.
K40 Calibre SL-P models come with a surface-mounted alert pod about one inch in diameter that can be mounted on a flat surface, the instrument cluster being a favorite spot. A flashing blue LED serves as the sole visual alert, making it impossible to distinguish between, say, a laser attack, a Ka-band radar trap or an X-band automatic door opener if voice alerts are shut off. This leaves the driver with two options: nail the brakes at every alert or learn to ignore them. These limited options present a very real quandary to the driver since many are likely to leave the voice alerts shut off: The K40 Calibre is an unusually talkative radar detector, frequently sounding strident alerts to nonexistent threats, many of them signals generated by other radar detectors and radar-controlled automatic door openers.
RADAR TEST RESULTS
These two remote radar detectors were tested at our desert test sites northwest of Phoenix. At the 5.3-mile-long Straightaway Test site, the K40 Calibre SL-P displayed excellent sensitivity against K-band and 34.7 GHz Ka-band radar, trailing the Escort Passport Qi45 by about 11 percent in each test. But it had great difficulty in spotting X-band radar, registering only 9 percent of the Escort Passport Qi45's 5.3-mile range. (This was in highway mode; In city mode the K40 Calibre does not detect X-band radar, making it a risky choice for those who travel in the few states still using X-band.)
The K40 Calibre also stumbled noticeably when faced with the most commonly used Ka-band radar, 35.5 GHz, delivering but 4,006 feet of range compared to the Escort Qi45's 28,064 feet. Although practical radar range is far less, it's worth noting that the K40 Calibre alerted to this Ka-band radar less than 600 feet before the radar had locked-in the speed. If our target vehicle had been larger and more radar-friendly, it's questionable whether the alert would have preceded target-speed lock.
It was the same story at the far more difficult Curve Test site where the K40 Calibre again did well on K- and 34.7 GHz Ka-band but proved incapable of protecting against 35.5 GHz Ka-band radar. At the moment it first alerted, the radar had already locked-in a speed.
In contrast, the Escort Qi45 gave considerably more warning range, spotting the radar anywhere from 0.52 to 0.62 mile away, allowing plenty of time for a reaction.
Of the two, in radar protection the Escort Passport Qi45 was the clear winner, delivering up to 600 percent longer range against the most commonly used radar guns.
LASER TEST RESULTS
We also tested the K40 Defuser EX laser jammer and the Escort Qi45 laser shifters. The target vehicle was the same Honda that we've used for laser jammer tests for years, enabling a direct comparison of the results with those from earlier tests dating back to our first test of the Defuser in 1994.
Starting each run from 1,500 feet and driving at 25 mph, the laser operator began firing when the target car driver radioed that he'd passed a traffic cone at the 1,500-foot mark. At that distance the bite-sized Honda looked like a Hot Wheels model through the laser HUD. After a few attempts at targeting the front plate area, if no speed was acquired, the aiming point was shifted to a headlight. The runs were repeated three times and the scores averaged.
The results were disappointing. Even under ideal conditions - no front plate and a small, dark and laser-unfriendly target vehicle - the Defuser EX struggled to cope with our laser guns. It did manage to fight off attacks from the Kustom Signals Pro Laser III down to 923 feet and the Stalker LZ1 down to 621 feet. But the Kustom Signals Pro Lite and Laser Atlanta Speed Laser (in Stealth Mode) nailed it almost instantly at 1,331 feet and 1,432 feet, respectively. The Laser Atlanta Speed Laser in non-Stealth Mode remained confused until the range had closed to 1,189 feet. The LTI Marksman got a speed at 1,147 feet and the LTI TruSpeed at 1,214 feet; all three locked-on almost immediately when our aim was shifted from the plate area to a headlight. Mindful that urban laser attacks often occur at ranges far closer than 1,000 feet, this level of protection would be of scant help.
On a larger vehicle with a greater distance between the headlights and front plate area, say a Ford Taurus-sized ride - and particularly if it wears a reflective front plate - our past tests of the Defuser EX show that it's powerless to reliably jam modern lasers. Under these conditions it can marginally reduce target-capture range on a few lasers working at extreme range, but since many laser encounters take place at shorter distances, this offers little solace.
Our test results at first glance may be confusing since they're radically different from those posted on the K40 Web site. In a test paid for by K40 and performed by a helpful Web site operator, the Defuser EX is claimed to have achieved 100 percent jamming effectiveness against three of the same lasers we used and is credited with 67 percent effectiveness against a fourth. What's up with this?
One explanation may lie in the way K40's test was conducted. According to the report: 1) The jammers weren't retail samples purchased anonymously; K40 itself provided the jammers, vaguely described as "Defuser EX2 pre-production engineering samples", very possibly not something you'll find in stores any time soon; 2) Two K40 jammers were mounted immediately adjacent to the front plate, double the protection claimed to be needed for an average-size vehicle, 3) Target range was limited to only 1,000 feet, 4) The lasers were aimed only at the license plate and its jammers - the headlights were ignored; 5) Jamming capability was checked momentarily and at only two distances: 1,000 feet and 500 feet - if no speed was observed instantly, the laser was considered jammed; 6) On each run the lasers were triggered only three times at these two distances. (This is akin to taking an M60 machine gun, good for 550 rounds per minute, and firing single shots. In the real world, a laser's trigger is held down and it transmits continuously, quickly acquiring the target); and, 7) The deadly Laser Atlanta was used only in its far more easily-jammed non-Stealth mode.
Variables like these have an enormous influence on laser-jamming performance. For instance, when we substituted a red 2007 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon as the target vehicle, any of the frontline lasers could spot it at 2,650 feet, the limit of our test course. It made no difference whether the K40 Defuser EX was transmitting or not; nearly all of the lasers could read its speed down to point-blank range. And the little Jeep was wearing no front plate; the lasers were very content with its headlights alone.
Compared to the K40 Defuser, the Escort Passport Qi45 proved to be notably more adept at foiling lasers, defeating the Stalker LZ1 down to 399 feet and the LTI Marksman to only 245 feet. Significantly, it jammed all of the most commonly used lasers down to point-blank range, an achievement of some note.
Don't assume it can make any vehicle laser-proof, however. When we generously stacked the deck in favor of the K40 Defuser EX, giving it the best possible chance of success, the Escort Qi45 laser shifters benefited as well. When we installed a front plate and used a larger vehicle for another laser jammer test and review, a few gaps in the Escort's protection envelope were observed.
But that said, and particularly in light of its relatively modest price, the Escort Passport Qi45 with Shifter Pack showed impressive, class-leading talent in fending off police radar and laser guns. It's also the most easily-installed remote radar detector we've seen, reasons enough for many to take a closer look.