I drive a lot and am no stranger to road trips, so I drive past a lot of highway patrol and police manning speed traps, hiding in turnouts with their radar guns, and driving in the opposite direction with their speed sensing gear on high. I’m not much of a speeder, though, preferring to keep the money in my wallet rather than pay high fines. But road trip. Yeah, When you’ve got 100 miles of empty highway ahead of you, those speed limits can seem awful daft and limiting 🙂
So when Escort, one of the biggest names in radar detectors, sent me one of their top-of-the-line Passport Max2 units, I knew just the road trip to test it on, a journey from Denver, Colorado to Missoula, Montana and back, all in seven days. That’s about 900 miles each way, with long stretches through Wyoming and Montana that are perfect for an autonomous vehicle: no turns, no cars, no off ramps. Just road.
And cops hiding over the next rise, hoping to earn their pay by tagging people who are exceeding the speed limit!
Right from the unboxing, I was impressed with the Max2, with its compact size and excellent fit and finish. It’s the best radar detector I’ve ever used, actually, even including a suction cup mount that actually has a level to make putting it on the windshield quite easy. It’s just a bit bigger than a deck of cards, at 3.2″ wide x 5.3″ long x 1.3″ high:
If you’re into specs and know radar detectors better than I do, you’ll appreciate that it works with all the following bands:
X-band 10.525 GHz ~+mn~ 25 MHz
K-band 24.150 GHz ~+mn~ 100 MHz
Ka-band 34.700 GHz ~+mn~ 1300 MHz
Laser 904nm, 33 MHz Bandwidth
Most important to know is that K-band is the most popular, with about a 1/4-mile “clocking” range, Ka-band includes photo-radar, so the cops like it (they’ve got a photo of your car with the speed recorded in case you try to contest), laser is popular because it’s very fast to read (it can estimate your speed within 1/2 second) but has a max range of 1/5 mile, and, finally, X-band is the original detection frequency and has a range of 1/2 mile.
But X-band signals can also be generated by automatic door openers at supermarkets, garage door openers, and even microwave towers, which leads to “false hits”. The result is that any decent radar detector has all sorts of filters and smarts to analyze not just the signal but the location to filter out these false alarms.
So that’s the two dimensions of a radar detector: sensitivity combined with the smarts to shield you from too many false positives. And that’s where the Passport Max2 is a rock star. Part of this is because the Max2 hooks up through your smartphone with Escort Live, a crowdsourced radar detection database that lets you tap into other people’s experiences and identification of speed traps and more.
Here’s what the app displays on my iPhone when I’m in motion (yes, I’m going 84 in an 80 zone)
If you go to “dashboard” mode, the display’s even more interesting:
Almost makes me want to just glue my iPhone to the car’s dashboard and leave it on this display all the time.
Note: These are simulated screens, of course, because I’d never have been driving over the speed limit, right? 🙂
Where it gets interesting is when the Max2 does detect a radar signal, suddenly popping up on the phone’s screen:
Ah, Ka band but not very strong at all — only one of seven bars shown. Still, worth slowing down to near the speed limit, at least, until past that trigger event. The Max2 detector also has audio feedback itself, a warning and voice “Ka band detected”, so you can ignore your phone and even not have a smartphone hooked up and still enjoy the benefits of the detector in your vehicle.
What most impressed me was that in any given hour of driving it would only detect 2-3 signals, and almost every single time I’d then find a cop either hiding under a bridge, in a turn-out, having pulled someone over, or driving towards me. It even occasionally warned me “known speed trap” because others had reported a location as such to the Escort Live service.
The only hiccup I found with this great unit on my drive was that the speed limit database wasn’t always in sync with the actual posted speed limit on some of the roads. You can see it in this photo, below, where the posted limit is 80, but the Max2 thinks it’s 75 (the left value on the display):
And yeah, I’m going 84 in an 80 zone for this photo. Simulated. Yeah, that’s it, simulated.
Another cool feature of the Passport Max2 is the smart “Combo Smartcord” USB plug that flashes when there’s a radar detected and even has a big MUTE button if it’s insistent and you’d like to shut it up:
All in all, this is my go-to radar detector for road trips and any other times when I worry about cops being zealous when I want to shave a few minutes — or more — off a drive by nudging above the posted limit. It’s expensive, but it’s really one of the very best radar detectors on the market, so for the price of two speeding tickets, you might just want to consider adding this to your arsenal before your next grand touring adventure.
Disclosure: Escort sent me a Passport Max2 for the purposes of this review.