Although we here at DigitalTrends encourage drivers to obey all traffic laws, including posted speed limits, we know that feeling. Yeah, that feeling, when you’re on a long road trip, in some rural part of America on the long and uneventful interstate. All you see is open, clear road for the foreseeable forward distance. And you want to stretch your car’s legs … or make up the lost time from being stuck in construction traffic in the last city you drove through.
But you’re constantly worrying about speed traps lurking in the emergency turnaround at the next blind corner or hill. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a way to tell if there was highway patrolman in the distance? Thankfully, you can, with radar detectors, as long as you’re not traveling through the state of Virginia or the District of Columbia (where detectors are illegal).
At a glance
|Escort Max 360||Best radar detector overall||4.5 out of 5|
|Cobra ESD 7570||Best affordable radar detector||out of 5|
|Valentine One V1||Best mid-range radar detector||out of 5|
|Escort iX||Best long-range radar detector||4.5 out of 5|
|Beltronics GT-7||Best-looking radar detector||out of 5|
What is a radar detector?
It’s an in-car device, like a portable GPS or dash camera, that’s specifically designed to warn you of police presence and the use of speed detection hardware. Radar guns, or the devices police use to gauge a driver’s speed at a distance, operate exclusively on specific radio waves, and radar detectors warn you of the presence of those radio waves based on proximity.
When shopping for one…
It can be a tough decision since radar detectors aren’t exactly cheap technologies and require some research to see which is the best one for you in your budget. But when it comes to radar detectors, it’s a strong case of you get what you pay for, in terms of functionality and accuracy.
Cheaper models tend to be less accurate and more prone to false readings, while more expensive and top-range radar detectors can offer directional indicators, GPS functionality, and “smart technologies” that can identify false radar signals. False signals may come from other sensory systems using similar radio wave-based detection, such as automatic sliding doors at the local supermarket, or even blind-spot detection systems on some newer vehicles today.
So to make your hunt for a radar detector easier, we’ve compiled a list of some of the top radar detectors on sale today, along with a few we’ve reviewed ourselves.
Escort Max 360
Why should you buy this: It’s the most accurate and feature-packed radar detector available
Who’s it for: Drivers who want the most ticket protection possible
How much will it cost: $500
Why we picked the Escort Max 360:
Although there is a new version of the Escort Max 360, which we reviewed not too long ago as the Escort Max 360c, we still stick with the Max 360 since it can be had for less than $500 at certain retailers. Prices may have come down, but the Max 360 continues to be our choice, and for good reason. Quite simply, the updated Max 360c doesn’t really improve on the previous model’s functionality too significantly to make it worth its price premium. The original Max 360 was already so good to begin with. It comes packed with nearly every feature available on a radar detector today, including dual antennas, directional arrows that point out threats, and smartphone compatibility to help you network with other speedsters in your area.
At the heart of the device lies a powerful digital signal processor (DSP), which uses a microchip to automatically recognize and prioritize radar bands typically used by law enforcement, ensuring that random signals from automatic doors and blind spot detection systems don’t interrupt your commute. In addition, the Max 360 boasts a GPS-powered AutoLearn feature that cuts down on false alerts by logging frivolous emissions and ignoring them the next time you drive by. Escort is so confident in its abilities, it will even pay for your first ticket if you’re cited while using it. That may let you stretch your Chevrolet Corvette‘s legs a little bit more.
Another thing that sets the Max 360 apart is community-based protection. It uses Bluetooth to link itself to smartphones, giving users access to a community-based ticket protection program called Escort Live. Escort Live is a free app for Android and Apple Devices, one that notifies you of nearby alerts, red light camera locations, local speed limit data, and even your own over-speed violations.
Cobra ESD 7570
The best affordable radar detector
Why should you buy this: It’s a great radar detector at an even better price
Who’s it for: Lead foots on a budget
How much will it cost: $60
Why we picked the Cobra ESD 7570:
The Cobra ESD 7570 won’t break the bank, but it still packs a serious punch. Sleek-looking and compact, it mounts to your windshield using suction cups and features an easy-to-read display that shows data clearly even in bright sunlight. The display is broken up into color-coded sections for the various bands used by law enforcement so you immediately know what you’re up against.
The city/highway mode comes in handy. In densely-populated areas, store alarms and other signals can sometimes set off a radar detector. Turning on city mode reduces these false alarms. On the highway, especially out in rural areas, signals almost always come from law enforcement; a cactus won’t set off a detector. Highway mode takes that into account, too.
The 360-degree detection, called LaserEye, detects signals regardless of where they’re coming from. The ESD7570 will inform you even if the signal is coming from behind your car. It also provides safety alerts when it detects the presence of an emergency vehicle (such as an ambulance) or when it senses you’re approaching a railroad crossing, among other potential hazards.
Valentine One V1
The best mid-range radar detector
Why should you buy this: It’s been a top performer since the ‘90s and shows no signs of slowing
Who’s it for: People who want to know exactly where the cops are coming from
How much will it cost: $399
Why we picked the Valentine One V1:
The Valentine One V1’s interface and display look like they’re from the ’90s because they are, but the product is one of the best radar detectors on the market. Packed with two radar antennas, impressive range, and laser detection, the ol’ V1 helps keep your driving record clean as a whistle. Perhaps the device’s greatest feature is its directional notifications of upcoming radar signals. While most radar detectors on the market merely alert the driver of radar signals in the local area, Valentine One’s model informs the driver of the exact direction the radar signal is coming from. Utilizing a front and rear radar antenna, drivers can see exactly where a speed reading is coming from and what kind of band is in use. If the arrow on the top activates and the Ka category lights up, a police speed trap lies ahead. You’ll know you’ve passed it once the arrow pointing down lights up. Valentine One held a patent on arrow indicators until 2011, and the new Escort Max 360 features a similar system.
Even a radar detector as impressive and helpful as the Valentine One comes with a few annoyances. While not completely damning of the product as a whole, it does tend to overachieve when it comes to searching for radar signals — even non-police radars have a tendency to set off the device. However, such a hiccup on an otherwise great product shouldn’t steer you away from making it your go-to radar detector. In fact, most people would rather have a radar that overcompensated at its job than one which fails to alert you of even the most obvious speed traps.
The device also gives you the ability to turn off the X or K band detectors, though proceed with caution as some police officers still use the lesser-utilized K band from time to time. With reliable, straightforward alerts and its unique arrow display system, the Valentine One Radar Locator is at the top of its class.
The best long-range radar detector
Why you should buy this: The Escort iX warns you of speed traps well before the cops see you
Who’s it for: Speedsters who frequently travel through remote areas
How much will it cost: $400
Why we picked the Escort iX: Though its name suggests it’s an old Ford equipped with BMW’s all-wheel drive system, the Escort iX is actually a radar detector tailor-made for long-range detection. It’s well suited to remote areas, like the Nevada desert or the Great Plains, because it detects speed traps from far away. When it goes off, you know there’s a law enforcement officer in the vicinity. The iX’s early warning gives you enough time to slow down to a more permissible speed, and its easy-to-read display tells you exactly how much speed you need to scrub off.
The iX’s multiple sensors detect X-band, K-band, and SuperWide Ka-band, even if the officer uses pesky-instant on technology. It’s smart, too. Intelligent AutoLearn Technology relies on GPS and frequency data to reject false alarms and learn their location so it doesn’t go off the next time you drive past them. It also features a built-in IVT filter, which reduces false alarms caused by in-vehicle technology like adaptive cruise control and collision avoidance systems. This wasn’t a problem a decade ago, but it has become a real issue as cars get more and more advanced.
Users can sync the iX with the Escort Live application to receive crowdsourced real-time alerts of speed traps, red light cameras, and other traffic-related threats. The app is compatible with Android and Apple devices, and it’s free.
The best-looking radar detector
Why should you buy this: It’s the sexiest radar detector on the market — with functionality to match
Who’s it for: Drivers who want top-flight radar protection in a sleek, attractive package
How much will it cost: $500
Why we picked the Beltronics GT-7:
The GT-7 is the best-looking radar detector on the market right now, but Beltronics’ flagship is much more than an attractive windshield ornament. Bolstered by a powerful digital processor, the GT-7 acts like a bouncer for radio signals, kicking false alerts to the curb to make sure every chime and whistle you hear comes from a legitimate law enforcement source. Beltronics is owned by Escort, and consequentially many of the features showcased on the Passport Max2 and Max 360 are available on the GT-7. For example, the device is compatible with the Escort Live ticket protection app — which tracks speed traps and other high-risk locations in your area — while also granting access to a red-light and speed-camera directory called the Defender Database.
The GT-7 is essentially a plug and play product, but the user experience can be tailored to the individual driver’s needs. Three different modes of operations are available — Highway, Auto, and No X — each of which adjusts sensitivity and range based on a variety of parameters. The Auto setting is quite clever, as it logs the types of signals it’s detected most recently and instinctively adjusts sensitivity in response. Furthermore, the quick and accurate GT-7 offers “Over-Speed” alerts to let the driver know when he or she has passed a pre-set velocity, assuring that you slow yourself down before the flashing lights appear in your rearview. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say.
How we test
Our testers evaluate these accessories in real-world conditions, taking them to known areas of frequent radar detection as well as environments that trigger false signals. They are also scored based on ease of installation, interface usability, available additional features, demonstrable accuracy, and connectivity to a crowd-sourced “spotter” community.
Here are some common radar detector terms you may not know:
- DSP: Short for digital signal processing, which utilizes a microchip to automatically recognize and prioritize radar bands typically used by law enforcement.
- K-Band: A common frequency for handheld radar guns, operating between 24.05 and 24.25 GHz.
- Ka-Band: The most popular frequency used by cops today, generally operating between 33.4 and 36.0 GHz.
- Laser: To catch speeders, many police have made the switch from radar to laser. While expensive, laser guns are far quicker and more accurate at measuring a vehicle’s location and speed.
- Laser defuser: A technology which detects police radars and jams the signal emitted by police laser guns. Note laser jammers are illegal in some states.
- X-Band: A catch-all radar band used by everything from traffic sensors to law enforcement to automatic supermarket doors. It operates from 10.5 to 10.55 GHz and is one of the easiest bands to detect.