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Escort Passport Max Versus Whistler CR85/90
Does spending more money for a radar detector really get you better protection and fewer false alarms? I decided to find out by taking two of our top-rated radar detectors—the Escort Passport Max (street price $505 on Amazon) and the Whistler CR85 (street price $143 on Amazon)—on multiple road trips across eight states to test them in real world conditions. After nine months of testing, here's what I learned.
First, a little background.
The Escort Passport Max was our runner-up as the Top Pick for Best Radar Detector in our review last October. The Escort Max offers a variety of features beyond radar detection, including GPS-based red light and speed camera warnings, auto-learning of fixed position false alarms and all new "High Definition" DSP circuitry to help justify its hefty price tag. The newer Escort Passport Max 2 is identical to our tested model, except that it now includes Bluetooth to connect your with the Escort Live app on your phone.
The Whistler CR85 was our Top Pick for Best Budget Radar Detector. It is a bare-bones model that doesn't pack the red light and speed camera database features of the Passport Max (though its sibling the Whistler CR90 does). Since I was only testing radar detection and false alarm rejection, the lack of GPS and camera locations weren't an issue.
There are a few sites out there that do extensive testing of radar detectors, but those tests are always in simulated conditions with a limited number of radar scenarios. I wanted real world results; and that's not easy to get. As Murphy's Law would dictate, cops are far harder to find when you're conducting a test of radar detectors. So I drove for over nine months, across eight states (Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania), with both detectors mounted on either side of my dashboard, until I had results I could feel confident in.
Test results: radar detection
In my driving, I only encountered law enforcement officers (LEO) using Ka band radar. Because Ka band is usually detected at shorter range than K or X band radar, and because of its predominance among LEOs, it's critical that a radar detector pick up Ka band radar at the furthest distance possible.
With few exceptions, both the Passport Max and the Whistler CR85 detected Ka radar with enough warning to slow down before being at risk for a ticket. The Passport Max was usually a hair quicker to go off, though this wouldn't matter in most scenarios.
But that extra sensitivity paid off in the mountain highways of Pennsylvania. Coming down a long hill, the Passport started beeping with no cop in sight. As I started to round a turn at the bottom, the Whistler started squawking, too, and there, tucked inside the curve, was the LEO. The Passport warned me in time, I don't know if I would have been as lucky with the Whistler.
On K Band, commonly used for photo radar, detection distances were identical between the Max and the CR85. Both provided adequate warning. I never encountered a LEO using X band radar, and it's unlikely you will either as this band has largely fallen out of use for vehicle speed detection.
I did not try to test laser detection as it's pointless. Because laser guns have such a narrow beam, the only time you're going to get a laser warning is when you're already nailed.
Test results: false alarms
Limiting false alarms is almost as important as detecting "real" signals. Too many false alarms may cause you to ignore the next valid alert or decide to stop using the radar detector, altogether.
Both detectors were pretty good at avoiding false alerts. The Passport Max, though, was definitely the quieter of the two. The Whistler seemed to have a particular problem with the collisions avoidance systems on Audis. In the city, I would recommend turning off X band on the Max and CR85 to avoid picking up the numerous automatic door openers.
One quirk of having red light camera warnings is that it can lead to false alarms, as well. While driving on urban highways, the Passport (and, presumably, the sibling Whistler CR90, too) would alert to nearby red light cameras, though they obviously were not a concern on the highway. Easy to ignore, but irritating.
After considerable time spent with both detectors, the Passport Max is the one that I would choose if I wanted the absolute best in radar detection, with the least false alarms. Across every scenario I tested it, it never let me down. But that performance comes at a steep price. If you can justify the cost for the red light and speed camera database, have deep pockets, or regularly drive at highly irresponsible speeds, the Passport Max (or the Passport Max 2) is the detector for you.
One consideration with the Passport Max that doesn't relate directly to radar performance is its sub-par windshield mount. The weight of the detector causes it to jiggle on the mount while driving, eventually working itself off the mount entirely. By the end of my testing, the constant jiggling actually caused the entire case of the detector to split in two. This is a commonly reported issue among owners. A new mount supposedly fixes this problem but we were not able to get one prior to writing this review.
For those on a budget, the Whistler CR85 is no slouch. In real-world testing, it performed just as well as the Passport Max in K band detection and was nearly as strong in Ka band. Its higher propensity towards false alarms was noticeable, but still well-managed. If you're looking for great protection at a bargain price, the CR85 is he way to go.