Saturday, May 22, 2010

Tested: Escort Passport Qi45 remote radar detector

Popular legend has it that if you're stopped for speeding and you're packing a radar detector, the officer is more likely to slap you with a ticket. Unlike with a lot of urban legends, this one is true.

"To me, a radar detector is the moral equivalent of burglar's tools," veteran traffic officer Bill Balcom told me during a ride-along years ago. "Why do they have a detector if they're not trying to break the law? I stop 'em, they're not getting any breaks."

He's not alone in his opinion, either. Although few officers believe that radar detectors are effective, to many, a detector's mere presence is proof of intent. If they stop someone for speeding and there's a detector hanging from the windshield, it automatically means a ticket.

That's why savvy drivers often turn to remote radar detectors whose discrete components can be built-in to the vehicle. Aside from incurring less official displeasure, a remote detector is also far more protected from theft.

But there's been a traditional downside: price. Aside from a purchase price that starts at $1,600, installation labor alone on high-end systems—Escort Passport 9500ci, K40 Calibre—often exceeds $400, particularly if it's going into a car whose bodywork doesn't easily accommodate the front radar antenna and front/rear laser jammer modules.

For this reason alone the new Escort Passport Qi45 remote radar detector ($549) merits some attention. In price it occupies the middle ground between high-end remote systems and a high-performance windshield-mount model. The Qi45 doesn't compete with its high-end sibling as it has no GPS capability or standard laser jammers.

The Escort Passport Qi45 is operated by a small control/display module. If an even stealthier installation is preferred, the display can be tucked away and visual warnings can be conveyed by a multi-color LED. This can be panel-mounted or hidden in the gauge cluster.

The Qi moniker stands for Quick Installation and Escort claims that it can be installed in less than 45 minutes, about one-fourth of the time required by most systems. A smaller tab for labor and the friendly price of admission are its key selling points. It also has a [laser] Shifter Pack ($250) option that adds dual front laser jammers.

Total it up and an integrated package with radar and front laser protection comes in at under a grand, about half the price of the Escort Passport 9500ci or a K40 Calibre with Defuser EX laser jammers. (There's not much to show off, however. In the photo above it's hard to spot the Escort Passport Qi45 control/display module resting at the lower edge of the cluster, between the speedo and tach. Everything else is hidden.)

A sub-45-minute installation time is a pretty tall claim—I've often spent nine hours completing a nicely-finished installation—and it seemed worth investigating.

First we spent several days performance-testing the Passport Qi45 linked to the optional Shifter Pack. For the sake of comparison, we also tested a K40 Calibre remote radar detector along with a K40 Defuser EX laser jammer.

Each system was tested against every commonly used model of radar. We also ran a separate three-day test to check the effectiveness of their laser jammers versus all of the mainline laser guns.

It was good that we took the time: one of the laser jammers proved to be an underachiever and one of the radar detectors was critically near-sighted when facing the most frequently encountered Ka-band radar frequency.

Then I installed both systems on one of the most installer-unfriendly vehicles I've encountered, an Acura ZDX. (Some compromises on the installation were needed but it was a success. See if you can spot the Escort Passport Qi45's twin laser jammers and radar antenna on the ZDX in this photo.)

You can read the comparison test and review on