Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Best Radar Detector vs. Worst, the Movie

"According to you", the
caller said, "most radar encounters happen at less than 800 feet.  So if a
$150 [radar] detector gives me a mile of warning range, why should I spend $500 and buy an Escort RedLine?"

He was referring to our comparison test in which the RedLine spotted all of our radar guns from 14.2 miles away, a world record.

That test was an interesting--if labor-intensive--exercise intended to answer a question few have asked: How far away can the best radar detector spot radar? In hindsight I almost wish we hadn't bothered; it would have prevented an endless litany of questions like this one.

In my answers I explain how the extraordinary range of the high-end Escort, admittedly overkill when it's used on a billiard table-flat desert road like we used for testing, gives it a reserve of performance. And in difficult conditions that extra performance translates into ticket avoidance where lesser models offer no protection at all.

To illustrate this point I remind callers that when we tested in real-world conditions, with hills and curves, that $150 Rocky Mountain Radar model failed miserably in detecting our radar soon enough. Yet the RedLine alerted at 0.6 mile, allowing 2,100 feet in which to react. You'd think that would settle the matter. But no, I can almost feel their eyes glaze over. When we say our goodbyes, most clearly remain unconvinced.

This seemed to merit a video production. The cheapest solution would be a typical YouTube effort, shot with a wobbly camcorder inside a moving car and usually, it would appear, by the driver himself. I had other ideas.

If we were going to spend two days frying in 110-degree desert heat to grab the location shots, we might as well bump up the production values and make the shoot more interesting visually.

To that end we secured the one-week loan of a new Dodge Charger SRT8, a bargain-priced road rocket packing a 6.1-liter, 425 hp V-8. In our previous tests of this Hemi-powered model it hit 60 mph from rest in 5.3 seconds and went on to reach 167 mph. Equally important, its generous interior room allowed Tyson Smith, our talented cameraman, enough space for what are called OTS shots, or Over The Shoulder, where the camera could capture the driver's point of view and also see the detectors on the dash.

The Charger SRT8 has other attributes that make it ideal for filming. Among them is an abundance of flat panels, making it easy to mount our tiny POV cameras on the front doors and hood. These use brackets with suction cups that can be detached easily while still reliably holding the tiny cameras rock-steady at speeds beyond 130 mph.

The Dodge also has bulletproof brakes, essential for making repeated maximum-G stops from speed. And, not least, its guttural exhaust gives it a commanding aural presence.

This last bit is significant since, like with most location shoots, much of the natural sound we recorded was unusable in the final edit. Example: in the opening sequence, the SRT8 crosses a distant horizon at speed. We shot three takes, each ruined by the drone of a low-flying Cessna that suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Another: the POV (point of view) Sony XC999 and Contour HD cameras clinging to the exterior of the car were shooting MOS, film-speak for "without sound". We'd need the appropriate audio to make these shots work.

That audio was recorded months earlier in another location from three other vehicles: a Jeep Cherokee SRT8--identical powertrain and similar-sounding exhaust--a Cadillac CTS-V and a Jaguar XFR. The last two have supercharged V-8s and while their exhaust notes are more refined and less raucous than the Charger's, we found that certain combinations of throttle, gear and rpm generated a reasonable approximation of the Charger SRT8's exhaust note.

So how'd all this work out? Check out the video and judge for yourself.