Monday, November 07, 2011

BEL Vector 995, the Rodney Dangerfield of radar detectors

Escort 8500 X50 (left), BEL Vector 995
Imagine the excitement if BMW announced that a new car, identical in appearance and performance to the M3 coupe, would be available at a steep discount. BMW mechanics can work on it and every component is OEM BMW. There'd be a single caveat: its badge would read Panhard, not BMW.

Forget for a moment some of the implications that would come with that Panhard badge, an uncertain resale value, for instance. Would you buy one anyway?

Much as I like the M3, an identical alternative available at a 20 percent discount might be enough to catch my attention. But many wouldn't bite, for the Bimmer label is a major part of why they purchased a BMW. The same car by another name wouldn't have nearly the cachet. For them, appearance is at least as important as function.

The same phenomenon applies to radar detectors. The Escort name implies high performance, impeccable build quality and leading-edge technology. Those who have been around awhile are likely to accord the same attributes to 40-year-old Beltronics (BEL), but to younger buyers, it's a relative unknown.

This is why most remain unaware of the Vector 995, the BEL version of the class-leading Escort  Passport 8500 X50, the successor to the model I christened "World's Best" when I reviewed it in 2001. Standing in the shadow of its heavily-promoted corporate sibling, the Vector 995 remains the Rodney Dangerfield of radar detectors.

How similar are these two? Very: other than a different housing and a miniscule variation in features, the BEL Vector 995 is identical to the Escort Passport 8500 X50, including the recently released 8500 X50 Black. The similarities are obvious in our new video.

The BEL has an upmarket feature: voice alerts. Unlike the Escort, which relies on audio tones to convey band ID and other information, the BEL comes with both voice alerts and audio tones. Those uninterested in or unable to master different tones can opt for a stentorian male voice to call out the details. No more having to study the detector for information.

And there are two other differences: 1) The Escort has Expert Meter, a display option no one uses that tracks multiple signals, and 2) The Escort sells for a no-discount $299.95 while the BEL can be had for substantially less. (If you see the Escort advertised cheaper, it's from an unauthorized reseller. When it breaks, don't bother returning to Escort for service; they'll decline to work on it.)

Aside from these items, the two are the same radar detector. But try explaining that over the telephone. Most of the Internet buzz is centered on the 8500 X50, and that's the model on which most callers prefer to focus. But a few want to hear more, particularly about how the two compare in performance.

To that end we recently tested both models, including an Escort Passport 8500 X50 Black. The results persuaded us to create the BEL Vector 995 Protection Pack. We view it as a cost-effective package that significantly increases one's level of protection against speeding tickets.