Sunday, December 20, 2015

Escort Passport X70 Review

The Escort Passport X70 ($299 MSRP) fills the slot vacated by the discontinued 8500 X50, the model whose 8500 forebear I christened "world's best" when I reviewed it for Automobile magazine. That early 8500 didn't have the world's longest range—a couple of pricier contenders from BEL and Valentine shared that claim—but it raised the bar a notch in sophistication and user-friendliness.

Although the X70 uses the same corporate M4 platform and has a black housing like its predecessor, the cosmetic similarities end there. This new entry is larger in all three dimensions, for instance. And instead of the X50's elevated, easily-located switches, the X70's four top-mounted buttons are recessed into the case, making them elusive and slow to operate. The power button is buried so deep that a Q-Tip might be used to operate it.

Aside from the X70's extra bulk, most noticeable is its different type of display. While the X50 used red LEDs, the X70 employs OLEDs. Rather than lighting up hundreds of LEDs to create alphanumeric characters, an OLED display creates a miniature flat screen monitor that can be populated with colorful images. Alternate foreground colors are possible. Learn more about OLED displays...

OLED technology has some advantages over LED, but it doesn't fare as well in harsh lighting conditions. On sunny days we often found the X70's display too washed-out to be legible. Wearing sunglasses makes it disappear. In contrast, the LED displays of other Escort models are easy to read, even with brightness dialed back or while wearing shades.

This won't be a deal-breaker for those who rely on the unit's excellent voice alerts as their primary source of information. The low-contrast display only becomes an issue when using some of the advanced user preferences.

In Spec mode mode, for instance, a radar frequency is digitally displayed, allowing knowledgeable drivers to tell at a glance whether a Ka-band alert can safely be ignored. But to be useful, the information has to be legible, not always the case on sunny days.

Another user preference aimed at the enthusiast driver, one missing on the X50: Ka-band segmentation. By chopping this extra-wide band into segments, drivers with encyclopedic knowledge of the radar frequencies being used locally can shut off unused Ka-band segments. This tells the detector to ignore some signals and in theory, reduces false alarms.

The X70 offers four Ka-band segments rather than the eight found on the upscale Escort Passport 9500ci and RedlineXR. Unfortunately, with only the four segments available, they're too wide to be useful; shutting off any of them makes it likely that legitimate radar threats will be missed.

The Escort demonstrated excellent radar performance at our Hill/Curve test site. On X band it trailed the front-running Max 360 by a negligible seven percent. The gap widened to 25 percent on K band but on the all-important Ka band, I was surprised when the X70 alerted a few feet before the $649 Escort Max 360.

The X70 offers the same great performance and extensive list of features as the departed 8500 X50. Enthusiast drivers willing to spend more will likely prefer the Redline, but the budget-minded will probably find the Passport X70 a worthy X50 successor.