Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Review: Escort Max 360 Secrets Revealed

Not long ago, I was embedded in a miles-long ribbon of vehicles gridlocked on I-10 in remote southeastern Arizona. For nearly an hour we alternately stopped, inched forward, then stopped again interminably while first responders struggled to clear a multi-vehicle crash ahead.

Although few cars were passing by in the opposite lanes, every few minutes my Escort Max 360 would inexplicably bark a K-band alert. I logged eight in the 54 minutes we sat there.

After studying the numeric frequency and signal strength of each alert, finally a pattern emerged: it was alerting to the Blind Spot Monitoring radar transmitters in nearby vehicles. As impatient drivers changed lanes and jockeyed for position, a radar beam once blocked by other vehicles would be unmasked momentarily, generating an alert.

These vehicular radar systems use a frequency shared with police radar and to a detector, the two look identical. Still, the Max 360 seemed to be inordinately affected by these radar pests.

When we later performance-tested the Max 360 one explanation for this behavior was revealed: it has stupendous range on K band. Better even than the fabled Escort Redline. Not the advantage it might seem since, unfortunately, state highway patrol agencies almost universally employ a different frequency—Ka band.

A second reason for the chatty nature also emerged: its rear antenna. The Max 360 is the first Escort to have a rear-facing antenna, allowing it to indicate the direction of an incoming radar beam. But coupled with hypersensitivity on K band, the most noticeable effect of the rear antenna is to double the number of false alarms.

In a typical scenario let's say the Max 360 alerts to a distant K-band radar. Signal strength climbs as the source is approached until finally, it mercifully falls silent.  But not for long. After the radar is passed, the rear antenna spots it and another alert begins.  Instead of one alert lasting, say, 15 seconds, now we get two that last a combined 30 seconds.
We noticed other behavioral oddities in the Max 360 during an extended five-month, 5,700-mile evaluation.  For the backstory on this complex—not to mention pricey—model see the Escort Max 360 review.