Review – Escort PASSPORT Max Radar Detector

You’re having that dream again about the joys of the open road … the landscape rushing by, beautiful clouds overhead, great tunes on the car stereo, engine running perfectly. Nothing could ruin such a beautiful day! Hey, what’s that up ahead? Is that a cop hiding behind those bushes, pointing something resembling a hair dryer at my car? What? I’m ok, doing the speed limit … oh #%@*, I’m going a few miles over the posted limit. Please, not a ticket, not a radar gun, please, God – I can’t afford a speeding ticket! Noooooo… And then you suddenly wake up from the nightmare, you sit bolt upright in bed, heart racing. Actually for most of us the threat of a radar trap isn’t fiction, but reality. While you must always drive as safely as possible, even the best drivers want to be on the lookout for traps, and avoid unwanted tickets.

The first Escort radar detector was introduced in the 1970s, and was available only directly from the company. I remember the first ads I saw for it in Road & Track magazine. As a high school student, I found it to be way expensive, and totally out of the reach of a typical teenager’s budget. Back then, having an Escort was a mark of hip, you saw them in Porsches, not VW Super Beetles like mine. While there were other manufacturers producing similar products, everyone knew if you wanted the best you got an Escort. In the intervening years, Escort improved upon their models, and introduced lower priced units, and I finally got myself one – that was a great day!

Suffice it to say, I have some history with radar detectors, and even though my fellow reviewers and I now tend to set our speed to the posted speed limit with cruise control (not always to the delight of the new generation of younger drivers), the use of radar guns and laser is still a threat, and can be far from fair, or consistent. With municipalities, counties, and even state legislators demanding new revenue sources from state highway patrols, the deck is often unfairly stacked against drivers. Enter the advent of social media, smart phones, and far more sophisticated radar detection technology.

A couple of years ago we reviewed the Escort SmartRadar detector that featured a top-of-the-line detector designed to work with either the iOS or Android operating systems. You could program the detector, adjust alerts and sensitivity, and most importantly connect to other Escort customers to learn of the dreaded red light cameras, speed traps, and other hazards. We quickly discovered just how far detectors had come, with quick fast alerts, minimal false alerts, and quick response times. SmartRadar was a great unit all around. So what enhancements does the PASSPORT Max offer?

First, a brief lesson in how radar detectors work. Essentially they are radio receivers that are tuned to very specific frequencies, and each year the tuners get more and more precise which helps to prevent false alerts from door openers, and other sources. This is where the PASSPORT Max ups the ante. By employing a sophisticated digital signal processor (DSP) to interpret the signal from the detector’s antenna, Escort was able to apply precise examination of the signals received. In doing so, the company is able to only pass on true alerts. Coupled with a much faster processor, the PASSPORT Max was the fastest and longest-range detector we have ever tested. The Max can be used without the Escort Smart Alert software, and as a plug-and-play unit we found it a solid, completely dependable unit. With the ability to learn where false alerts, or a type of radar not used in your area for law enforcement, we were able to reduce alerts to a minimal number.

With a radar detector’s ability to turn off alerts from certain bands, the question of when it’s best to limit the bands comes up. Our advice is to keep all the bands turned on. Why? Well, most law enforcement agencies update their gear to current standards, since if they aren’t calibrated on a regular basis, any tickets generated by them will be tossed out if challenged in court, so using legacy hardware doesn’t do them any favors. However, this detection hardware is expensive, and often hardware is tricked down to smaller agencies, as well as kept as a backup should a unit need repair. So, some reports have suggested that some agencies might have older band units still in use, even though they weren’t supposed to be. The easy method to detect them would be to keep all the bands active, and just ignore any occasional false alerts.

All this is easily controllable with a few buttons on the unit itself. The PASSPORT Max sports an attractive and easy-to-read OLED display, so a driver can be constantly made aware of alerts, both visually and audibly. The unit connects via Bluetooth to your Android or iOS phone or tablet. Escort Live is the dedicated app that can allow you to fine-tune the detector, but also gain info from the Defender Database, and ESCORT Live, both available on a yearly subscription model. The unit’s internal database and software is updatable, but at the time of this writing it is not Mac-compatible.

While it seems natural to blame the detector for false alerts, with a detector as sophisticated as the PASSPORT Max, the fault probably lies in poorly engineered and quality controlled alarm systems, door openers, and the like. Even though any device that generates radio waves is supposed to follow strict guidelines laid down by the FCC, the reality is that systems are often pretty sloppy. Anyone who has ever had a microwave oven in use suddenly cause their wireless phone to get static-y knows this first hand. Thanks to the engineering prowess of Cincinnati Microwaves, the Passport Max is as sensitive and fast as it is, while discerning enough to figure out what is a real threat as opposed to a false one.

Do radar detectors encourage folks drive faster? I’m not sure how to answer that, certainly drivers with sports cars seem to love using them as do truckers and many folks who spend a good chunk of time on the road, but in our case, we found that the detector actually caused us to slow down. We set the detector to give us an alert when we were just 2 MPH over the speed limit, and thanks to built-in GPS, it often surprised us, alerting us to variations in the limit as we drove along different sections of highway, and letting us know when we inadvertently went too fast. Surprisingly, we found ourselves driving even more attentively and safely. With the PASSPORT Max, we also had enough advance notice not only to anticipate a hidden police cruiser, but the sudden drop in speed and rows of panicked red lights in front of us.

I drove almost the entire length of California last summer and winter, using both detector models, and found that patrol cars from the smaller towns along Highway 395, a beautiful older road along the Eastern Sierras, were ticketing drivers for going as little as two or three MPH over the limit, with the speed limit dropping and changing multiple times from 65 MPH to 25 MPH in under a mile. The detectors were incredibly helpful when entering jurisdictions whose financial lifeblood seemed to be based on barely-over-the-speed-limit citations. I’ve driven though those small towns in years past, before I knew what to expect or how to set my cruise control accordingly. This time, having the Passport Max along for the ride not only alerted me to local police cars hiding in crafty places, it also alerted me to California Highway Patrol officers on the highway.

It’s easy to find yourself going significantly over the speed limit just to keep up with traffic on most roads and highways these days, without intentionally trying to put the pedal to the metal. While the law says that ignorance of the law is no excuse, the law also prohibits you from putting others on the road at risk by your own unsafe driving habits. With enforcement often capricious in nature, the Passport Max adds an arrow in your quiver to protect yourself.

After having tested multiple radar detectors, the PASSPORT Max is by far the most sensitive, fastest, and most feature-laden radar detector with the fewest false alerts that we’ve ever used. The Escort PASSPORT Max comes highly recommended for anyone navigating the highways and byways, and need some serious protection from over-enthusiastic law enforcement tactics.

Harris Fogel and Nancy Burlan, posted 12/11/2013

For more information on the Escort PASSPORT Max visit: