Best Radar Detectors of 2018

Jeph Preece ·
Senior Domain Editor
Updated
We maintain strict editorial integrity when we evaluate products and services; however, Top Ten Reviews may earn money when you click on links.

After driving over 120 miles and testing for eight hours, the Escort Max 360c emerged as our pick for the best radar detector overall. This radar detector had one of the longest ranges on the highway and the best city performance. It’s exceptionally easy to use for novices and comes with a bevy of features, such as over-speed alert and directional alerts, that are designed to encourage safe, aware driving.      

Best Overall

Escort Max 360c

The Escort Max 360c is the most sophisticated radar detector that I've reviewed, and it showed in the highway and city performance tests. No detector is better at improving your driving habits.
View on Amazon
Best Value

Escort Passport IX

The Escort Passport IX is our pick for the best value because it costs $300 less than the Escort Max 360c, yet performed nearly as well and has almost all the same features.
View on Amazon
Best Radar Detector Under $300

Uniden DFR7

While the performance of the Uniden DFR7 isn't comparable to the best radar detectors, it was the best performing radar detector under $300. It comes with above-average range and built-in GPS.
View on Amazon

Product
Price
$699.95Amazon
$599.99Amazon
$455.99Amazon
$549.99Amazon
$249.99Amazon
$399.99Amazon
$481.98Amazon
$179.99Amazon
$167.06Amazon
$149.95Amazon
Overall Rating
9.9
9.3
9
7.4
7.2
7.1
6.3
5.7
5.3
4.7
Performance
10
9.8
9.5
8.5
8
8
9
7.5
7.8
7.3
Controls
9.8
10
9.5
8.5
7.3
8.5
2.8
5.8
4
3.5
Alerts
10
7
7
3
5
3
5
1
1
Driving Awareness
A+
A
A
B+
B
C+
B+
B-
B-
C
Highway Performance
A
A+
A-
B
B
B+
A+
C
C+
C+
City Performance
A+
A+
A
B+
B-
B
A
B-
B
B
Display Readability
A+
A
A+
B
B
B+
C-
B
B+
B+
Ease of Use
A+
A
A
B-
B
B-
C
C+
A-
A-
Built-In GPS
-
-
-
Auto-Learn
-
-
-
-
-
Mark Location
-
-
-
Front-facing Mute
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
Over-Speed Alert
-
-
-
-
-
-
Directional Alerts
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
Multiple Threat Alert
-
-
-
-
Red Light & Speed Camera Alerts
-
-
Automatic Muting
-
-
-
-
Best Overall

Escort Max 360c

At nearly $700, the Escort Max 360c is not cheap, but the sophisticated balance of long-range sensitivity and effective use of GPS make it the most effective radar detector I've reviewed. If you're someone with a history of traffic citations, this detector is your best option for avoiding expensive tickets. And you don't need to be a radar expert to effectively make sense of it.
Escort even provides a ticket reimbursement guarantee, though it only applies to speeding tickets that resulted from a radar gun. In the highway performance test, the Escort Max 360c received an A with one of the longest ranges in each of the five scenarios I tested. While it didn't quite have the range of the Valentine One and the Escort RedLine EX, the range was more than enough to provide you with ample time to adjust your driving habits. For example, in the straight-ahead test where the radar gun was pointed straight down the road, it detected the radar two miles away. And this was using a K-band radar gun, which has a shorter range than the X-band typically used in freeway settings. Even in other scenarios, which had the radar gun pointed in various angles, the Max 360c provided one of the longest ranges. The ease of use with Max 360c is ideal for novices. The controls are clearly labeled. The display is matched only by other Escort detectors. The alerts are effective, and they automatically mute themselves after the initial voice alert. The built-in GPS automatically connects to the satellite and provides a wide range of features that includes an over-speed alert, which is the best way to avoiding speeding and far better than being detected by a police radar gun. You can take this detector out of the box and use it effectively.
Pros
  • Over-speed alert keeps you aware of your lead foot.
  • Directional alerts tell you where the radar is coming from.
  • Received highest grades for performance.
Cons
  • No front-facing mute button.
  • Very expensive.
  • Community sharing app is not effective.
$699.95Amazon
Best Value

Escort Passport IX

In a side-by-side comparison, the Escort Passport IX looks and performs very nearly as well as the top rated Escort Max 360c. Both feature high-end performance in both highway and city settings. Both feature sophisticated built-in GPS features and exceptional ease of use. The most notable difference is the price – the Passport IX costs $300 less than the Max 360c.
This is why the Passport IX is our pick for best value in radar detectors. The Passport IX doesn't have directional arrows that tell you where the radar is coming from like the Max 360c, but it’s otherwise designed to improve your driving awareness. With an adjustable over-speed alert, which uses the built-in GPS to accurately measure your speed, you always know when you've exceeded the speed limit. This is the only fool-proof method for ensuring you don't get a ticket and maintain a high awareness of your driving habits. In the highway tests, this detector received an A- for performance. While the range wasn't nearly as far as the Max 360c and the Valentine One, it still provided plenty of range in each scenario to safely adjust your driving habits in time to avoid a ticket. For example, the shortest range it recorded was a half mile with radar gun aimed perpendicular to the road. When the gun was aimed down the road, the range exceeds two miles. The city test was even better, receiving an A using the Auto Lo K and Auto No X sensitivity settings. Both settings use the GPS to automatically adjust the sensitivity as you drive. The faster you drive, the more sensitive the sensors. This provides a city driving experience that finely balances the alerts according to your driving habits. The faster you drive, the more alerts you get, which heightens your awareness and makes you a safer driver.
Pros
  • Excellent performance in highway and city settings.
  • Over-speed alert keeps you alert to driving habits.
  • Exceptional ease of use.
Cons
  • No front-facing mute button.
  • Doesn't have directional alerts.
  • Ineffective community sharing app.
$455.99Amazon
Best Radar Detector Under $300

Uniden DFR7

The Uniden DFR7 certainly isn't the best performing radar detector and it's not the easiest detector to use, but it's performance stands out among radar detectors under $300. Of the four budget radar detectors I tested and reviewed, the DFR7 had the best overall performance.
It's the only detector in this price range with built-in GPS that features an over-speed alert. In the highway performance test, the DFR7 earned a B grade, which means it has plenty of range to provide you with enough time to adjust your driving speed. For example, in the straight ahead test, it detected the radar at 2 miles. With radar aimed into the rise of a hill in a road, the range was 0.85 miles. The shortest range it recorded was 0.45 miles when the radar gun was perpendicular to the road to simulate an ambush scenario. The city performance was also above average overall, receiving a B- grade. The built-in GPS automatically muted alerts when I drove under a specific speed, which was a concern because it was too easy to forget that it was in the car. But when compared to similarly priced radar detectors, the performance was excellent. The most practical and valuable feature is the overspeed alert which is common among more expensive radar detectors. Using the built-in GPS to accurately measure your speed, you can set it up to alert you when you've exceeded a set speed limit. While this feature is not as easy to use as the Escort radar detectors, it's the ideal feature for drivers that need the most protection possible. You don't have to rely on detecting radar to stay aware of your lead foot.
Pros
  • Received above-average grades for highway and city performances.
  • Built-in GPS.
  • Over-speed alert.
Cons
  • Doesn't have multiple threat alerts.
  • The GPS doesn't have auto-learn.
  • Lacks automatic muting.
$249.99Amazon

Why Trust Us?

Top Ten Reviews has covered radar detectors since 2010. I've been reviewing them, and other car-related tech, since 2013. Whenever I review anything that goes in your car, I'm always concerned with two things – does it improve your riding experience without distraction and does it help you be a safer driver?

Driving is likely to be the riskiest activity you do on a daily basis. It's this risk that makes reviewing radar detectors tricky. I'm aware that a significant portion of the radar detector owners use them to help them get away with speeding. I love driving, but I can't condone speeding or distracted, unsafe driving. As such, my primary concern when reviewing radar detectors is to help you find the best device for helping you be a better driver.  

What We Tested

Radar guns are like spotlights. In the dark, you can see the spotlight from a longer distance than the person holding the spotlight can see you. This is because the light reflects off the environment. And if the spotlight is aimed directly at you, it becomes much brighter and you know the person has spotted you, or is very close to spotting you. This is how radar detectors work – like eyes in the dark looking for spotlights. But to be effective, they need to be easy to use and the alerts must be easy to understand.

Performance
Testing highway performance is all about reaction time. The sooner you're alerted to potential police radar, the more time you have for adjusting your speed. To test this, isolated the radar frequencies to ensure that I was only detecting the signal from the radar gun I set up rather than false alerts. This required a miles-long road in a rural area away from buildings and businesses. I found the perfect road in the farmland west of Ogden, Utah.

We constructed a structure of PVC pipes to hold the radar gun still and in place. I then ran rounds of tests with the radar gun aimed down the road, at a 45-degree angle to the road and at a 90-degree angle to the road. I also ran tests with the radar gun aimed up a hill and aimed down a hill.

Using my odometer, I recorded the distances and graded the results. Every radar detector had a very long range when the radar gun was aimed directly down the road. Even the cheapest detectors were beeping past three miles. Things got much more interesting in the other scenarios, where the best radar detectors provided as much as a mile's notice of the radar while the cheaper detectors provided just 0.4-mile notice. Overall, the highway performance is a good refection of the prices. While it doesn't always apply to every product you buy, with radar detectors, the saying certainly applies – "you get what you pay for." 

Testing the city performance was more difficult. The city settings on radar detectors remove the X-band from detection because that's used for long-range speed detecting. Some detectors have filters that minimize most of the K-band which is usually the cause of false alerts. The best city settings are ones that aren't so overly "tuned" that they filter out too much of the radar, but they can't be so sensitive that they turn the radar detector into an incessant beeping machine. There needs to be a balance.

Looking for this balance of alerts and silence, I created a route in and around the city of Ogden. I drove this route multiple times on different days and noted every alert that the detector provided. The best performing radar detectors were ones that used GPS to identify the same alert, muting it on the second time, but still providing a visual cue. The visual cue is important because it reminded me that there was radar in that location, and even if it was likely a motion detector from the nearby grocery store, it reminded me to consider my driving habits. The lowest graded detectors either wouldn't shut up making me want to turn it off, or they rarely alerted me to anything, even the known false alert locations. This suggests the digital signal processing, designed to filter out false alerts, could be too aggressive.

Awareness Evaluation
I also evaluated the awareness improvement that the radar detector provided as I drove around. As I drove over 120 testing radar detectors, I made notes of detectors that improved my overall awareness. While considering the performance played into this evaluation, I also considered the effectiveness of the audible and visual alerts. Did they effective make me consider my driving or were they too easy to ignore?

I favored detectors with features specifically designed to help you drive safer. If you're prone to speeding, the over-speed alert is a feature that beats any radar sensor. It uses the internal GPS to measure your speed and alert you when you've exceeded a specified speed limit. You can adjust the speed limit on the device. With this feature, your awareness is kept in check and you can't be ambushed by POP radar or a lidar gun.

Ease of Use
You're not going to use your radar detector if the learning curve is too great. Fortunately, the best radar detectors are designed for both novices and experts. For example, the Escort detectors have novice and expert modes. Some detectors, though, make you feel like you need to read a book on radar physics to understand what all the display information means and how relevant it is to your drive. With the easiest detectors, you can take the device out of the box, plug it in and go for a drive.

Radar Detectors: What Else You Should Know Before You Buy?

Sensitivity & False Alerts
Radar detectors have a dilemma – and it's radar. Every manufacturer aims to create a detector with the longest range, but this requires making sensors that are incredibly sensitive. Increasing the sensitivity wouldn't be such a problem if it weren't for all the other non-police radar cluttering the streets.

According to Eric Peters, an automotive columnist and contributor to the National Motorists Association, there is "more 'clutter' in the air today than ever before. Even just a decade ago, radar signals pretty much emanated only from cops and automated doors (as at grocery stores and so on). It was easier for the detector to sift through the chaff and alert you to the real deal." Now, newer cars and trucks use radar for various sensors, like blind-spot awareness, collision warning systems and self-parking. He notes that "if you have a detector, you’ve probably noticed this. Suddenly, your unit shrieks, the warning lights go off. But where’s the cop? There's nothing around except that Escalade coming the other way."

In the U.S., radar guns are only allowed to work on three radar frequency bands – X, K and Ka. Knowing what the alert means can help you understand whether it's likely a cop or if it's a new car. According to Peters, the Ka-band is only used by police, so if you receive a Ka alert, you should "heed it." Likewise, the X-band has a much longer wavelength, so it's typically only used for long-distance purposes, like on a highway. This is why radar detectors turn the X-band off when in city mode. Most of the time a false alert comes from the K-band, but cops also use the K-band, so you can't disregard K-band alerts either.

While I understand why many users get annoyed when their radar detectors are constantly squawking at them, it doesn’t follow that false alerts are necessarily a bad thing. Every alert, whether real or not, is a moment where you are forced to consider your driving habits. Every alert forces you to think about your speed and look around for a cop, which forces you to pay closer attention to other cars on the road. False alerts help you be a safer driver.

GPS
Most of the high-end and even most of the mid-range radar detectors have built-in GPS that automatically connects to a satellite as soon as you turn your car on. GPS has many purposes, but the primary reason it was added to radar detectors was so you could identify a false alert, such as the motion detectors at Home Depot, by locking that alert out using GPS coordinates. This is a good idea, in theory. However, Mike Valentine, creator of the Valentine One and the president of Valentine Research, Inc, makes a good point about the pitfalls of a GPS systems – "GPS knows only one thing—location. And if the frequency of a new threat is near that of a blocked alarm, SORRY, but GPS demands silence at that location, even if that means silencing a trap." So, if your detector's GPS has muted the motion detector from Home Depot, and a police officer is parked nearby, the radar gun is muted as well.

Some radar detectors use GPS to mute all radar when you're driving below a specified, adjustable speed. The assumption is that you don't need to be alerted to radar if you're driving within the speed limits.

The main reason for getting a radar detector with GPS is the over-speed alert. GPS allows the radar detector to accurately measure your speed, and when you exceed a specified speed limit, it alerts you. If speeding is a habit that you want to fix, this is the best way to do it. It decreases the chances of getting a speeding ticket and doesn't rely on detecting police radar at all.

Laser Lidar Detector
A laser gun, sometimes called lidar, is another method that law enforcement uses to determine speed. Laser guns are highly accurate and very precise. While a radar gun emits radar waves that bounce all over the landscape like a flashlight, a laser gun uses an invisible beam of light. A police officer can aim a laser gun at your vehicle from over a mile away and receive an accurate and immediate reading. By the time your radar detector starts screaming at you, the officer knows your speed and has likely already decided whether or not to pull you over. Lidar sensors are not something you should ever base your purchase decision on for this reason.

The only way you can get around a lidar gun is to have a community-sharing app that alerts you to a different driver being hit with a lidar beam in the same area. But for these apps to be effective, other drivers must be using the apps in both proximity and time. These community sharing apps are not very effective, however, because there just aren’t enough drivers with radar detectors on the road, and even fewer who consistently use the apps. So, the best way to avoid getting pulled over from a lidar gun is to drive within the legal speed limit.

Community Sharing Apps
Some radar detectors are heavily marketed on their community sharing app. Cobra, for example, has the Cobra iRadar app, and the Escort detectors have Escort Live app. These community sharing apps rely on the premise that drivers can report non-radar related traffic issues, like red light cameras and speed cameras and speed traps to assist other drivers. By sharing the location, other drivers using the app are alerted to the location as they drive near it. The apps boast having over a million users, but that's peanut crumbs when you consider how many drivers are sharing the roads of America. In the week I tested radar detectors, I didn’t uncover any useful community shared information from either app. Don't base your purchase of a radar detector on whether it has a community sharing app. You'll only be disappointed.

Radar Jammers & Other Legal Concerns
According to the Communications Act of 1934, you can legally use a radar detector so long as you're not a commercial truck driver. That said, radar detectors are still illegal in Virginia, the District of Columbia and on every U.S. military base. It's important to make sure they are legal in your area before purchasing.

Radar jammers are illegal everywhere under federal law because this interferes with law enforcement's ability to do their job.

Ticket Reimbursement Guarantee
Some manufacturers offer a ticket reimbursement guarantee with their radar detectors. Always be careful to read the stipulations. These guarantees share some things in common:

* Only applies to the first year that you own the radar detector
* Only applies to the person who purchased the device
* Limited to $250 reimbursement
* You must prove that the police officer issued the ticket based on a reading from a radar gun

id:658