$99 Radar Detector Test
Can a budget-priced radar detector protect against radar and lasers?
Last updated: 2016
In a radar detector, performance rules. The farther away it can spot radar, the better. Performance, along with features, rises in lockstep with price. No surprise that $600 models deliver more of both.
But judging from industry sales numbers, many shoppers clearly are willing to compromise—the bulk of detectors today sells for less than a C-note. So naturally we wondered how much protection a $99 model can deliver. To find out, we stopped by a local big-box retailer and grabbed a pair of best-sellers in the $99 street-price class, the Whistler CR75 and Cobra SPX 5300.
We spent two days driving with the Whistler CR75 and the Cobra SPX 5300, then ran them through our usual battery of tests. And to quantify how much extra performance bigger bucks will buy, we included two entries from the over-$500 category, the Escort Passport Max 2 ($549) and Escort RedlineXR ($649). Here's what we found, the top-ranked model listed first.
The Whistler CR75 forgoes some of the Cobra's flashy brightwork in exchange for a lower profile and near absence of reflected windshield glare. Its primary functions are controlled by four top-mounted buttons. These are twice the size of the Cobra's and far easier to locate and operate.
Voice alerts and two sets of audible tones help the Whistler CR75 to identify the nature of a threat. Visual alerts are supplemented by a pair of dazzling blue LEDs that flash during radar and laser encounters.
The Whistler CR75 showed class-leading performance against X- and K-band radar, outpacing the Cobra SPX 5300—and very nearly the $549 Escort Passport Max as well—on both bands. It marginally trailed the Cobra on Ka-band, although still delivering adequate warning distance for an alert driver.
Cobra SPX 5300
The Cobra SPX 5300 is the entry-level model in the SPX lineup. (Other models: SPX 5400, SPX 5500, SPX 6700, SPX 7700, SPX 7800BT.) It's among the smallest we've tested, measuring a svelt 3.7 inches by 2.4 inches (length and width).
Cobra calls this a "14 Band" model, nine of which aren't bands at all, merely marketing hype. Regardless, one claim is detection of the Spectre IV radar detector detector used to sniff out illicit radar detectors.
The Cobra SPX 5300 was plagued by the K-band radar increasingly being used to monitor traffic flow and speeds by highway departments. Mounted on poles at roadside, these caused the Cobra to bark alarms at one-mile intervals along much of our test route. Unlike with the Whistler, the Cobra offers no solution to combat these nuisance signals.
At our Hill/Curve test site we found the Cobra SPX 5300's radar performance above-average on K and Ka bands but weak on X band. The latter is little used today, but still poses a threat to drivers in Ohio and New Jersey, making this model a poor choice for those areas.
Despite its virtues, not to mention an attractively low price, the Cobra's fussy controls, weak performance against X-band radar and lasers—and abundant false alarms—may give pause to some, even dedicated bargain shoppers.
Clearly the Escort RedlineXR clobbered both of our $99 Specials. But compared to the other Escort, the performance gap was less than expected.
In the decade since our last $99 radar detector test, both Cobra and Whistler have pumped up radar performance, especially on Ka band. True, neither model offers nearly the protection level or advanced features of a high-end detector. But for the budget-minded, the Whistler CR75 in particular offers an attractively-priced alternative.