Sizzling performance and loads of features, so why does it get no respect?
Last updated 8/13/2012
by Craig Peterson
BEL (Beltronics) Vector 995 (right): An Escort 8500 X50 in drag—but less expensive, with unique upscale features and oh, yes, better performance, too.
The BEL Vector 995 is the Rodney Dangerfield of radar detectors. Although one of the perennial top-rated detectors in our tests, it languishes in the shadow of its corporate sibling, the top-selling Escort Passport 8500 X50. A pity that the BEL gets no respect: what many don't realize is that both use the same Escort platform and under the skin, the two are identical.
It didn't help when BEL juggled the lineup recently. The Vector 995 was given the RX65's housing to become the Pro 300. Nametags aside, the Vector 995 and Pro 300 are the same radar detector under the skin. Aside from the housing, the only real difference is price: the Pro 300 sells for a non-discounted $299.95 while the Vector 995 can be had for under $230.
We tested the BEL Vector 995 at three of our Arizona test sites over a period of months. Then we logged a few thousand miles over a variety of roads in four states to check the BEL's user-friendliness and utility. Research concluded, we're back with the inside scoop on the comparative performance of the BEL Vector 995 versus the Escort 8500 X50. But first a quick review of the Vector 995's attributes and features.
The two models differ slightly in size: the BEL is 0.125 inch wider but 0.625 inch shorter than the Escort. Motorcyclists will like this smaller footprint as it makes the BEL an easier fit for cramped sportbikes. One BEL feature not shared with the Escort is also useful for motorcycle applications: the ability to adjust audio volume remotely. This is done by pressing and holding down the Smartcord mute button; no need to touch the detector itself.
Unlike the Escort 8500 X50, the Vector 995 offers voice alerts. This feature allows a choice between audible tones for radar and laser band identification or letting a stentorian voice spell out the nature of the threat. There are arguments to support both approaches and to a veteran user, there's probably not much difference in effectiveness. But voice alerts are a helpful aid in quickly learning those tones and they free the driver from having to study the display for that information.
The brightness of the high-visibility red LED text display is four-step adjustable and offers a dark mode for discreet nighttime running. In this mode only a dim icon remains lit, denoting the operating mode. The display remains dark, including during alerts. Instead, the Smart Cord—a power plug with integral status and alert lights plus a push-button mute switch—conveys visual alerts. It also allows the radar detector to be mounted covertly such as high on the glass, hidden behind the factory tinting. (The optional Direct Wire Smart Cord or a Direct Wire power cord allow a covert, hardwired installation.) These two features make the BEL Vector 995 a good choice for drivers who prefer not to advertise their detector's presence.
Although an electronic twin of the Escort 8500 X50, the BEL Vector 995 gets no respect. Bargain hunters can capitalize on this fact.
The BEL (Beltronics) Vector 995 also offers Ku band detection, making it suitable for international travel. The unit ships with this band deactivated, prudent since no Ku-band radar exists in this country, despite some misleading claims to the contrary.
Like the Escort 8500 X50, the BEL Vector 995 has a menu of user preferences. These tailor the detector to suit the driver's taste. For instance, there are two meter (display) options, which is how the detector visually conveys information. Standard provides band ID, e.g., K for K-band radar, plus a bar graph to denote signal strength (the radar's proximity).
Tec mode displays the radar's frequency digitally, crucial information for the savvy driver since it can tip you to whether the source is a nearby radar detector or Ka-band police radar. Radartest provides customers with the exclusive BEL Vector 995 Performance Tips, a guide that explains key features like Tec Mode and how to use them.
The voice alerts are of excellent quality, audio volume is loud enough for use on anything short of
an un-muffled Harley and the display is sufficiently intense to be seen even under difficult lighting conditions.
Selectable band defeat allows the disabling of any frequency not used in a particular state or country, X band for instance, to limit false
alarms in the 48 states whose highway patrols don't use that ancient frequency. And there's a soft carrying case included for travel duty.
The Vector 995 can be linked to the BEL/Escort ZR4 laser shifter system and once connected with the single wire, it controls the ZR4 while its display shows threats and system status. Jamming sessions can be halted by pressing the mute button, a handy feature.
The Escort 8500 X50 and the BEL Vector 995 twins exhibited nearly the same performance. Any difference is attributable chiefly to component tolerance stackup in production.
Like its step-up sibling, the BEL Pro RX65, the BEL Vector 995 offers a trio of city modes to limit urban false
alarms—City, City LoX and City NoX—which progressively lower and then shut off X band, respectively. Highway mode rings up maximum sensitivity while Autoscan
automatically regulates sensitivity based upon local conditions. Autoscan proved effective enough at optimizing sensitivity while eliminating false alarms that most will probably use it exclusively in town.
Among the seven user-programmable options is Voltage Meter, which displays vehicle system voltage. As we accidentally discovered, this can be an invaluable diagnostic tool if your car's alternator is beginning to wilt.
The BEL Vector 995 detects POP mode radar, although it ships with POP Mode turned off. There's a reason for this: with POP on, signal-processing time is dramatically shortened, leading to frequent false alarms. Unless you live in one of the few states where POP-mode radar is common, we'd advise leaving this deactivated.
Like all radar detectors other than the undetectable Escort Redline or BEL STi Magnum (formerly called the STi Driver), the lethal Spectre (called Stalcar outside North America) RDD radar detector detector can spot it, and from up to 1,163 away, according to our tests. Like most domestic radar detectors, the BEL Vector 995 is immune to the ancient Technisoncs VG-2 radar detector detector still used in North America.
The BEL Vector 995 proved to be very quiet in town, particularly when set to City NoX, which shuts off X band and eliminates false alarms generated by the ubiquitous automatic door openers.
If there was ever a question that the BEL Vector 995 is an Escort 8500 X50 in drag, our field test removed any doubts. The trio first squared off at our 8-mile-long desert Straightaway Site and turned in identical scores. In two more tests, one at our 5.4-mile-long site, the other at our short-range Hill/Curve site, they delivered similar results
No, that's not entirely accurate: The BEL Vector 995 slightly outperformed both Escorts, the 8500 X50 Black as well as the platinum-colored version. But the variance was tiny and well within the expected deviation caused by production tolerance stackup. So for the record, we'd call it a tie between the BEL Vector 995 and Escort 8500 X50.
This news flash isn't likely to spark a wholesale shift in consumer demand. Escort lavishes much of its advertising budget on the Escort brand, probably relegating the hard-working BEL Vector 995 to a continued second-banana status. But the BEL is available for substantially fewer bucks than the Escort, one reason why we'd advise taking a second look at this under-appreciated detector.
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