Reviewed: Cobra GPS-Enabled Radar Detectors
These pack GPS to counter red light and speed cameras.
These Cobra radar detectors use the Global Positioning System to counter red light and speed cameras. (From lower left) XRS R10G remote control; XRS 9945,
XRS 9845, XRS 9955. The fat travel drive look-alike is the GPSL or GPS Locator module.
Municipalities that deploy red light cameras find mobile speed cameras (photo radar vans) equally irresistible. Most sign up for the package deal.
(And why not? The city pays for nothing except a PR campaign to sell the program and a rigged public opinion poll to celebrate its success, plus a beefed-up
court system. A contractor handles everything else and the two split the take.)
In the business world this is known as maximizing ROI (return on investment). Politicians and bureaucrats prefer a more obtuse euphemism: Enhancing public safety. But photo-enforcement cameras are really about enhancing the municipal balance sheet. Our research and that of others proves that red light cameras universally increase accidents and our
own recent traffic study concluded that speed vans and cameras have zero influence on speeds. Regardless, like so-called temporary taxes, these enormously profitable devices
are here to stay and it's your call on how best to handle the threat to your license.
One defense is the red light camera detector, a stand-alone device with GPS that warns when you approach a fixed camera, either a red light or
speed camera. Ranging in price from $99 to $299, these offer only a partial solution since they don't detect radar and can't protect against photo
radar. For that, you'll need a radar detector with superior sensitivity on K- and Ka-band, the frequencies used by photo radar (speed vans) worldwide.
One red light camera detector, the Whistler RLC-100 ($99 street price), the subject of a recent test and review, has an auxiliary power port, allowing
it to be linked to a radar detector with an optional mini-coiled cord. This frees one of the vehicle's 12-volt power points and reduces dashtop clutter.
Those who want one box to handle both threats need a GPS-enabled radar detector, currently available from three manufacturers. Two different
packaging solutions are employed. The BEL (Beltronics) GX65 and the Escort have their GPS antenna built-in. Cobra has a plug-in GPS module that's inserted
into the side of the detector's housing. Some may find a certain elegance to the built-in style of detector and there's another benefit: the Cobra detachable module tends to fall out when the detector is handled. Regardless, they perform the same function.
The list of candidates is rather short. High-end GPS-enabled models we've reviewed include the BEL (Beltronics) GX65, the
Escort Passport 9500ix
(plus its electronic twins, the Passport 9500i and the Passport 9500ci
custom-installed remote model). These range in price from $449 to $1699.
But not everyone wants to spend that much for a radar detector. Fortunately for value shoppers, more options are available this year. They're all
Cobras, which last year weighed in with two GPS-enabled models. the XRS R9G (now called the XRS R10G) and the XRS 9950 (renamed the XRS 9955).
Early this year Cobra added two more to its
lineup and, too late to be included here, another pair at summer's end. (Click on a model name to see our recent review and test of it.) Prices are
attractively lower than the BEL and Escorts and range from the XRS 9845 ($230 suggested retail, about $140 street price) and the XRS 9945
($150) to the XRS 9960G ($290) and XRS R10G at $300 (street).
The Cobra XRS 9945 and XRS 9845 are GPS-capable but don't include the optional ($129) GPS Locator (GPSL) module. This little gadget looks
like a fat USB travel drive and incorporates a GPS antenna and a miniature hard drive. It's plugged into a mini USB port in the side of the radar
detector. That turns it into red light camera detector using Cobra's Aura Database of camera locations.
But be aware: Camera databases vary widely in accuracy and thus their value. Our 18-month-long test of the competing GPS camera-location databases found that the Aura database not infrequently failed to warn of 100 percent of the cameras in some towns. Read the full report...
Another point of confusion is the model number of the XRS 9955 ($170). It's the same detector and identical to the XRS 9960G ($290) but this lower-priced Cobra comes without the GPSL module. Once that's added to the package, it magically becomes the XRS 9960G—although it still
wears the XRS 9955 moniker. Also, the Cobra XRS R10G is an XRS R8 plus the GPSL module. If you're confused, you're not alone: when
we unpacked the shipping box and found two XRS 9955s inside, we called to inquire about the absence of the XRS 9960 ordered. That's when the
explanation was offered.
All of these new Cobra detectors were tested at our Arizona desert sites and as a group, turned in excellent scores. Most noteworthy is their improved
Ka-band sensitivity, the best we've seen from Cobra.
Although we don't generally offer single-manufacturer reviews, the proliferation of GPS-enabled
Cobras merits a closer look, if only to tell them all apart. (If you're curious to see how these models perform against the competition, their test scores
can be compared to non-Cobra radar detectors by following the appropriate story links.)
First stop for the Cobra GPS-enabled radar detectors was the Straightaway Test Site, by far the easier of our two tests. A trio of straightaways is linked by plunging S-curves where the rural highway drops down for low-water crossings. These sections are roughly parallel and while the radar and detector are offset by about half a mile at the extremeties of the course, the two are still pointed roughly at one another.
The second test is far tougher. Instead of looking down the throat of the radar guns, the detectors are trying to spot them coming from below and off to the side.
Radar beam alignment is more toward the North Star than the roadway at this location, posing an enormous challenge to a detector. That's why detection range drops from up to 5.1 miles to as little as 1,500 feet. That's enough warning, but only for drivers who are paying attention.
Note that the focus here is on performance but none of the other attributes that make up a good traveling companion. Each of these models has a few bad habits, details of which are available by clicking on the model to read the full review.