See why the Escort Passport 8500 X50 remains a best-selling model.
Escort Passport 8500 X50
"...still the segment gold standard"
Excellent radar sensitivity
Extensive feature set
No voice alerts
If you're looking for the best radar detector at the under-$300 price point, that would be the Escort Passport 8500 X50. There's a slew of models in this market segment but after testing them all, the detector we've found to have the best balance of features and performance is the Escort Passport 8500 X50.
The Escort Passport 8500 X50 replaced the Escort Passport 8500 model we christened "World's Best Radar Detector" when we tested it for Automobile magazine. Among Escort's non-GPS models, the Escort Passport 8500 X50 is positioned below the Escort Redline XR and Escort Redline.
The Escort Passport 8500 X50 is available with either a red or blue LED display. The same radar detector is offered as the BEL (Beltronics) Pro 300. The BEL sports a different housing but shares its platform with the Escort Passport 8500 X50 and has the same performance. But it has some useful extra features, voice alerts chief among them. Now instead of having to scan the display or depend entirely on audio tones to identify threats, a pleasant voice announces the particulars instead. (Audio tones are an alternate menu option.) Unlike the Escort, the BEL Pro 300's audio can be adjusted remotely, using the coiled Smart Cord mute button, a feature particularly useful when the BEL is used on a motorcycle.
A Ph.D in electronics isn't required to operate the Escort 8500 X50. A thumbwheel switch handles the power on/off function and regulates the volume of its audible alerts. A pair of multi-function buttons atop the case handles everything else except for manually-muting the audio. (Auto-muting is standard; after a short full-volume alert the Escort 8500 X50 automatically silences the audible alert to limit the annoyance factor.)
Signal strength (proximity to the radar) is indicated audibly by beep-frequency, visually by a bar graph that rises progressively as signal strength increases. The radar band—X, K or Ka—is spelled out in the text display, making it simple to comprehend what type of radar you're encountering. (In town, an X-band alert will almost certainly be a commercial automatic door opener, all of which operate on police-radar frequencies and account for half of all urban false alarms.)
The Escort Passport 8500 X50 is plug 'n play, but it has an array of user-selectable menu options that allow it to be fine-tuned to the driver's taste. For example, you may prefer not to advertise the detector's presence at night. No worries; the display can be reduced to a single discrete letter to denote its operating mode. Or if you'd like to check the helath of the vehicle's electrical system, the Escort 8500 X50 will digitally display voltage levels, warning of a problem before you're left stranded some night. There's also a pair of audio tones: standard and loud. We tried both and found them indistinguishable from one another, but it's possible that someone with more acute hearing could detect a difference.
Among the more useful menu items is a trio of city modes. City reduces sensitivity to combat urban false alarms. If that proves insufficient, City LoX further cuts sensitivity. And for microwave-saturated regions that prove resistant to those measures, City NoX cuts X-band entirely. To those who drive in Ohio or New Jersey, the two holdout states whose state cops continue to use hoary old X-band radar, City NoX is the best compromise. It allows traveling on city and county roads devoid of X-band police radar while sharply limiting false alarms. But when driving on a state police-enforced roadway, highway mode restores X band to full sensitivity.
A way to eliminate nuisance false alarms is to use the Escort Live crowd-sourced ticket-prevention system. Escort Live links a smartphone (iPhone or Android) to the detector via Bluetooth. By using the smartphone's GPS, users can lock out nuisance signals and cut false alarms dramatically.
Protect yourself with the Escort Passport 8500 X50 now
Standard is a coiled Smart Cord whose power plug houses two LEDs and a push-button switch. A blue LED glows to verify that the unit is powered-up and ready; a red LED flashes during alerts. The switch controls the manual-mute function, allowing the driver to mute alerts without having to fumble with the detector. Those uninterested in that task can wait a few seconds, letting the 8500 X50's auto mute handle the job automatically.
To check performance, we tested the Escort 8500 X50 and a BEL (Beltronics) Pro 300. The two use the same platform and under the skin, they're identical. In theory, the pair should perform identically as well. And to no one's great surprise, we confirmed that the Escort 8500 X50 and the BEL Pro 300 were a match.
The Escort Passport 8500 X50 is a refined, sophisticated detector with commendably well-balanced performance. While it can't match its upmarket siblings in maximum range, for moderate-risk drivers it remains our favorite in the under-$300 price segment.