Review: Escort Passport 9500ci and BEL (Beltronics) STiR Plus
World's best custom-installed radar detectors?
Last updated: 2015
One type of radar detector few will notice is the custom-installed remote model. That's by design: its discreet components are built into the vehicle, avoiding notice by thieves and curious lawmen. The radar/laser antenna mounts in the front grille area, often concealed behind the bodywork. Most systems also include laser jammers, the only defense.
Aside from the stealth factor, automotive technology has made the remote radar detector a necessity for some drivers. That's because many Blind Spot Warning systems employ K-band radar transmitters mounted in the corners of the rear bumper. These first appeared on some 2007 Audi products, dubbed Side Assist in this application, and since have spread to other brands.
If that wasn't bad enough, the front end of a Mercedes equipped with the Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control (ACC) system also has K-band radar. Both systems transmit continuously when the vehicle is in motion, setting off radar detectors up to 1,000 feet away.
This includes a detector in the offending vehicle itself, rendering the device nearly useless. K band can easily be shut off in a few seconds in any modern high-end radar detector, which cures the problem. But not without risk: some 25,000 K-band radar guns are still in use nationwide.
Fortunately, the twin radar transmitters in a BSW system point rearward and the radar antenna in most detectors faces forward, somewhat mitigating ill effects—at least in traffic-free open country. In town, the microwave signal reflects from surrounding vehicles and not infrequently bounces back into the detector, setting it off.
The more sensitive the detector, the greater its susceptibility to these spurious K-band signals. Owners of the Valentine One, which has a second, rear-facing radar antenna, find that it false-alarms hysterically in the presence of a BSW or ACC, especially when used in the same vehicle.
The only solution we've found to date is offered by a select few remote radar detectors. The radar antenna is buried in the grillework and it's low to the ground, helping to shield it from errant microwaves. (But not if it's installed in a Distronic Plus-equipped Mercedes.) These also are GPS-enabled, automatically dialing back sensitivity at lower speeds, thus reducing K-band false alarms. Escort calls this speed-variable sensitivity.
The eligible candidates are the Escort Passport 9500ci and its Beltronics twin, the BEL STiR Plus. Here's a quick look at the two.
Escort Passport 9500Ci
The Escort Passport 9500ci was the first remote model to use GPS technology and aside from the BEL STiR Plus, it's the only one to fully utilize the advantages of GPS. Not that others, K40 in particular, haven't an equal lust for making use of this amazing satellite system. Trouble is, Escort got there first. With its stranglehold on GPS radar detector technology, models from K40, Cobra and others can offer none of the features that make Escort and BEL models so special.
The Escort Passport 9500ci has significantly better performance than any windshield-mount model we've tested—with one exception. The Escort Redline XR trumps the Escort 9500ci in radar-warning range.
A thumb-sized control unit operates the detector and it's backlit, making the important buttons easy to find and use at night. Owners who can't bear even that aesthetic compromise often have the module concealed in the ash tray or console.
A blue LED display shows operating mode and other vital information. The Escort Passport 9500ci (and BEL STiR) also includes a bi-color LED for use instead of the LED display.
An alternate mounting solution is the Laser Mirror with the display concealed inside the vehicle's rear view mirror. Ignition off, it's invisible. Engine on, the display magically appears. In most applications it retains the clever auto-dimming feature of the Escort 9500ci and BEL STiR Plus display.
The advantage of using GPS to limit false alarms becomes apparent after a few days of driving. Both of these remote models come with a feature called Auto Learn. Drive three times past the same spot where you get false alarms from roadside sources and it automatically stores these in memory. Next time you drive past, it won't alert.
This use of GPS and some clever programming make the Escort Passport 9500ci the quietest remote radar detector we've tested. Another advantage of GPS is warnings of red light and speed cameras. It comes loaded with a national database of these and can be updated via USB port.
In the only comparison test of several red light- and speed-camera GPS databases, Escort's Defender camera database proved significantly more accurate, with its database kept far more current than the competitions'.
The Escort Passport 9500ci's radar performance wasn't hard to measure: it led the pack in every test, equalled only by the BEL STiR Plus. The Escort laser jammer system worked equally as well, jamming some of the guns down to point-blank range and doing almost as well against the others.
On the road, it's almost supernaturally quiet. On daily commutes it rarely goes off and is nearly as quiet on highway trips. Small wonder that it continues to rank at the top among best-custom-installed radar detectors.
BEL STiR Plus
BEL is an Escort subsidiary and the STiR Plus is identical to the Escort Passport 9500ci save for a red LED display. (The Escort 9500ci display is blue.) Even their components are interchangeable.
The BEL STiR Plus is priced well below the Escort Passport 9500ci since it comes without laser jammers. Adding the optional laser jammers closes that price gap.
The BEL STiR Plus also trumps the Escort 9500ci by offering a unique feature, however: Ka-band segmentation.
This ability to deactivate portions of the Ka-band frequency spectrum vastly reduces false alarms. Nearly all of the Ka real estate is devoid of police radar. It's home to plenty of microwave signals—many from nearby Cobra and Whistler radar detectors—but only wafer-thin segments are occupied by radar guns. By tailoring its Ka-band frequency segments, the BEL STiR Plus will ignore most junk signals.
The reduction in false alarms is substantial, particularly when driving in unfamiliar areas where the automatic signal lockout feature, AutoLock—called Auto Learn by Escort—hasn't had a chance to cull them.
More significant, our tests prove that reducing by its Ka bandwidth, the programmed BEL STiR Plus consistently outperforms the 9500ci in detecting the industry-standard Ka-band radar.
On the road, this translates into longer radar range. The programmed BEL STiR Plus reliably barks Ka-band warnings up to one mile sooner than its Escort 9500ci twin.
One note of caution: don't tinker with this feature unless you're knowledgeable about what types of radar are used in your driving area. We keep a national database of this information and know what's out there, so let us program it instead. The service is free to our customers.
Like the Escort Passport 9500ci, the BEL STi-R Plus is invisible to the Spectre (Stalcar) radar detector detector used by police to ferret out illegal radar detectors. Drivers in Virginia, Washington, D.C. and in the Canadian provinces where detectors are illegal will find this immunity helpful.
Once equipped with the Escort jamming system, the BEL STi-R Plus Radar/Laser System costs slightly more than the Escort Passport 9500ci. But with our free programming to pump up radar range and tame false alarms, for many the BEL STiR Plus is still the more attractive of the two.
Established in 1999, Radartest is an authorized reseller for Escort, BEL, Whistler and other leading manufacturers.
We've been performance-testing radar detectors since 1990 and continue to be the only retailer in the world that tests every product we sell.
We take pride in our outstanding customer service, industry-best product knowledge and fast, same-day shipping.
- Automobile Magazine