Last updated 2013
Escort Passport 9500Ci (Custom installed): A built-in radar detection/laser-jamming system is tough to spot without knowing what to look for, which is one of its key virtues.
If you're looking for a custom-installed remote radar detector system--complete with front and rear laser jammers--the number of contenders is pretty
small: three. That's the same number available at the time of my last remote test some years ago, and hardly what I'd call an overabundance.
K40 had this rarefied segment all to itself until Escort and Beltronics (BEL) joined the fray in 2005. Their current line-topping custom-installed remotes, the Escort Passport 9500ci and its electronic twin, the BEL STiR-Plus both come standard with laser-jamming systems, the Escort Passport ZR4 laser-jamming system.
K40 offers the Defuser EX ($329) and EX2 ($658) that can be linked to the K40 Calibre and other K40 remote
The last K40 remote I tested, in late 2003, was the K40 2000P. I found that it offered reasonable radar sensitivity (detection range) but it wasn't a particularly
good radar detector. And the K40 Defuser laser jammer I tested that year failed to jam any police laser gun made in the past decade. It did, however, overheat during testing and quit working.
The arrival of the Escort Passport 9500Ci and its BEL clone, the BEL STiR-Plus gave me the opportunity to see if K40's bold claims for the K40
Calibre and the new K40 Defuser EX would hold water. I was
equally curious to see if the Escort Passport 9500ci and BEL STiR Plus could meet their manufacturer's own exuberant claims for its new models. And not least, I hoped to learn why no
one but K40 itself and a single manufacturer-sponsored shill have reviewed the Calibre, an anomaly almost without precedent in the radar detector industry.
To learn the truth about these high-end units, over a month-long period I field-tested both for performance and also logged 2,000 miles with each in a
combination of city and highway driving. Here's what I found.
Escort Passport 9500Ci
Escort Passport 9500ci remote radar detector is built-in, its radar antenna and laser-jamming "shifter" transceivers
installed in the grille area. Only its cockpit-mounted display and control unit (shown here) are visible.
This Escort tops the lineup in remote models. (The Escort 8500ci Plus offers fewer features, costs less and has somewhat less performance.)
The Passport 9500ci is a departure from other remote systems since it uses GPS technology. It employs the same electronic platform as the Passport 9500ix models. It has
better performance than those dash-mount models, in part due to his much larger radar antenna and twin front (and one rear) laser detector/jammer modules.
All operations are handled by a thumb-sized surface-mounted control unit. I mounted mine on the front of the instrument
panel within easy reach. It's backlit, making the important buttons easy to find and use at night. The power switch is
tough to find and tougher to operate. Fortunately it's designed to power-up when the car is started.
A small, high-intensity LED display shows operating mode and other vital information. I mounted it on the lower edge
of the instrument cluster, midway between the tach and speedo, making it easy to check at a glance. For an even
lower-profile installation, a multi-color LED can be mounted in the instrument cluster, replacing the display. The K40
Caliber offers the same option although its LED is a single color.
The Escort Passport 9500ci, like the K40 Calibre, is intended for professional installation. If you're other than a
professional or talented amateur, it would be better to let the installer handle that chore.
Installing the Passport 9500CI in my car and its ZR4 laser-jamming system took five hours. That included time spent
fabricating and painting two mounting brackets for the front jammers, as the factory jobs were less than ideal for the
miniscule mounting area offered by my mail box-sized Honda. I could have used the supplied double-sided tape and
saved myself the trouble, but I don't like tape for permanent installations.
In contrast, it took me 6.5 hours to install the K40 Calibre and its single front laser jammer, 45 minutes of that time
spent diagnosing a bad connection. (This doesn't count the fabrication time for the jammer test fixture.) I could have
cut the time expended by using common installer shortcuts like mounting the antennas using double-sided tape and
prying trim panels up and stuffing the cables behind them. But I prefer taking the time necessary to keep the
equipment operating properly for the life of the car, not just until the lease is up or it's sold.
The Escort Passport 9500ci's quicker installation was partly due to its idiot-proof interface box adorned with labels such
as "Rear Laser" and "Display." Another time-saver is Escort's use of clip-in RJ22 wire connections, same as a landline
telephone handset's. I've never seen one come loose or fail. Their unit also uses color-coded wires for the radar
antenna, ZR4 laser jammers, control/display unit, speaker, everything. If the installer isn't color blind, if he's sober and
has an IQ higher than a tossed salad, he'll probably get it right the first time.
Even if he manages to screw up the installation, the Escort Passport 9500CI has self-diagnostic capability. Its text
display shows messages like "No rear shifter" or "Check receiver wiring" to depict the problem. In contrast, when
installing the K40 I spent a considerable amount of time checking each circuit with a multimeter before finally spotting
my mistake, a poorly-crimped connector.
The advantage of using GPS to limit false alarms was illustrated when I tested the Escort Passport 9500ci along with the
Passport 9500i and Valentine One: It
hardly ever false-alarms. The Passport 9500ci (and the 9500ix) comes 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 I've
tested. The other advantage of GPS is to get warnings of fixed red light cameras and speed cameras. It comes loaded
with a national database of these and can be updated by a USP port.
The GPS Advantage
I experienced no difficulty in testing the value of GPS in a radar detector. En route to a friend's place early on a Sunday, I was
driving over familiar roads, nearly deserted at that hour. I was late and making up time. Suddenly the Escort barked an
audible and visible warning: Red light camera ahead.
Gatso Red Light Camera
I ignored it at first, knowing that the last time I'd driven this road, less than two months previously, there were no red
light cameras anywhere along its 7-mile length. But the Escort Passport 9500ci continued to alert as it counted down
the distance. At an indicated 600 feet, out of habit I scanned the intersection ahead. Bingo! There was a brand-spanking-new red light camera on the opposite side of the intersection, awaiting my arrival.
The city of Mesa, Arizona experienced a budget shortfall a few years ago and to swell the city coffers, its first move
was to expand the network of red light cameras from 13 to 30--and it set many of them to Speed-On-Green mode. With this
unpublicized additional function, each red light camera also serves as a 24-hours-per-day speed cop. And like other
towns using S.O.G., I know--from having filed public information requests for city records and analyzing them--that
for every red-light citation, Mesa was writing at least 10 or more speeding violations at S.O.G-monitored
A brisk application of the brakes scrubbed off excess speed and I crossed the intersection without drama. My saving:
$198. That should have been the end of the story. It wasn't.
Unbelievably, in less than a mile the identical situation occurred: Another new red light camera. This time I didn't wait to react.
The instant the Escort 9500CI sounded a warning I slowed in reaction, saving myself from another $198 ticket.
Escort Passport 9500ci high-intensity LED display unit in Spec Display mode spells out the frequency of the radar being encountered, a major advantage to savvy users. It tells at a glance if the signal is a false alarm or the
real thing, allowing the driver to react appropriately.
Later, when I totaled the court costs, additional court-mandated kickbacks and so-called diversion fees, not to mention
three years' worth of insurance surcharges, the Escort Passport 9500ci had saved me nearly a grand and four points on my record. If
I'd been in nearby California, with its $336 automated-enforcement tickets, the Escort Passport 9500ci would have paid
for itself in this single ten-minute period.
I tested the Escort's company-installed database of photo enforcement locations by driving to 12 randomly-chosen sites
among the 180-odd such locations in the metro Phoenix area. It proved to be reasonably accurate, perhaps 85 percent
or better. It stumbled occasionally, alerting to non-existent cameras. On other sites it correctly identified a
camera-monitored intersection but its directional arrows pointed the wrong way. The cameras had been repositioned,
sometimes a year or two earlier. [That estimate of accuracy was a bit conservative: In the first-ever comparison test of several red light- and speed-camera
GPS databases, the Defender proved significantly more accurate, with its database kept far more current than the competitions'. - Ed.]
To download an updated location database you'll need to log-on to the Escort Web site and register, supplying serial
number and key code and then download their Detector Tools application. Once that's installed on your hard drive you
can download the revised database. The directions caution that the 9500ci must be attached to the computer before
beginning the download.
There are three ways of accomplishing this, all requiring a USB cable to link computer to detector. One is to spend a day removing the complete system and carrying it inside next to your PC. Then it must be powered with an inverter, converting household 120-volt power to 12 volts. Another option is to link the car and PC with a 50-foot USB cable--as if you could find one. The third, most practical, is to use a laptop. Download the tools and new database, carry it to the vehicle and once the two are connected, you're in business.
Performance was easy to quantify. At both test locations it hammered the K40 and easily kept pace with or
outperformed the Valentine One, making it the best-performing remote detector I've tested.
K40 trades heavily on the myth that a rear antenna is necessary to spot radar coming from behind, but the Escort Passport 9500ci outperformed it at both
test sites using its forward-facing antenna--while driving away from the radar guns. For example, at the
Straightaway Site the Passport 9500ci detected the 34.7 GHz Ka-band radar coming from behind at 7,240 feet. The K40
Calibre, using its rear antenna, spotted it at 5,160 feet. At the Curve Test Site it was Escort Passport 9500ci: 1,655 feet,
K40 Calibre (rear antenna): 867 feet.
The Escort Passport ZR4 laser jammer system worked equally as well, jamming some of the guns down to point-blank range and doing
almost as well against the rest. Read the latest ZR4 laser jammer test.
On the road, it's almost supernaturally quiet. On daily commutes it rarely goes off and is nearly as quiet on highway
trips. In all, a remarkable performance from what might be more accurately called a driver-protection-and-information-system rather than merely a radar
detector/laser-shifting unit. It's that good.
We fabricated an adjustable test fixture for the K40 Defuser EX, removed the laser jammer
from its license plate frame and mounted it in the stock location. This allowed precise alignment of the jammer, for optimal
K40 calls the K40 Calibre an "undetectable" radar detector. The words "stealthy" and "stealth" also appear prominently in
promotional material and on the company Web site. True, it's immune to the 1990-vintage Technisonics Interceptor
VG-2. But that was obsolete by the mid-nineties and it has rapidly been supplanted by the vastly superior,
continually-updated Spectre (aka Stalcar) RDD detector detector. The Spectre RDD can sniff out the K40 Calibre at a
considerable distance. But no matter, forget about advertising hyperbole and let's look at the product.
The K40 Calibre's major components look pretty much like those of the K40 2000P model. The radar antenna looks the
same, but now has an extra module on one end to accommodate its Bluetooth gadgetry. There's no control/display
unit (one's available as a no-cost option). Power, manual mute, audio volume and three operating modes, city,
highway and mute, are controlled by a small wireless transmitter that measures about one-inch-square.
According to the installation instructions, the remote can be mounted using the supplied double-sided tape or left
loose. I couldn't find a suitable, perfectly-flat mounting spot and left it in a cubby hole at the top of the center stack.
The first time I went to change the audio volume, it had already disappeared. I later found it under the passenger
Unlike most consumer electronics with remote controls, televisions for example, there are no backup controls. Without
its remote the K40 Calibre is completely helpless. But permanently mounting it in an easily-reached spot can also
make it visible to curious eyes.
Mode changes take awhile, averaging four seconds. Then it issues a voice or tone confirmation. Get it wrong and
there will be another long pause to see if you've pressed the correct button. In comparison, I timed the mode changes
in the Escort Passport 9500ci at 0.24 second.
I can live with the slow response. But not with the auto-mute strategy. The typical delay before most radar detectors
automatically chop full-volume audible alerts is around five seconds. On the K40 Calibre it's 60 seconds.
That's a long time to be blasted by either an alert tone or a male voice shouting "Rear, Ka-band!" And I heard this
particular radar alert often when driving in highway mode, as the K40 Calibre routinely issues Ka-band false alarms of phantom attacks coming from behind.
K40 Calibre is available with a
surface-mount pod containing an alert LED, one pod for each antenna. Trouble is, there are four radar and laser bands, forcing total reliance on the audible
alerts for news whether the alert is caused by a door opener or a radar gun.
The alternatives are to hit the mute button on the remote or to place the unit in full-time mute mode. In this mode
there are no audible alerts at all, only a flashing blue LED. On dual-antenna systems like my test unit, a second LED is
furnished. With the K40 Defuser EX2 added to the system, the front and rear laser jammers also report via the same
These tiny LEDs can be mounted in a flat surface, the instrument cluster being a favorite spot. Or the K40 Calibre DL-P
or SL-P versions can be ordered that supply two surface-mounted pods instead. These are about one inch in diameter and each has one LED.
It's worth noting that when the LED flashes, it's only warning that a microwave-frequency signal or a near-infrared
laser light has been detected. But without the audible alerts there's no clue to what it's hearing. This gives the driver
two choices: stand on the brakes each time or simply ignore the alerts. I suspect that many K40 owners may choose
There's no visual indication of the K40 Calibre's operating mode or volume level or whether it's set to voice or tone
alerts. To gain that information you'll need to press a button on the remote to see which LED lights momentarily, then
press the button again to change the setting. If it's in mute mode, only the LED will confirm a selection. This process
can take up to 20 seconds.
K40's Web site and product literature appear to imply that Bluetooth eliminates the need for many of the dozens of
little wires and connectors used by its earler remote models, resulting in a faster installation time. This will interest the
new-car dealers and high-end 12-volt retailers who sell these custom-installed remotes, since labor is the bulk of their
overhead. (Hardly anyone buys a K40 remote radar detector to install for himself. The owner of the mobile electronics
store where I bought mine said I was the first retail customer he'd seen in the 16 years he's been selling K40 radar
The K40 Calibre radar receiver does employ Bluetooth technology but only for signal transmission. It still has wires that
must be routed to a central interface box inside the car. Except for the remote, all of these components also have
wires. In total, I counted 21 wires while installing the kit. That's an improvement over older K40s but I'd hesitate to call
it an "unrivaled accomplishment" in simplified installation.
And using Bluetooth isn't without risk. Owners of BMW
M3 models, among others, discovered this almost immediately after the unit went on sale.
They began complaining about dropped calls and low signal strength when using their vehicle's integrated Telematics
Control Unit (TCU) system for connecting cellphones, PDAs and similar gear for hands-free operation.
According to a June 2006 BMW TSB (Technical Service Bulletin) the problem was traced to "Another Bluetooth
enabled device is installed in the vehicle or is within close proximity to the vehicle. E.g. Calibre K40 (Bluetooth
enabled) radar detector."
On the street I found the K40 Calibre to be a model of civilized behavior. In two days of driving about town it never
issued a single false alarm. That made me curious. Any radar detector that's claimed to have high performance
inevitably false-alarms. This one didn't.
En route to field-test the units I got one clue to what might be behind this unusual - if exemplary - behavior. When I
switched to highway mode, the false alarms started, many of them caused by other radar detectors. As we began
testing we found one reason for the lack of falses in town: The Calibre didn't detect X-band radar in city mode, even
from four feet away.
At the difficult Curve Test site, this time in X-band highway mode it did somewhat better, scoring about half of the rival
Escort Passport 9500ci's range. It scored reasonably well on K band and on 34.7 GHz Ka-band, delivering about 70 percent as
much range as the Escort Passport 9500ci. But at this location it belatedly alerted to the most commonly used Ka-band radar frequency, 35.5 GHz, only
after the radar had already locked-in a speed.
At the no-brainer Straightaway Test Site it again remained mute on X band city. In X band highway it eked out 2,619
feet of range, compared to the 9500ci's 28,204 feet. In contrast its K-band and 34.7 GHz Ka-band scores were excellent.
However, it again wasn't enthusiastic about listening for 35.5 GHz radar, finally alerting when we'd closed to 3,965
feet, a few hundred feet before the radar spotted us and 4.6 miles after the Escort Passport 9500ci had sounded a
K40 touts the advantage of using a rear radar antenna, so I tested that as well. Although it looks identical to the front
antenna, the two performed quite a bit differently. At the Curve Test Site detection range on X, K and 34.7 GHz Ka
band were cut by 40 percent each, in comparison to the front antenna. At that site Ka 35.5 GHz detection range
improved by 20 percent over the front antenna, to 829 feet, still too little to be of help at highway speeds.
At the Straightaway Test Site, in highway mode the rear antenna delivered 93 percent less range on X band, 41
percent less on K band and 79 percent less on 34.7 GHz Ka band. Just as at the Curve Test Site, the rear antenna was
slightly better at spotting 35.5 GHz radar, by some 11 percent in this instance. The consistency of their respective
performances would seem to suggest that the rear antenna has been detuned.
X band isn't a widespread threat these days, with only two states using X-band radar in any numbers. And I've noticed that most
companies are lowering sensitivity on X band to limit urban false alarms. The Escort Passport 9500ci, for instance, reduces
X-band sensitivity enough that at the Straightaway Test Site its range was 2,058 feet in city mode and 8,572 feet in
Auto mode. The former number is barely adequate, the latter is more than enough, probably the reason behind
Escort's recommendation to use Auto in town except in unusually noisy environments.
Unraveling the X-band Mystery
The reason for the Calibre's refusal to detect X-band radar in city mode was supplied unwittingly by a K40 employee.
When I returned the unit and conveyed this information to the owner of Mobile Audio in Mesa, Arizona, he was
stunned. "First K40 I've ever had returned," Howard said. Dubious about my claim, he called K40, asked for a
technician and wordlessly handed me the phone. After I confirmed the identity of the guy on the other end, this
"I'm returning a Calibre because it doesn't detect X band in city mode and it's almost blind to one of the two big Ka-band frequencies."
"What kind of radar you got?"
"MPH K-55 and a Kustom Directional Golden Eagle."
"What kind of power output?"
"30 milliwatts and 20 milliwatts."
"Hmm. Well, I dunno about the Ka-band thing but it's not supposed to detect X band in city mode."
"I don't remember reading that in the owner manual."
"I don't think it's in there. But I know it won't detect X band, not unless maybe you set it on top of the radar antenna or
A search of the owner manual verified that there's no mention of the X-band issue or of lower sensitivity on the rear
antenna. That could account for store owner Howard's befuddlement at having the unit returned, although to his
credit, he refunded the purchase price and thanked me for the $50 I offered for his trouble.
Laser Jammer Performance
I tested the Defuser EX laser jammer next. K40 product literature says a single Defuser EX is adequate to protect an
average-sized passenger car. Larger vehicles, with their greater mass, are better targets for lasers. For those K40
suggests adding a second K40 Defuser EX. Up to two jammers can be used for the rear of the car. Had I used two front and
one rear K40 Defuser EX, emulating the standard Passport 9500ci configuration, it would have pushed up the K40 Calibre's
price to a lofty $2,652.
The K40 Defuser EX is enclosed in the top of a polycarbonate license plate frame. This makes it easy to mount on a vehicle with a front license plate. But if there's no plate, the installer must fabricate a bracket and figure out where to mount the jammer.
Such a mounting position wouldn't be practical on most cars since you'd need to saw a hole in the bumper fascia to make
room for the jammer--two holes if using dual jammers. Otherwise, the first time you got a little too friendly with the car ahead, they'd be smashed as
flat as a Kleenex, assuming that some kid hadn't snatched them already or they'd been confiscated by a curious cop.
(A laser jammer is illegal in some states, a criminal misdemeanor in a couple of those, reasons enough to hide
Most laser ambushes occur at 700 feet or closer. But as distance increases, a laser receives less return signal and the
jammer's job gets easier. At our 1,500-foot starting point, it's difficult just to see my Honda CRX target car, much less hit
it with a laser beam barely 4.5 feet in diameter at that range.
The target car's dark color makes it a poor laser target, improving a jammer's effectiveness. To further assist the
jammers, no front plate was used. Instead, I fabricated a clear plexiglas license plate-sized test fixture with horizontal
adjustment to keep it perfectly level. To the top, using the car's license plate bolt holes, I mounted the K40 Defuser EX,
having removed it from its molded plastic license plate frame. Detaching the K40 Defuser EX from the frame is a
mounting option and I'd recommend it. Leaving it in the plate cover leaves it vulnerable to damage and it's too easy to
spot it as a laser jammer. (Just make certain the installer doesn't put it behind plastic or something else it can't see through.
I've seen a number of installations like this.)
We made multiple passes against each laser gun, aiming at different points on the car. We found that for the K40 Defuser
EX to have an effect on lasers they must be aimed only at the front plate, i.e., at the jammer itself. If the point of aim
is shifted even by two feet, to a headlight, all but one of our five laser guns could get a speed almost instantly. The
beautifully-designed Laser Atlanta Speed Laser found its mark the moment the point of aim was shifted to a headlight
at 1,182 feet. In Stealth Mode, the same laser could nail the K40 Defuser EX-equipped target car almost from the
moment it began rolling at the 1,500-foot mark.
The K40 Defuser EX performed similarly against the popular Kustom Signals Pro Laser III and had no appreciable
effect on the new Kustom Signals Pro Lite laser when that gun was headlight-aimed. The widely-used LTI Ultralyte
was equally unfazed by the K40 Defuser EX.
The only laser gun against which the K40 Defuser EX had a measurable effect was the little-seen Stalker, jamming
it to an average of 422 feet. That's a useful reduction in target range but nowhere near the performance of the Escort Passport ZR4 laser "shifting" system.
These results are at odds with those on the K40 Web site. In a test paid for by K40 in which anonymously-obtained test samples weren't used--K40 itself supplied the jammers--the contracted tester equipped a mid-sized target vehicle with two K40 Defuser EX jammers, twice the number claimed to be needed. These were immediately adjacent to the front plate and each laser gun was aimed only at the front plate during
the test--the headlights were ignored. This isn't realistic: Officers routinely shift their aim to a headlight if the first few tries at the front plate area don't pay
off. In addition, the lasers were fired momentarily in single-shot mode at only two distances--1,000 feet and 500 feet. If a speed didn't appear instantly the laser was considered jammed. However, in the real world, the laser trigger is held down and it transmits continuously, acquiring a speed almost immediately. Firing a laser in single shots is like firing an M60 machine gun, good for 550 rounds per minute, as a single shot weapon--it defeats the whole principle which, perhaps may have been the intention here.)
I was hoping to like the K40 Calibre remote radar detector and was intrigued by the promise of wireless operation. So
I was disappointed to find that it has some major holes in its performance envelope and wireless operation for this
type of mobile electronics isn't necessarily an advantage.