The Cheetah GPSmirror (the product's trademarked spelling) incorporates a GPS chip, LED display, speaker, switches and other components into a mirror that's designed to slip over the stock rearview mirror. Spring-loaded clamps easily affix it to the stock unit and it's powered by the vehicle's 12-volt system.
The recommended routing for the Cheetah GPS mirror's power cord is across the windshield header, down the passenger-side A-post and under the dash to a power point. Trim panels must be pried up and the power cord wedged underneath to keep it from coming adrift. I also used wire ties to secure the cord under the dash and to bundle up its excess length. (An optional hardwire power cable is available and makes for a tidier installation.)
Although it remains, strictly speaking, a portable device, once installed it's unlikely that most owners will be eager to move it between vehicles. Aside from having to reinstall the power cord, the Cheetah GPS mirror's size can be an issue. At its widest points it measures 12.5 inches, and it's 3.5 inches tall. Even accounting for dimensional curvature, it's a 37-square-inch mirror. For comparison, a 2009 Nissan 350Z roadster's mirror, a good-sized unit, measures 10.5 by 3.125 inches, about 33 square inches.
The Cheetah GPS mirror's generous width caused it to immobilize one or both sun visors on five of the seven new vehicles we tested it in. Aside from the 350Z, that included two Hondas, an Audi A8L and a Jaguar XF. Not surprisingly, XXL-size vehicles were an easier fit; both the Infiniti QX 56 and Ford F250 Super Duty accommodated the mirror without compromising the driver's sun visor. Those contemplating the Cheetah mirror may wish to consider whether they're willing to give up one or more visors in trade.
The Audi A8L installation revealed another mounting consideration. The A8L's inside mirror is set back from the windshield several inches and suspended from the windshield header. This placed the Cheetah GPS mirror's antenna under the roof's sheet metal and partly obscured its vision. It worked acceptably well in open country but when driving from Payson, Arizona east through the national forest, pine trees blanketing the roadsides further hindered its view and rendered it helpless for the next two hours. (A Cheetah spokesman said that the A8L's windshield tinting would have hindered radio reception and it should have been fitted with the optional external GPS antenna. He may be right although for the record, during the trip we operated several models of radar detectors—as well as a Kustom Signals Directional Golden Eagle Ka-band moving radar—at various times and noticed no problems with their performance. But this gear looked through the lower windshield area with far less tint to impede signal transmission.)
The Cheetah red light camera detector clearly was designed around a right-hand-drive vehicle. For instance, two primary controls, the volume and on/off switches, are both located on the right, making them more easily accessible by the passenger than the driver. The power switch is buried in the top right corner of the mirror, making it a long reach for some belted-in drivers. Fortunately, the cigarette lighter plug has an on/off switch, useful to avoid having to fumble for the mirror's switch.
A series of four push buttons along its lower edge controls the Cheetah GPS mirror. These are mounted almost flush with the housing and like the other switches, three of the four are hidden and must be located by touch alone, perhaps not the ultimate in ergonomic design. For a device that invites frequent user interaction, its control layout can sometimes frustrate.
The Cheetah GPS mirror provides an array of elegant, highly visible icons of different colors for mode indication and alerts. A single red character depicts direction of travel while a central four-character LED display shows time of day, speed and other data.
Voice alerts call out vehicle speed as a reminder when approaching a marked location and their threshold speed is adjustable. The Cheetah GPS mirror sensibly refuses to alert to camera-flagged locations unless the current direction of travel coincides with a camera-monitored approach. (In the automated-enforcement industry, an approach is one camera (or one set of cameras, if they're catching the driver's face) monitoring one direction of travel. Most intersections have cameras along a single approach, e.g., watching the east-west or north-south traffic, and targeting either approaching or departing vehicles. Some have two sets of cameras, but they'll usually be working in tandem, monitoring vehicles traveling along the same road.)
In camera-saturated metropolitan areas this alert strategy substantially reduces the number of unnecessary alerts. As with radar detectors, too many false alarms can lead to complacency, with predictable results.
One handy feature is called Rescue Me: press a button and a voice announces current GPS coordinates. In an emergency one can hold a cellphone up and let the unit automatically supply accurate location data to an emergency operator, leaving no chance of a stress-induced error.
Unique in this market is the Cheetah's optional radar detector and laser jammer wireless interface modules. When linked to a high-end radar detector or laser jammer, a module communicates wirelessly between it and the GPSmirror. The mirror delivers their audible/visual alerts (radar band ID and laser) and depicts signal strength via beep frequency. (The modules also work with the Cheetah C100 red light camera detector.)
If an OEM system includes laser jammers a visual indicator verifies when they are transmitting. For radar/laser detectors without jammers, a Radar Detector Interface Kit ($109) will suffice. To link a Valentine One radar/laser detector to a popular laser jamming system, a second module, the Laser Interface Kit ($119), is required. A keyfob transmitter remotely controls power to the jammer, a nice design touch.
The current list of models compatible with the wireless system includes the Valentine One, Escort Redline, BEL (Beltronics) STi Magnum, and the BEL (Beltronics) Pro 500.
The Cheetah GPS mirror's city mute function allows a choice of voice alerts, warning tones or both. Another unique feature of the wireless system is an ability to disable alerts for a particular radar band, further reducing false alarms. Six LEDs of various colors denote band ID, laser detection and laser jamming. LED blink frequency depicts signal strength.
- Good array of useful functions
- Accurate camera database
- Lifetime updates
- Interfaces with detectors, laser jammers
- Quite large
- Optimized for right-hand drive
- May interfere with passenger's sun visor
- Mirror-distortion issue
Aside from eliminating blind spots, Cheetah touts the GPSmirror's wide-angle design as optimal for rear-seat child-monitoring duty and I'd have to agree. The driver can see nearly every square inch of the interior aft of the B-post—plus a generous amount of scenery on both sides of the vehicle—and nothing much bigger than a well-fed gerbil could approach unseen from the six o'clock position.
But the unnaturally wide field of view creates enough visual distortion to make it almost impossible to accurately judge distances and closing rates. On traffic-choked interstates, changing lanes takes extra concentration and many are likely to find the altered view somewhat disconcerting. At night the effect is more pronounced.
The mirror is coated to reduce headlight glare at night. But it doesn't seem to do its job notably better than nearly every OEM auto-dimming mirror I've seen, most of which are junk. The Cheetah GPSmirror's convex design reflects more light than I'd prefer and for drivers who check their rearview mirror every three to five seconds, it can be distracting.
Cheetah claims that its proprietary Trinity database is the world's largest speed camera registry, covering 33 countries. I found it to be top-tier in comprehensiveness and accuracy. Updates, available at unpredictable intervals, are easily downloaded and generally reflect recently added camera locations. Better yet, at press time U.S. Cheetah customers were receiving a lifetime database subscription.