Last updated: 2018
If you're looking for a custom-installed remote radar detector system—complete with laser jammers—the number of contenders is pretty small: four. That's the same number available at the time of my 2005 remote-model test and hardly an overabundance.
K40 had this rarefied segment to itself until Escort and Beltronics (BEL) joined the fray. Their current line-topping custom-installed remotes are the Escort Passport 9500ci and its electronic twin from a sister division, the BEL STiR Plus. Both are available with the test-winning Escort Laser ShifterPro laser-jamming system. K40 offers the Calibre model with Defuser EX laser jammers that can also be linked to other K40 remote models.
The arrival of the Escort Passport 9500ci allowed an opportunity to see if K40's bold claims for the K40 Calibre and the K40 Defuser EX would hold water. 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
This Escort tops the lineup in remote models. (The Escort Passport 8500ci Plus offers fewer features, costs less and has lower performance.) The Escort Passport 9500ci is a departure from other remote systems since it uses GPS technology.
All operations are handled by a thumb-sized surface-mounted control unit. 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, the system powers-up when the car is started and shuts off automatically as well.
A small LED display shows operating mode and other vital information. For a low-profile installation a bi-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.
Installing the Escort Passport 9500ci took eight 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 our mail box-sized Honda.
In contrast, it took 6.5 hours to install the K40 Calibre and its single front laser jammer, 45 minutes of that time spent diagnosing a bad connection. With no rear jammer and only one in front, fewer man-hours of labor were needed.
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 modular 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 all components.
The advantage of using GPS to limit false alarms was illustrated when we tested the Escort Passport 9500ci along with the Passport 9500ix and Valentine One: It rarely false-alarms. The Escort Passport 9500ci (also the Passport Max 2 and Passport 9500ix) has a feature called Auto Learn. Drive three times past a roadside source of false alarms and the Escort automatically locks it out.
This use of GPS and some clever programming make the Escort Passport 9500ci the quietest remote radar detector we've tested. The Escort Passport 9500ci also warns of red light cameras and speed cameras. Its Defender camera database proved to be the most accurate and it can be updated online.
Performance was easy to quantify. At both test locations it hammered the K40, making it the best-performing remote-model detector I've tested.
|Escort 9500ci Ratings|
|Maximum Possible|| |
|Ka Radar Sensitivity|| |
|K Radar Sensitivity|| |
|False alarms|| |
K40 trades heavily on the notion that a rear antenna is necessary to spot radar coming from behind. Yet 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 Test Site the Escort 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 Hill/Curve Test Site it was Escort Passport 9500ci: 1,655 feet, K40 Calibre (rear antenna): 867 feet.
The Escort laser jammer system worked equally well, jamming some of the guns down to point-blank range and doing almost as well against the rest. See the latest 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 may be the best custom-installed radar detector.
K40 calls the 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 seat.
Unlike most consumer electronics with remote controls, televisions for example, there are no backup controls. Without its remote the K40 Calibre is 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 radar alert often when driving in highway mode, as the K40 Calibre routinely issues Ka-band false alarms of phantom attacks coming from behind.
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 these LEDs.
They 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 the latter.
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.
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 doesn't detect X-band radar in city mode, even from four feet away.
At the difficult Hill/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 Escort Passport 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 warning.
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 Hill/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 except at parade speed.
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.
Laser Jammer Performance
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.
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 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.
|K40 Calibre Ratings|
|Ka Radar Sensitivity|| |
|K Radar Sensitivity|| |
|False alarms|| |
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 first-generation 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 system.
In any event, the K40 laser jammers were incapable of protecting us against modern laser guns. Unfortunately, we noted no difference in the firm's latest jammer, the K40 Defuser G5, which performed similarly in our most recent laser jammer test.
I was hoping to like the K40 Calibre remote radar detector and was intrigued by the promise of wireless operation. Instead, I was disappointed to find that it has some major gaps in its performance envelope--zero X-band protection in City mode and ineffective laser jammers, among others. This, plus a litany of ergonomic miscues and missing features, dampened my enthusiasm for this hyper-expensive remote system.
Continued: K40 Calibre Bluetooth
Bluetooth or not, the K40 still has wires that must be routed through the firewall to a central interface box inside the car. More wires link the system's other components. In total, I counted 21 wires while installing the kit, a number that would have gone up much higher had we chosen to install a rear laser jamming system. That's an improvement over older K40s but perhaps a bit short of the "unrivaled accomplishment" claimed by the ad copy.