Best Radar Detector Under $200
How much peace of mind do you get for less than two C-notes?
by Connor Chase
Last updated: 2015
Note: These models have been replaced. Learn more about their current-production counterparts:
After running the trio through my usual battery of tests, here's what I found, the results listed alphabetically. (If you're the impatient type, scroll down toward the bottom of this story for detection-range charts.)
BEL Vector 955
The Beltronics (BEL) Vector 955 is one notch up from the entry-level Vector model, the Beltronics (BEL) Vector 940 that's also reviewed in another recent shootout. At the top of the range is the excellent Beltronics (BEL) Vector 995.
The top of the BEL Vector 955's housing is covered with matte aluminum, black buttons and large, raised 955 numerals in bright chrome. In sunlight it generates a substantial amount of glare. You'll be staring at its mirror image in the windshield all day long.
That's the downside. The upside: Of these three the BEL's high-visibility red text display was the best of the bunch, much more readable in a variety of lighting conditions than the display of either the Cobra or Whistler.
The Beltronics (BEL) Vector 955's X-band city-mode sensitivity is trimmed severely, no doubt to limit urban false alarms. It's better in X highway mode - certainly better than the Cobra XRS 9950 in this test - but well behind the Whistler XTR 695 in highway mode and even farther behind in city mode. But unless you routinely drive in Ohio or New Jersey, both of whose state patrols still use X-band heavily, that's not worth losing any sleep over.
Performance on the two critical bands, K and Ka, was excellent, however. It was also the quietest in town and the most resistant to falsing in reaction to nearby radar detectors. This trait alone endears this BEL Vector model to many of its owners.
The competition may be closing the gap, but in balanced, all-around performance, the Beltronics (BEL) Vector 955 is still the standard-bearer for this class.
Cobra XRS 9950
This Cobra XRS 9950 radar detector has what Cobra calls a Full-Color ExtremeBright DataGrafix Display II, their term for its 1.5-inch OLED multi-color display with 3D graphics. Looks great but geez, is it bright at night. It can be dimmed manually in three steps but Cobra wisely chose to automatically extinguish the display after 30 seconds of operation.
That's considerate of them but leaves you guessing about what the detector is up to. The tiny, yellow LED blinking in center-screen only tells you it's powered-up. No word about what mode it's in. Pressing any button fires up the display, but this places an extra burden on the driver and I'd rather have essential status information always visible. Using the menu, full-time illumination of the display is possible, but it's doubtful many would find that a fair tradeoff.
The XRS 9950 has a USB port to accommodate the same GPS module used by the Cobra XRS R9G, and their respective successors, the XRS 9960G and XRS R10G. (These Cobras' GPS chipsets worked well enough, but after an 18-month investigation, we found their Aura red light and speed camera-location database to be alarmingly inept.)
This particular Cobra XRS 9950 clearly was suffering from some unknown affliction. You won't see any X-band scores at the Curve Test Site because it didn't alert to the X-band radar until the target car was parked next to it. In X-band city mode it had 67 feet of range, making it effectively dead. On the upside, it hardly ever falsed on X band. But I wouldn't suggest taking it along if you're driving anywhere that X-band radar is in use.
Better add K-band radar to the list as well, since this unit couldn't detect that frequency either. Nor could it detect one of the two most commonly used Ka-band frequencies. This could well have been a quality-control issue - Cobra doesn't make it a practice to sell nearly-deaf radar detectors. Regardless, this Cobra XRS 9950 unit offered no real protection against police radar. [In a more recent test, the 9950's successor, the Cobra XRS 9955, turned in excellent scores. - Ed.]
Whistler XTR 695
[Learn more about this model's successor, the XTR-695SE, in a recent review.]
Here's a radar detector clearly tailored for the serious road warrior and it certainly looks the part. Other than some tiny white labels on the upper case, it's all-black. The payoff is minimal windshield glare, a huge advantage. Instead of having to mount it well out of your line of sight - or maybe under a Kleenex box, it can be placed directly in front of you, by far the best spot.
See the companion story for more about the Whistler XTR-695's feature set. If you're keen to check out its performance, the charts are just below. And that performance is substantial, especially in light of its relatively modest price.
One final note: the latest Spectre (a.k.a Stalcar) Mk IV-series of radar detector detectors finds the Whistler XTR-695 extremely difficult to detect. The first time I tested against the Spectre Mk IV and Mk IVA (used in Virginia, most Canadian provinces and elsewhere around the world where detectors are illegal to use), the Spectre couldn't hear it from across a two-lane road. This also applied to the Whistler Pro 78 and XTR-690 models. A quick change by the Stalcar designer means that these Whistlers no longer enjoy immunity. But they're difficult to spot across a wide freeway median, making them the stealthiest radar detectors except for the undetectable Beltronics (BEL) STi Magnum and Escort Redline which cost three times as much.