Cobra takes the concept of a radar detector to a new level with the addition of GPS technology in the Cobra XRS 9960G. With this new feature, the radar detector not only alerts you to electronic surveillance, but gives warnings about red light cameras, speed traps, and hazardous driving areas from its updatable Aura database. With its color display, the XRS 9960G features a pleasing design, but radar-detecting performance may not be up to par with the best of the competition.
The case of the Cobra XRS 9960G is a little more ostentatious than other detectors, with an almost spaceshiplike form and decorative elements on top. To accommodate the color screen, which is larger than the LEDs used in other models, the oval on the viewing end has a hanging lower lip. The included RDA GPSL55 GPS Locator plugs in to a Mini-USB jack set in the side of the XRS 9960G, making for an unsightly protrusion on the otherwise sculpted casing.
The suction cup bracket for windshield mounting is pretty primitive and can lose grip. Unfortunately, these cheap brackets are pretty common on radar detectors. The companies that produce them could learn something from GPS device makers such as TomTom and Sony.
Four small buttons on top of the unit activate the menu, mute the sound, dim the display, and put radar detection into city mode. In addition, there is a volume knob on the side of the device. The four buttons on top have clever secondary functions in menu mode, letting you choose different menu screens and select various settings.
But the most impressive design elements are the graphics on the color screen. The icons and alerts shown are generally informative, yet they also have a nice aesthetic design.
The Cobra XRS 9960G detects X, K, Ka bands, as well as Ku, a band used in Europe that will purportedly appear in the U.S. It also alerts you to VG-2 and Spectre devices that can pick up if you are using a radar detector. The device includes 360-degree laser detection, along with a special alert for pop-up radar.
The XRS 9960G uses both visual and audio alerts when it detects radar or laser. Although the color screen can be hard to read in bright sunlight, especially through sunglasses, the audio alert is very helpful, as it says aloud the type of radar being detected. There is also a signal strength meter, with five dots, accompanied by a beeping that increases in frequency as the signal gets stronger. Fortunately, you can quickly kill the audio with the mute button. As an unexpected feature, there is also a headphone jack in the side of the device.
The plug-in GPS module adds a whole new set of features not commonly found in radar detectors. It contains a database full of red light camera locations and other places around the country that Cobra deems need extra driver attention. When the device's GPS coordinates match up with one of these hazard areas, an alert lets you know what to watch out for. GPS even lets the XRS 9960G provide a digital speedometer and compass. You can also program your own alert areas into the Aura database, which is useful for locally known speed traps.
One problem we found with this feature is a deluge of alerts for areas with red-light cameras. The detector announces an alert as you enter an area that uses cameras, and then gives an alert at every intersection with a red-light camera. We would prefer just the latter and, unfortunately, there is no way to selectively turn off one or the other alert in the menu.
Another feature somewhat extraneous to radar detection is a battery voltage indicator. Plugged into a car's 12-volt outlet, the XRS 9960G determines the current voltage, displaying it on its main screen. This information can be useful if a car's electrical system is malfunctioning, or if the battery isn't getting recharged properly.
Testing the Cobra XRS 9960G's radar detection capabilities, we found a stationary radar-based speed sign in the middle of San Francisco. This was a short-range test due to the sheer amount of buildings and traffic in the area. At approximately 1,800 feet out, the XRS 9960G detected the radar, with an initial signal strength of one dot. As we approached, the signal increased to its maximum of five.
We tried the same test by driving in the far left lane, four lanes over from the radar sign. It's initial signal detection occurred at the same distance, but never rose above a signal strength of three as we drove on the outside of the radar gun's field.
During a general road test of 40 miles on freeways and highways, the XRS 9960G alerted us to two full strength K-band signals, although we didn't see the source. It also gave a half-strength signal from a highway patrol car driving in the opposite direction.
This drive also produced four full-strength pop-up radar signals, the first while sitting at a light waiting to get on a highway. Thanks to the lack of surrounding buildings, we believe this signal was accurate, although we did not see the source. Around our office building in downtown San Francisco, we recorded three of these pop-up signals, which were more likely false alerts. Likewise, while the unit was plugged into a 12-volt supply on our test bench, low strength X- and K-band signals continuously came in, suggesting a susceptibility to false signals, although we did not receive any X-band hits while road testing.
For another perspective, including quantitative testing, Radarbusters.com published the results of a battery of tests using two other Cobra radar detector models, the XRS 9950 and the XRS R9G. Both showed a detection range of about a mile shorter than detectors from Beltronics, Escort, and Valentine, including the we reviewed earlier. You can also watch a video review of the Cobra XRS 9960G by Radarbusters.com's Radar Roy.
The GPS performance was excellent, besides the alert problem we noted above. The XRS 9960G accurately informed us of red-light cameras as we approached them and also found areas where photo enforcement is active. It pointed out a few caution areas as we road tested the device, but only one of those areas showed something we would deem to be an issue, a construction area. However, as the database can be updated, those caution areas will change.