Cargo Box on a Small Car

By STEPHEN REGENOLD

My goal was singular and precise: To outfit a small stationwagon with maximum equipment-carrying capacity. This meant adding a rooftop rack, of course. Plus I required bike-toting options. Also needed was a cargo box for tents, sleeping bags, pads, backpacks and other gear erratum.

The car — a five-speed Saab 9-2X — gets good gas mileage and is a speedy little thing for driving around town. But it is not blessed with stowage, limiting the equipment I can bring along on day trips and weekend overnights.

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This is not my Saab but a similar setup: A cargo box in the middle flanked with bike mounts on either side.

Thus the buildup began with Thule’s black square steel Load Bars ($59) and the 400xt foot pack ($145), which together assemble the base rack.

While most every automobile can be fit with a rack, the short roof length of a small car like my Saab often makes large accouterments like cargo boxes and kayak mounts off limits.

That’s where Thule Inc.‘s (www.thuleracks.com) Short Roof Adaptor comes into play. This $115 add-on connects two additional Load Bars underneath the basic rack setup, lengthening the front-to-back reach of the rack by placing an intermediary bracket connection point.

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Short Roof Adaptor

With the Short Roof Adaptor, the rear rack feet sit farther back on the roof, extending the base of the bars and making a cargo box on the roof amenable to an automobile generally off limits to such massive overhead options.

To mate the assembled rack with the Saab’s roofline, I employed Thule’s 2153 Fit Kit, a $60 pack tailored to the 9-2X. It has shaped rubber pads for the rack feet that fit the Saab’s roofline grooves. Custom window brackets hold the rack in place on the roof, ratcheting tight with the twist of a bolt.

Next came choosing a cargo box. The Ascent 1500 — which measures 67 inches long by 35 wide by 16 high — fit nicely on top of the Saab and provided 15 cubic feet of capacity.

At $379, the Ascent 1500 is expensive. But the box, which opens from both sides and locks with a key for security, almost doubles my car’s gear-carrying limit. It’s like having a second trunk on the car.

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Ascent 1500 cargo box

The final step for my configuration involved adding bike mounts. I went with a pair of Thule’s new Echelon Bike Carriers, which cost $145 each and have wheel trays and fork clamps. A knob on front changes the clamp size with the twist of a finger and a thumb, letting you easily switch different bikes on and off the mount.

A cylinder lock secures your bike to the carrier and also locks the carrier to rack. Thule guarantees compatibility with all disc-brake and suspension combinations with standard 9mm axles, meaning most every bike will fit on the Echelon.

Overall, the Thule setup on my car retails at $1,048. Pricey for sure, but without these extras the Saab is rendered almost unusable for anything necessitating a bike and lots of gear.

Now, pardon me, did you see my car keys? There’s a weekend of adventure calling my name.

—Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com.

SHOP GJ: THULE AERO FOOT PACK

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