Cargo Box on a Small Car


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.


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 ( 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.

Thule-Rack+Short Roof Adaptor-W.jpg

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.


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


Posted by Kelsey - 06/10/2008 12:06 PM

Let us know how you do with the gas milage with the add-ons.

Posted by Stephen Regenold - 06/11/2008 08:57 AM

Loaded, it does subtract 2 – 4 miles per gallon.

Posted by Al - 06/13/2008 11:29 AM

I love the 92x! It’s a great stealth SUV. I have an auto that averages about 28 mpg. What do you get in your 5-speed?

Posted by Darryn - 06/13/2008 12:01 PM

GJ – I’ve always had bike carriers that required the front wheel to be attached. In the photos of your experiment you use bike racks that require the front wheel to be removed. I’m going to be buying new racks soon, which should I get?

Posted by Stephen Regenold - 06/16/2008 06:54 AM

Al: 92x, yes. Fun little car. I knew nothing about this model before going on the car hunt last spring. My wife and I got the 2005 version, and it is a 5-speed. With the Thule box, there’s enough room for our two kids and camping gear for a weekend or longer. We do have to leave the dog behind in those situations, however. . .

Posted by Stephen Regenold - 06/16/2008 06:59 AM

Darryn: Good question. My preference to the fork-mounting bike carriers stems from a bad experience with an old two-wheels-on rack. A cheapo one I used years ago just seemed very unstable and it was a cheesey, low-grade design, over-engineered with too many parts, etc. I have not used a high-quality “upright” bike mount. The fork mounts are extra stable, though you do always then have to find a place to put the wheel. One solution: use large zip-ties and cinch the free wheel in two places to your bike frame. I do that for longer trips.

Would be interested to hear from other readers regarding the upright vs. fork mount debate. . .

Posted by Karl - 06/16/2008 01:08 PM

Upright mount vs. fork mounts are a personal preference but uprights are
better for bikes with wheels that are hard to get off (i.e. Cannondale
Lefty or mountain forks with thru-axles). Plus, uprights keep both
wheels on so you have more cargo room in the vehicle.

Posted by Sam - 09/23/2008 05:58 PM

This one goes to the guy in the picture of the Saab with bikes and a cargo box on the roof. How wide of a cross bar does that require? I have two bike racks on my 30” cross bars for my Subaru Outback and I hope to buy a thule box to place inbetween (like the above picture). I beleive the box is 22” wide.
By the way, in regards to the fork mount vrs. the upright discussion; I have found it much faster and easier to load the entire bike in my uprights. Bad experience loosing a wheel on the Interstate towards Moab…I didn’t get to ride my bike in Moab that trip.

Posted by Abi - 07/31/2009 09:43 PM

I’ve personally always been a fork mount fan. Bikes with quick-release front tire do lend to this design (as does a car with the extra room for the front tire). But I like being able to lift my bike over my head (as I’m a tiny little gal) and onto the rack easily. I also like that the fork mounts don’t touch my frame – no scratches. :)

Posted by MRCLEAN - 05/11/2011 08:42 PM

It is a Subaru Impreza labeled as Saab. Yakima skybox Pro16 is what I use.

Posted by Raquel Winger - 07/22/2011 03:58 PM

Great article on having a cargo box! I liked how you showed different options to choose from. Are they very durable? Are they able to withstand bad weather usually?

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