Best Hard-Shell Rooftop Cargo Carriers – Review (2021)

You have been planning your vacation trip for weeks, everything down to smallest detail. You finally pack up, start loading your car with your belongings only to realize there is not enough space for them all. It’s officially a disaster!

Okay, it’s probably not that bad. If you have really been planning your trip that carefully you must have noticed that you lack storage space during the planning phase. Or perhaps you just need some place to fit skis or other long items that won’t fit in some cars.

Good news are that there’s a solution – a rooftop cargo carrier (also known as hard-shell carriers or car top cargo boxes), but with so many different models on sale today it might be hard to choose the right one. That’s why are we are here to help you choose the right one from the best ones.

#1 Thule Motion XT


Thule Motion XT isn’t the best rooftop cargo carrier in the very essence of the word (Spoiler alert: The #2 in this list is) but the problem with the very best things is that they usually tend to be expensive. What Thule Motion XT does excel at is value for money. It’s far better than most rooftop cargo carriers yet doesn’t cost as much as top-of-the range models.

Thule Motion XT is available in 3 sizes: L (16 cu. ft.), XL (18 cu. ft.) and XXL (22 cu. ft.). They all are basically the same other than varying dimensions and also slightly different shapes.

All of them are very spacious even the one with 16 cubic feet of storage capacity. Whether that will be enough or you will need 18 or 22 cubic feet model is up to you decide. They all have loading capacity of 165 lbs (how much weight you can safely load inside) and open from both sides.

Thule Motion XT features SlideLock system which will automatically lock the carrier when you close it as well an indicator that will remind you to remove the key. It also has 3 tie-down straps for securing belongings for a more safe fit.


Quality

Thule Motion XT is sturdy and well made with only complaint being key latch feeling a bit finicky. It’s sturdier than large majority of other rooftop cargo carriers and definitely feels like it will last for many many years to come. More expensive Thule Vector Alpine is even sturdier but it might not matter that much as Thule Motion XT is sturdy enough.


Installation

Installing Thule Motion XT on your car’s rooftop is simple. It doesn’t require tools and take few minutes to do. Just put it on the rooftop of your car, unlock it and open the lid, adjust clamps to proper positions while making sure carrier is properly aligned and tighten them.

Thule Force XT features Powerclick mounting system – clamps have torque indicator which will start to make clicking noise when you have properly tightened them so you don’t have to worry about breaking them by over-tightening or that you haven’t tightened them enough.


Thule Motion XT: L vs XL vs XXL

 LXLXXL
Storage capacity16 cubic feet / 453 liters18 cubic feet / 510 liters22 cubic feet / 623 liters
Weight42 lbs / 19 kg46 lbs / 20.9 kg55 lbs / 24.95 kg
Load capacity165 lbs / 74.84 kg165 lbs / 74.84 kg165 lbs / 74.84 kg
External dimensions (L x W x H)77″ x 36″ x 17″84.5” x 36” x 17”91.5″ x 37.5″ x 18″
Internal dimensions (L x W x H)69″ x 31.5″ x 15″79” x 31.5” x 15”84.5″ x 33″ x 16″
Height off crossbar15.5”16”17”
Max length of skis175 cm200 cm215 cm
Model code629706629806629906


Noise and fuel economy

All of the Thule Motion XT variations are aerodynamically designed and have less impact on mileage and noise than large majority rooftop cargo carriers. There are only few hard-shell carriers with more aerodynamic design (Thule Vector Alpine for example).


Awards

Thule Motion XT has won multiple awards including iF Product Design Award 2017 and Plus X Award 2018 for high quality, design and ease of use.


Conclusions

Thule Motion XT is the rooftop cargo carrier that offers best value for money. It’s not exactly among the least expensive models but it’s not as expensive as top-of-the range ones making it a great medium between price and quality. Not only it’s well made enough to last for a many many years it’s also very cleverly designed making it easy to install and use.



#2 Thule Vector Alpine

Thule Vector Alpine is the most advanced rooftop cargo carrier from the World-renowned company. If offers 13 cubic feet of storage capacity, which even though is almost the same of trunk capacity of average sedan is still less than most other rooftop cargo boxes offer despite the higher price. It might not be a significant drawback as 13 cubic feet is plenty enough for many and because of its shape compared to trunk (longer but shorter) you can fit things that you wouldn’t fit in a trunk, for example skis or snowboards. Thule Vector Alpine is more expensive than other hard-shell carriers not because of it’s storage capacity, but for other reasons.

Maximum load capacity (how much weight you can safely load in the cargo box) is 165 lbs (74.85 kg) – which is more than most other rooftop cargo carriers despite the smaller storage capacity.

It opens from both sides whereas most other models open either from passenger side or behind (latter being the worse option as it makes loading/unloading more difficult). It also features 3 tie-down straps for securing belongings.


Quality

Thule Vector Alpine is made of ABS plastic and features reinforced lid. It’s even sturdier than other Thule products which is to be expected as it’s also more expensive.


Features

One feature Thule Vector Alpine has that you probably haven’t seen before is motion activated LED lights inside the carrier. They turn on automatically when you open the lid and can be super useful in darkness. LED light is powered by AAA battery and is easily replaceable. LED light is removable in case you need to illuminate a specific area.

Thule Vector Alpine also has a lock. You won’t forget to lock it because you can’t remove the key unless the carrier is locked.

There’s also another safety feature – next to the lock there’s red indicator that disappears when then carrier is properly closed. In case you fail to properly close the red indicator will warn you.


Installation

Thule Vector Alpine is super simple to install and the whole process takes just a couple minutes to complete.

All you have to do is un-tighten the clamps, put the cargo carrier on the rooftop of your car, adjust hooks to fit crossbars by sliding them and once you have made sure storage box is properly aligned (straight and centered) you tighten the knobs to secure the box.

Knobs have integrated torque indicators so keep tightening until they start to made “click” noise – that’s how you know you have tightened them properly.


Noise and fuel economy

Because of its low profile and aerodynamic shape Thule Vector Alpine impacts mileage or road noise significantly less than other rooftop cargo boxes.


Dimensions and weight

Thule Vector Alpine weighs 65.9 lbs. It measures 91 inches long, 35 inches wide and 12.5 inches high. Internal dimensions are 80.5″ by 25.2″ by 11″.


Awards

Being such an exceptional rooftop cargo carrier it comes at no surprise Thule Vector Alpine has won multiple awards including 2019 German Design and 2019 red dot Awards.


Conclusions

Thule Vector Alpine is the best rooftop cargo carrier you can buy. It’s however more expensive than others and additional price tag might not be worth the higher quality and more features to many.



#3 Thule Force XT Car Rooftop Cargo Carrier


Thule Force XT is quite similar to Thule Motion XT. The main differences between the two are that Force XT is a bit less sturdy, has decreased crossbar spread compatibility and less features (i.e. it has less straps for securing cargo and doesn’t have SlideLock system).

Thule Force XT is available in 4 different sizes:

  • Sport: 11 cubic feet of storage capacity
  • L: 16 cubic feet of storage capacity
  • XL: 18 cubic feet of storage capacity
  • XXL: 22 cubic feet of storage capacity

In this review we will focus on Thule Force XT XL however most of the things will apply to others as well since they are basically the same other than having different dimensions and slightly different shapes.

Since Thule Force XT XL has storage capacity of 18 cubic feet it’s very spacious and will be more than enough for most. Maximum loading capacity is 165 lbs which applies to all Force XT variations.

It opens from both sides (most don’t!) and doesn’t interfere with trunk. Because of narrow design you are left with some free space on rooftop of your car where you can mount bicycles or skis. It comes with 3 tie down straps to safely hold down your belongings.


Quality

Thule Force XT is well made. Albeit for the money it could perhaps feel sturdier in reality it’s plenty strong to last for many years to come. Yes, lid is a bit wobbly when open and key latch is made of plastic and feels cheap (locking feels finicky) but Force XT has metal reinforcements and is sturdy when closed.


Installation

Installation is similar to above Thule car roof carriers. Put it on the rooftop, unlock, align it properly and adjust clamps before tightening them. Thule Force XT also has PowerClick system so clamps will start to click when tightened enough.


Specs

 SportLXLXXL
Storage capacity11 cubic feet / 311 liters16 cubic feet / 453 liters18 cubic feet / 51 liters22 cu. ft. / 623 liters
Weight32 lbs / 14.5 kg41 lbs / 18.6 kg47 lbs / 21.3 kg52 lbs / 23.59 kg
Load capacity165 lbs / 74.84 kg165 lbs / 74.84 kg165 lbs / 74.84 kg165 lbs / 74.84 kg
External dimensions (L x W x H)74.75″ x 24.75″ x 16.75″ 74.75″ x 33″ x 18″82.75″ x 33.75″ x 17.25″90.5″ x 35.5″ x 18.5″ 
Internal dimensions (L x W x H)70.5″ x 20.5″ x 14.75″70″ x 28.75″ x 16.25″77.5″ x 29.5″ x 15.25″85.5″ x 31″ x 16.75″
Height off crossbar15.6″16.9”16.1”17.5”
Max length of skis175 cm175 cm195 cm215 cm
Model code635601635701635801635901


Conclusions

Overall Thule Force XT can be regarded as a good hard-shell carrier. Even though it’s not as good as Motion XT or Vector Alpine it’s still better than vast majority of models on the market.



#4 Thule Pulse Rooftop Cargo Carrier


Thule really seems to excels at this rooftop cargo carrier thing as all four best hard-shell carriers are made by them.

Thule Pulse is less expensive alternative to the other more expensive and better Thule models. Thule Pulse is sold in 3 variations: Alpine (11 cu. ft.), Medium (14 cu.ft) and Large (16 cu. ft.). They do differ in shapes quite a bit so even though they are similarly made material, quality and mechanism wise they have different impacts on mileage and road noise.

Thule Pulse opens only from passenger side. It comes with 2 tie down straps.


Quality

Thule Pulse is made of ABS plastic. It’s certainly not as sturdy as other Thule products listed above but sturdiness is sufficient. For long term use you would perhaps want something sturdier but for once-in-a-while use it should suffice.

Locking mechanism however should be improved. It feels to cheap and finicky. Some even had have issues with it breaking.


Installation

Like above Thule products above Pulse also is easy to install and takes mere minutes to do so. It does lack some features like PowerClick mounting system (it uses FastGrip mounting system instead).


Specs

 Pulse AlpinePulse MPulse L
Storage capacity11 cu. ft. / 311 liters14 cu. ft. / 396 liters16 cu. ft. / 453 liters
Weight30 lbs / 13.6 kg34 lbs /15.4 kg36 lbs / 16.3 kg
Load capacity110 lbs / 49.9 kg110 lbs / 49.9 kg110 lbs / 49.9 kg
External dimensions (L x W x H)88.5″ x 25.5″ x 12.5″67″ x 35″ x 16″76″ x 33″ x 16.5″
Internal dimensions (L x W x H)82.75″ x 23.5″ x 10.5″61″ x 33″ x 14″71.25″ x 31″ x 14.5″
Height off crossbar11.3″16″15″
Max length of skis210 cm155 cm181 cm
Model code613614615


Conclusions

Whereas above listed Thule are great cargo carriers Thule Pulse is a bit mediocre. Considering it’s less expensive than the others as well it’s not a bad value for money but it’s a bit budget priced and so is the overall quality.



#5 Goplus SU-5221-18WH-TA

Finally a cargo carrier that’s not Thule. Goplus SU-5221-18WH-TA has storage capacity of 14 cubic feet – a bit less than the industry’s average but still enough for most. It also has loading capacity of 165 lbs which is good.

It opens from both sides which is very nice considering its price. It can also be locked and comes with 2 keys.


Quality

Goplus SU-5221-18WH-TA is made of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene plastic and polycarbonate with metal stiffeners at the bottom that increase rigidity and sturdiness. It’s not quite as sturdy as top Thule products but overall quality is pretty good.


Installation

Goplus SU-5221-18WH-TA uses similar mounting system as Thule so it’s easy and quick to install. However it’s less sturdy and not as universal. In some cases you also might have to drill extra holes to be compatible with your roof rack.


Mileage and noise

Goplus SU-5221-18WH-TA is well designed so it doesn’t have large impact on MPG and mileage.


Conclusions

Goplus SU-5221-18WH-TA is relatively inexpensive and overall a good product for the money. It’s not as good as most Thule’s products and has some slight flaws but most of the consumer feedback is very positive.



#6 Yakima Skybox Carbonite Car Top Hard-Shell Carrier


Yakima Skybox Carbonite is made in USA (I know this matters to many of you) with up to 80% recycled materials (which will also be appreciated by many). It’s available in 5 sizes ranging from 12 to 21 cubic feet of storage capacity. All of them are of similar shape (albeit different dimensions) except the 15 cubic feet version which is low profile and differs a lot compared to others shape wise.

Yakima Skybox Carbonite opens from both sides however opening is a bit shallow making loading/unloading things more difficult.


Quality

Overall quality is pretty good and comparable to similarly priced Thule cargo carriers. It wouldn’t hurt if it felt a bit more sturdy but it’s solid enough for the purpose.


Lock

Yakima Skybox Carbonite has SKS lock and comes with 2 keys.


Installation

Installation is more difficult compared to car rooftop cargo carrier above but it’s not overly complicated.

You have to turn levers up inside the box, then untighten track thumb wheel by half a turn (if you turn it too much you will dissemble the mechanism). After you do that you can put the carrier on the rooftop of your car (with clamps in front of crossbars). Slide the clamps along tracks to engage crossbars, adjust carrier’s position and close levers to engage clamps. Then tighten the thumb wheels and you are done!

Whole process takes around 10 minutes to complete, at least when you are used to the process, it might take a bit longer your first few tries.


Specs

 SkyBox 12 CarboniteSkyBox Lo CarboniteSkyBox 16 CarboniteSkyBox 18 CarboniteSkyBox 21 Carbonite
Storage capacity12 cu. ft. / 339 liters15 cu. ft. / 424 liters16 cu. ft. / 453 liters18 cu. ft. / 510 liters21 cu. ft. / 595 liters
Weight41 lbs / 19 kg52 lbs / 24 kg47 lbs / 21 kg52 lbs / 24 kg62 lbs / 28 kg
Minimum crossbar spread24”24”24”24”24”
Maximum crossbar spread42”42”36”42”42”
Dimensions (L x W x H)92″ x 24″ x 16″92″ x 36″ x 11.5″81″ x 36″ x 15″92″ x 36″ x 16″92″ x 36″ x 18″


Conclusions

Albeit not as good as Thule, Yakima Skybox Carbonite is still a good cargo carrier. Its biggest flaw is installation process which even though isn’t overly complicated is still more complex than that of Thule’s.



#7 SportRack Horizon Rooftop Cargo Box


SportRack Horizon is available in 3 sizes: Alpine (11 cu. ft.), L (16 cu. ft.) and XL (17 cu. ft.). All of them have 110 lbs loading capacity which is not great, but also not completely terrible. SportRack Horizon opens only on passenger side. It comes with 2 keys. Both the keys and key latch feel cheap and either might break eventually (but might be just fine too).


Quality

SportRack Horizon is made of ABS plastic. Panels are bit thin so it doesn’t feel particularly sturdy however it’s not bad enough that you should complain.


Installation

SportRack Horizon uses quick-release assembly system. What it means is you can leave mounting hardware attached to the roof rack when removing the carrier. Negative thing is that setting up mounting hardware is complicated and not something you want to do on common basis so if you want to use your cargo carrier often installing mounting hardware will be a small nightmare unless you just leave it on your roof-rack at all times.


Specs

 Horizon AlpineHorizon L (Large)Horizon XL (Extra Large)
Storage capacity11 cubic feet16 cubic feet17 cubic feet
Max. load110 lbs110 lbs110 lbs
Weight29 lbs43 lbs44 lbs
Minimum spacing23.625“23.625“23.625“
Maximum spacing35.25“32.5“35.75“
Mounting width14.875“25.625“23.5“
Front clearance52.5“40.625“56“
Dimensions (L x W x H)88.4″ x 20.7″ x 15.9″75.9″ x 33.2″ x 16.1″91″ x 30.7″ x 16.5″
Model numberSR7011SR7016SR7017


Conclusions

SportRack Horizon is not a bad cargo carrier but thin panels, low maximum weight load and complicated mounting hardware installation keeps it away from being among the best.

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