SportRack, we have mixed feelings about you. We were back and forth about this cargo box but ultimately decided to award it a Best Buy Award due mainly to its superiority over its closest competitor, the Thule Sidekick. When compared to the more expensive "long and lean" models in our review, the SportRack has a hard time stacking up. Its design and functionality are basic, but it is indeed effective, whereas the Sidekick is downright unsuccessful. The Vista will keep your things dry and safe and transport from point A to B. If that's all you're looking for, this box is considerably cheaper than the next tier, and though lacking in bells and whistles, we think this box is indeed the Best Buy for Budget Adventurers.
SportRack Vista XL Review
Cons: Awkward rear opening, flimsy lid
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Our Analysis and Test Results
While we may not recommend this box to our adventurous friends looking for long-term gear storage for their every weekend trips, we might recommend this to our parents who are looking for a little extra room for their occasional vacation. Its simplicity could be frustrating if used on a daily basis, but if you're on a tight budget or don't plan on using your cargo box all the time, we think the SportRack is a great choice, especially when compared to similar boxes in its price range.
Ease of Use
We have to admit, this category is a little subjective. While we think you'd all agree with us on our ease of use rankings, even the best box is not always easy to use, so the scores were all given relatively. Even our Editors' Choice Award winner, the Thule Motion XT, is not especially fun to use, but it is easier to use than any other cargo box we've seen. We didn't expect our test to be as fun as, say, our mountain bike review. For this metric, we picked the three most important criteria: assembly, installation, and opening/closing. The SportRack scored major points over the Sidekick because it came fully assembled, had a relatively straightforward installation, and included a user-friendly lock and handle.
The first box we tested for this review was the Sidekick, which effectively made every other box we tested seem incredible in comparison. The SportRack requires zero assembly, which we really appreciated. It comes ready to mount right out of the box, saving us loads of time and energy. This box uses a U-bolt system similar to that of the Sidekick and is impressively easy to understand and install. While it did take a bit longer to do than the more advanced mounting systems of the expensive Yakima and Thule boxes, the installation of this box was pretty painless. We wouldn't necessarily want to have to take it on and off every day, but this is one area we'd be happy to save money in if we didn't plan on using this box all that often.
Every other box in this review opens from the side; we haven't mentioned it, but the SportRack has quite a different style and we have mixed feelings about its rear opening. When we first mounted this box on our lead tester's van, it was impossible to reach everything inside. The box is much wider than any other in our review, and whether from the side or the back, we couldn't reach the back corner. Frustrating. We then put the box on another tester's Element and had the exact same problem. Finally, we mounted it on our photographer's Subaru Forester, and we could actually use it. While we didn't mind the rear opening, in this case, we definitely would have scored this box higher if it had the standard side opening which we think is more universally friendly. We talked to a friend who loves rear-opening boxes for loading snowboards, and at 63 inches long (or 160 cm), you may be able to load your snowboard in this box (though most skis are out of the picture). The rear opening seems to be a point of personal preference, but we are hesitant about recommending this box to drivers of big cars.
Though lacking the sturdy, ergonomic handle of the Motion XT, the SportRack is surprisingly easy to open and close. The lid overlaps the bottom of the box enough to form a pretty effective grip, and we never had trouble latching it correctly. We had no complaints about the key lock's straightforward and smooth design. The lid is pretty floppy, which we'll touch on more in the Durability section below, and was the only area that the Sidekick potentially excelled in comparison. Is the SportRack simple? Yes. But is it effective? Definitely. While it doesn't match the user friendliness of more expensive boxes like the Yakima SkyBox Carbonite, for nearly half the price, we think its simplicity is a gift.
We subjected our boxes to time, miles, and the elements to get an idea of their potential longevity. We're slightly concerned by the SportRack's seemingly flimsy building materials, but it showed no signs of distress after our rounds of testing, and we docked it points mostly for its flimsy lid. We were pleasantly surprised that none of the boxes in this test had any measurable impact on our gas mileage.
Compared to the seamless design of both the SkyBox and Yakima ShowCase, we would be cautious about putting our electronics in the SportRack unprotected. In order for the U-bolt system to be universal, there are multiple sets of holes to choose from depending on your crossbar width. Because of this, you're left with holes in the bottom of the box. SportRack's solution, as is the Sidekick's, is to provide some vinyl stickers to cover the holes. While this helps, they are pretty easy to pull off. The SportRack should keep your things dry in a normal rainstorm — these holes are tiny, mind you — but we would definitely put our moisture-sensitive belongings in a drybag before going in the box. Despite the box's flimsiness, the wind didn't seem to affect it, and we never heard any rocking or whistling no matter how fast we were driving.
The SportRack lost the majority of its durability points because of its floppy lid. This is one area where you can really see the price difference vis-a-vis the more expensive models in this review. The plastic is much thinner than any other box we tested. The lid is extremely flimsy and is prone to opening fully on one side and only halfway on the other. This wasn't too annoying, as we just had to give the less opened side a little boost before it shot right up, but it definitely paled in comparison to the top four scorers in this category.
Because five out of six boxes we tested felt secure enough to trust with our previous gear, we expanded this category to include all aspects of the security mechanisms. The locking system of the SportRack is simple but effective, so we gave it a 5/10 for its overwhelming averageness.
Despite lacking in special features, we felt pretty confident that the SportRack would keep our belongings safe from crooks. The only thing that might hinder this is the flimsy materials, but we still think a thief would need quite the tool to break in. The U-bolts are small but strong, and we think it would be next to impossible to rip this box off the car. That being said, while we felt comfortable leaving our things in the SportRack, it should be noted that the manufacturer explicitly warns that the locks are meant to deter theft, not prevent it, and we agree that it seems much easier to break into the smaller lock of the SportRack than those of the more expensive boxes we tested.
Like all the boxes in this review with the exception of the Sidekick, it is impossible to lock the key in the box because the lid must be latched to remove it. (As someone who locks her keys in her car all the time, that is a must-have feature for our lead tester.) We don't like that the box has no special features for making it easy to see if the lid is latched or not. On the other hand, we never had trouble getting the lock to line up and latch properly, even with the flimsiest lid we saw, which impressed us.
We know what you're thinking: are any of these cargo boxes all that attractive? While we can't speak for everyone, we did have clear preferences, and as people who obviously cares about style (did you see our lead tester's van?), we couldn't help but give appearance a small percentage of the overall score. We looked at color, finish, and shape, and found that the SportRack is, well, pretty average.
While the Sidekick looks like a mini version of the "long and lean" boxes at the top of our charts, this product has its own shape. It is wider than any other model we tested (though only by a few inches) but significantly shorter (63 inches compared to the 80-inch minimum of our "long and leans"), giving it a stumpy appearance. We didn't hate it, but it did look much more normal on one tester's small Subaru Forester than another's bigger Honda Element. Its look is different but not exactly eye-catching.
Average is the name of the game for the SportRack, and its black finish is no different. Somewhere between shiny and matte, we generally liked the look and thought it was classier than the gray, cheap-looking Sidekick.
Not capable of holding skis, except maybe for kids, this box is a great fit for the occasional traveler. Its annoying simplicity may drive you nuts over time, but if you don't use it often, you might be glad you saved your money. We think this box is ideal for families, golfers, and car campers, or anyone trying to save $200 off the next level of cargo boxes.
With the exception of two models in this review, the Sidekick and the ShowCase, we generally think you get what you pay for with cargo boxes. While much less fancy than the boxes at the top of our charts, we think an occasional user would find plenty of value in this box at a fraction of the cost. If you plan on using your cargo box frequently, we really do think that a mid-range box like the SkyBox Carbonite is worth the $499 price tag. If you can't budge, though, this box is a very decent buy at $320, especially when compared to the much less valuable (though similarly priced) Sidekick.
We haven't talked much about size in this review, as the four "long and lean" models are all close to the same volume, but it is definitely worth mentioning that the SportRack is considerably larger than the Sidekick. If your primary objective is moving lots of things around, the SportRack undoubtedly provides better bang for your buck at 18 cubic feet compared to the Sidekick's meager eight.
We awarded the SportRack the Best Buy for the Budget Adventurer for its simple design and relative ease of use. While we were annoyed by its rear opening, making it much more attractive for small-car drivers, we thought this was the best option for shoppers unwilling to dole out half a grand for some gear storage.
— Lauren DeLaunay