Hands-on Gear Review

Thule Force XL Review

The Force is an above-average product with an excellent mounting system.
Thule Force XL
By: Lauren DeLaunay ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Jun 14, 2017
Price:  $590 List  |  $519.95 at Backcountry - 12% Off
Pros:  Great look, superb installation
Cons:  Annoying handle
Manufacturer:   Thule
64
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#4 of 7
  • Ease of Use - 40% 6
  • Durability - 25% 7
  • Security - 20% 6
  • Appearance - 15% 7
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Our Verdict

Coming in third place in our review, the Thule Force is a solid, above-average rooftop cargo box. We like its sleek, unassuming look, sturdy lid, and excellent mounting system but docked it points for its weird lock and lack of handle. At $590, this box's closest competitor was the Yakima SkyBox Carbonite, which we awarded our Best Buy Award. While we think the SkyBox is a slightly better value in terms of daily ease of use, you may want to consider the Force if daily use is less of a factor for you than easy installation. This box was just barely edged out for that award, and we do think it is a great value that will likely meet most if not all your needs.


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Our Analysis and Test Results

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If you asked us whether or not you should buy the Force (which you are, essentially, by reading this), we'd ask you first about priorities, mainly how often and in what fashion you plan on using your roof box. We don't dislike the Force and think it has many great qualities, including a sleek design and a sturdy-enough lid to use with one hand. It has a much better mounting system than the SkyBox, but we thought its key latch was a little difficult to pop open and its lack of handle made closing the box frustrating. This contender may be the best box for you if you're limited to a mid-range cargo box (if not, see our Editors' Choice Award Winner, the Thule Motion XT) and for whatever reason find yourself mounting and unmounting your box frequently. Despite not being our first or second pick, we doubt you'll be disappointed with this box and think it may, in fact, be an excellent choice if you prioritize ease of mounting over ease of opening and closing.

Performance Comparison


The Force stands up to the elements during a spring snow storm in Lake Tahoe.
The Force stands up to the elements during a spring snow storm in Lake Tahoe.

Ease of Use


For this metric, we looked at all the factors that contribute to the product's user-friendliness. We opened and closed them repeatedly, took them on and off our cars time and time again, and considered any assembly difficulties or special features. Because we estimated that most users open and close the box more frequently than they take it on and off their roof, we gave that a higher priority in scoring, which is why the SkyBox Carbonite won the Best Buy award over the Force. If this isn't true for you, the incredible mounting ease of the Force might nudge it out as the better option.

This box required absolutely no assembly. We're not sure why the Motion XT arrived without the clamps already installed despite having nearly identical mounting systems, but the Force was completely ready to mount out of the box. It took us less than five minutes to install the box and had us gleefully wondering what to do with the rest of our day since we had so much unanticipated time left. The only thing that sets the QuickGrip system of the Force apart from the PowerClick mounting system of the Motion XT is the lack of "click" to let you know you've tightened the box enough. We appreciated that feature on the Motion XT, but we didn't dock any points for the lack of "click" on the Force because of how easy it was to hand-tighten and go. Because cargo boxes weren't designed to be driven empty, this box may be an excellent choice for those who aren't looking for long-term storage or those who park in a garage that can't accommodate a roof box. Its mounting system is pain-free and our favorite thing about the Force.

The clamps of the Force's installation system were the easiest to use of any in our review.
The clamps of the Force's installation system were the easiest to use of any in our review.

On the other side of the user-friendliness scale is the ease of opening and closing. We weren't big fans of the Force's latching system. With no handle and just the key to turn, we found it a little harder to use than that of the SkyBox or Motion XT, though it was still superior to the Yakima ShowCase. Standing alone, we don't think that the Force's latching system is too frustrating. Compared side-by-side to five other models, however, let us evaluate the small details of each box and come to the conclusion that this one is just a bit more annoying than its competitors. It may seem like we're nit-picking, but that's exactly what we try to do. Will you be in agony using the Force every day? No. But if you have the choice, we would recommend a more user-friendly product.

One thing that the Force has that the SkyBox doesn't is a handy pull cord. While we didn't make extensive use of this feature since we had to stand on the side of our cars to close this box anyway, we think this would be a great bonus feature for users with mid-sized cars for whom the opened lid is just barely out of reach.

Durability


How burly is this cargo box? Can it withstand all that your travels might throw at it? We found no reason to believe otherwise and agreed that the minuscule holes in the bottom of the box where the mounts attach are negligible. We drove through all the crazy weather of Spring in the Sierra and would feel comfortable investing this box and knowing that it would keep our belongings safe and dry for years to come. However, do note that since Thule won't claim full waterproofness, neither we will; it would be smart to put your electronics in drybags before trusting them to your roof box. Like every other model in our review, we were pleased to find that our gas mileage was unaffected. Through rain, wind, and snow, we were never concerned about whether or not our things would be safe inside the Force. We found no signs of leakage, and even gusty winds near Lake Tahoe couldn't disrupt this box.

Rain is no match for the Force!
Rain is no match for the Force!

The box is crafted out of the same high-level construction materials as its competitors, which led us to believe in its longevity. We drove the Force for a few hundred miles without any signs of wear and tear, but we like that the matte black could hide any scrapes or dents better than the glossy Motion XT or ShowCase, though we don't believe you'd encounter any of these with such a well-made box. Both hinges and lid are strong, sturdy, and durable. Like all Thule boxes, if you don't believe us, you can rest assured in your purchase under a lifetime warranty.

Security


The security category of our testing looked at the big picture and the small details of the whole security system. From its locking mechanism to its lid, there are a few key factors to look at if you find yourself nervous to leave your beloved cargo inside the box for an extended period of time. Nothing we found in our testing left us concerned about the Force's security.

Like all the boxes in this review except for the Thule SideKick, the keys cannot be removed unless the box is locked, so you never have to worry about locking your keys in the box. This also makes it more difficult to accidentally leave the box unlocked.

While a little annoying to open and close  the Force's beefy lock keeps our belongings safe.
While a little annoying to open and close, the Force's beefy lock keeps our belongings safe.

The main reason the Force received a 6/10 for security as opposed to the 7/10 of our first- and second-place scorers were due to the key lock system. Thule dubs this the SecureLock, and its small size makes it more difficult to tell at a glance if the box is latched or not. We're guilty of trying to shove as much in the boxes we tested as possible, sometimes accidentally obstructing the latches, and the Motion XT and the SkyBox make it easy to know that the box isn't latching correctly because of their beefy handles. While we don't think you'd be regularly concerned about the security system of the Force, the devil was in the details in this review, and this was one area where the award winners could shine.

Appearance


You wouldn't really pick your cargo box based on how it looks- would you? We don't blame you. Our testers recognize the importance of good accessories, so we couldn't help but give appearance at least a small part of the total score.

Like our Best Buy Award-winning SkyBox, we love the matte black finish of the Force. We think that black is the best color and that the matte finish finds the perfect balance between understated and timeless. The glossy finishes of the Motion XT and ShowCase were quick to look dirty, but the matte coating of the Force and SkyBox hid the inevitable pollen and dead bug build-up more easily.

The Force showing off its matte black finish.
The Force showing off its matte black finish.

Best Applications


Coming in right behind the SkyBox, we had a hard decision to make when doling out awards. While the Force has a better mounting system than the SkyBox, the latter excelled in opening and closing. We found that we opened and closed the box much more frequently than we mounted and unmounted it, which let the SkyBox slip ahead and take home the Best Buy prize. We think that most people will find this true to their usage too, but, if you do find yourself in a situation where you will have to regularly take the box off your car, we recommend the Force over the SkyBox. While the user friendliness of the SkyBox was really appreciated once we mounted the box and moved on, we were glad that we didn't have to do it too often. In sum: going to mount the box once and forget about it? Go SkyBox. Planning to mount and unmount the box frequently? Go Force.

Value


With a retail price of $580, this box is in the same price realm as the SkyBox, and, like with that model, we think you pretty much get what you pay for, although the SkyBox is $90 less and an arguably better deal. The Editors' Choice Award-winning Motion XT is better in a handful of ways, but if you really can't bear to swing the extra $140 for our favorite box, you'll get a great cargo box with decent user friendliness, cool style, and long-lasting security with the Force.

Conclusion


While the Force didn't come home with the Best Buy Award, it almost did, and it could easily be the right choice for you if you're more concerned with ease of mounting than ease of opening. The matte black finish was our favorite look, and the sturdy lid was key in our daily enjoyment of this box. The Force wasn't our favorite cargo box in this review, but we think that under the right circumstances, it could be an excellent purchase.

The Force is ready for any of your travels!
The Force is ready for any of your travels!

Lauren DeLaunay

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Most recent review: June 14, 2017
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
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 (4.0)
Average Customer Rating:  
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Rating Distribution
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4 star: 100%  (1)
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