Although it wasn't a leader in any of our rating metrics, the Thule Force XT XL is a great cargo box that offers above-average performance. It has a sturdy construction, sleek matte black finish, and simple mounting system, but lost some points for not having a handle and being slightly finicky to lock. The Force's closest competitor is the Yakima SkyBox 16 Carbonite, which is slightly cheaper and won our Best Buy Award. Because both perform similarly and the Force is more expensive, the SkyBox barely edged it out to win this award.
Thule Force XT XL Review
Compare prices at 4 resellers Pros: Simple installation, sleek matte finish, great shape for skis
Cons: Clunky shape, inconvenient handle
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Thule Force XT XL is one of the best cargo boxes that we tested, offering comparable performance to some much pricier models. It is easy to install, has plenty of space for many pairs of skis, and its components are impressively durable. It was edged out of the Best Buy Award by the Yakima SkyBox 16 Carbonite, but only because it is slightly more expensive and both models are fairly comparable. Some more expensive boxes feature better handles and more aerodynamic designs, but the Force has plenty to offer without any frills. If you need a box that is easy to install or can transport multiple pairs of skis, then the Force is a good option that comes at a reasonable price.
We spent many hours researching a variety of products for this review. In our testing we tried to capture the key attributes that most consumers care about when they purchase a cargo box. Our ratings are based upon Ease of Use, Durability, Security, and Appearance, each weighted in order of importance. Read on to see how the Thule Force XT XL stacked up against the other models that we tested.
Ease of Use
To evaluate ease of use, we loaded and unloaded the Force XT XL dozens of times and drove with it for hundreds of miles in a variety of conditions. Installation was also accounted for in our tests, but not prioritized as highly since most users only install boxes once before leaving them on vehicles for long periods.
Requiring virtually no setup, the Force comes ready to go out of the box. Mounting took less than five minutes and the clamps are convenient to adjust for a range of roof rack dimensions. Unlike other models that have bulky mounting fixtures, the Force's clamps are easily tightened by twisting a knob, which clicks when it is adequately tightened. It is easier to put on than the Yakima Skybox Carbonite but otherwise both boxes are very comparable for day-to-day use. Neither have prominent handles and both have nylon webbing straps to help pull down the lids if they are too high to reach.
The main flaw that we found in the Force XT was its lack of a handle for opening and closing the box. This was not a huge pain but could be occasionally frustrating when the box was filled to the brim or being closed in bad weather. The handle of the Motion XT is far superior but that model also comes with a much higher price tag.
The Thule Force XT proved itself to be one of the most durable cargo boxes that we tested, with an impressively weather-resistant design and solid construction. Through torrents of rain, none of our belongings in the box saw a drop of water. Short of being fully inundated or subjected to a hurricane we cannot see how it would be compromised by even intense rain and snow storms.
Even after a few hundred miles and being removed several times, the Force only had a few minor scrapes and seemed ready for many years of continuous use. Like most of its competitors, the Force's hinges, lid, and mounting system are all well-designed, ensuring that you'll be able to keep it on the road for a long time. Thule backs its products with a lifetime warranty, which provides some peace of mind if you're worried about your box wearing out.
Our security testing accounted for lock design and overall construction. We could not find any flaws in the Force XT's security and did not worry about leaving items in it for extended periods.
Like every model that we tested, the Force must be locked before you can remove its keys, making it impossible to leave it unlocked so long as you remember to take your keys. Generally it is more secure to lock items in your vehicle rather than a cargo box, but as far as boxes go, the Force felt quite secure.
To evaluate appearance we accounted for the styling of each box's shape and how well their finishes held up to continuous use in harsh conditions. Our testers loved the Force XT's matte black finish and found its shape to be sleek without sacrificing storage capacity. The matte black did a good job of concealing scratches and dirt, which are inevitable after a few days of driving in varied weather.
The Yakima SkyBox has a similar matte black finish but is a bit more streamlined than the Force XT. Both are comparable in terms of appearance and neither are an eyesore on top of any vehicle. If you have a large budget and seek the most stylish box out there, the Thule Hyper XL is designed like a bullet train and sports a glossy finish.
Despite not winning an award, the Thule Force is among the best models that we reviewed and did not disappoint our testers. It excels at fitting multiple pairs of skis and its shape is much more conducive to moving large items than that of the Yakima SkyBox. For users seeking a durable, spacious cargo box, the Force is an excellent option.
With a list price that is slightly higher than that of the Best Buy Yakima Skybox 16, it is difficult to justify purchasing the Force unless you are looking for very specific features that it offers. The Force is substantially less expensive than the Editors' Choice Motion XT and this price difference is justified by a disparity in ease of use and security. The cost of the Force is fair, but for most consumers there are more affordable options that offer comparable performance.
Even though the Force XT XL came short of winning a Best Buy Award, it is still a top-notch product that works well for a variety of applications. If you plan to carry multiple pairs of skis and seek a simple mounting system, then it may be an excellent choice. It didn't stand out as a leader in any of our tests, but also didn't disappoint us either.
— Steven Tata