Our parents always told us to bite our tongues if we had nothing nice to say, but then, well, this review would be pretty short. We were disappointed by the Thule Sidekick after having high hopes for it, mainly due to its name-brand manufacturer. We kind of like its appearance, but it seriously misses the mark for ease of use, durability, and security. With serious assembly required, pieces that didn't fit, and locks that fail to align, when asked if we would recommend the Sidekick, we gave a sad but resounding "no."
Thule Sidekick Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Inexpensive, nice look for small cars
Cons: Compromised security, difficult assembly and installation
Compare to Similar Products
Our Analysis and Test Results
We here at OutdoorGearLab are committed to scoring the products in our review and evaluating them objectively, not in relation to their price (we save that for the "Value" section below). So despite being the least expensive product in this review, we simply cannot recommend this product because of its low scores in every category. While we awarded the SportRack Vista the Best Buy for the Budget Adventurer because of its simple design and effective construction, the Sidekick lacks both of these qualities.
Ease of Use
For this scoring metric, we were all about convenience. Boxes that met our basic needs scored 5's and 6's, while those that surpassed our expectations scored 7's and 8's. The Sidekick, unfortunately, scored a 4 because it failed to meet our minimum qualifications both in assembly and ease of opening/closing while having an average mounting system.
While our Editors' Choice Award-winning Thule Motion XT technically required us to snap the mounts on to the box, that process was easy enough to do without the instructions and took us less than a minute to complete. The Sidekick was a whole different beast. It took two of our testers close to an hour to put this thing together, complete with a full tool kit, frustrated pacing, pinched fingers, and multiple readings and re-readings of the instructions. Two people are definitely required, as one person has to hold the lid while the other tries to attach it to the bottom. Even the weather stripping needs to be cut to size and installed. The part that surprised us the most was that the locks needed to be built. This was confusing, and we had a hard time lining them up properly aftward. Whether this was our fault or a common problem, we'd expect to do a little less work for a $300 product. Our main problem was not just that we had to do some assembly, though- it was that we assembled a product that then didn't work well or pass our security standards.
During assembly, we noticed that two of the plastic bolt-protector caps did not fit the bolts we'd been given. We re-read the directions to see if we could have made a mistake, but something was wrong. Our research indicated that other users had also had this problem, which made us think this was less a fluke than a common issue. We'll talk about why this is such a big problem in the "Security" section below.
The one thing the Sidekick has going for it is a relatively easy mount. While more time consuming than that of our top-ranking boxes from Yakima and Thule, we actually thought the U-bolt system was fine. This system is similar to that of the SportRack and really didn't take too much time. Compared to the expensive Yakima system, it is very intuitive, which we appreciated. As far as opening and closing goes, we found some big issues. The lid is floppy, though not as floppy as the SportRack, and we had trouble lining it up correctly. There are two locks instead of one, the only box with this design, which we thought was somewhat annoying, though that may be in place to try and boost the box's security. Overall, we were disappointed in this cargo box and its lack of user-friendly details.
For this category, we tested each product against its three biggest nemeses: rain, wind, and time. Wind never seemed to disrupt the Sidekick, despite its floppiness (neither did any box we tested), but we were a little concerned about how it would fare against the other two. While we carefully watched our gas mileage during testing, none of the boxes in this review had any impact on our efficiency and none created any noise while driving.
Like the SportRack, this box uses a U-bolt mounting system which requires a series of holes to make the fit universal. Thule also employs the same solutions as SportRack: vinyl stickers to cover the unused holes. While our box held up during a rainstorm, we would be nervous about trusting it with our electronics or other valuables. To be fair, Thule doesn't claim complete protection from the elements, but we would generally consider some of the higher-end boxes in this review to be functionally waterproof.
Lastly, the Sidekick is pretty floppy. Second only to the very flimsy SportRack — and not by much — we had concerns about the longevity of this box due to its lackluster building materials. Every detail of this box seems to have been poorly planned, and we're not sure that it would make a great investment if you're looking to get years out of your cargo box.
We have to admit: it's almost baffling to us that the lowest and highest scorers in this review are manufactured by the same company. The Motion XT, our Editors' Choice Award winner, is exquisitely detailed, and the Sidekick seems to have been thrown together with excess materials. This is the only box in this review that gave us serious concerns about security, receiving another 4/10 for below-average performance.
If nothing else, we ask our roof box to keep our things safe, and we wouldn't trust the Sidekick for a second. We had to install the locks ourselves, but when we tried to lock it, we couldn't get the lid to line up. And while every other box in this review doesn't let you take the key out until properly latched, we actually removed the key and thought it was locked until we pulled up on the lid and noticed that it hadn't actually latched. We were shocked! This is the only box that you could actually put the keys in your pocket and walk away from without it being locked properly, and as such, we think we'd be paranoid about its security whenever we left it or drove away.
On top of the inconsistent latching system is a major concern with the rear bolts. The system involves placing a bolt in a plastic holder, screwing the lid to the bottom, and then snapping a plastic cover to the bolt via the holder. Except that the plastic cover didn't fit. We're not sure why we encountered this glitch, but our web research indicated that we're not the only ones that have had this problem. The issue here is not just cosmetic but a massive security risk. Without the plastic covers, all you need is a screwdriver and a few minutes to remove the bolts and open the box. Compared to the seamless construction of the other five boxes in this review, we would never trust the Sidekick with our valuables.
We understand that most cargo boxes look kind of the same, and while none particularly knocked our socks off, we have almost nothing to say about the Sidekick's simple design.
We like the grey color of the Sidekick less than the black of the SportRack, but this is our personal preference. It is shaped like a mini version of our favorite boxes, but its tiny size looked silly when we mounted it on bigger cars (think less stylish British fascinator hat). We weren't huge fans of the SportRack's bulbous shape, and we thought the Sidekick looked pretty nice on smaller cars. That is, except for the ill-fitting bolts on the back missing their plastic covers.
When we were picking award winners for this review, we were back and forth with the Sidekick and the SportRack for a little while. Most of our testers thought the rear opening of the SportRack was so annoying that they wouldn't buy it, but when reminded of the horrors of the assembly combined with the very legitimate security risks, we all picked the SportRack over the Sidekick. Because of the low security score, we have a hard time recommending this product to anyone, but if yours came with properly fitting plastic caps and accurately aligned locks, the size and design of this box would be a good fit for a weekend camping trip or occasional gear storage.
When deciding between the SportRack and the Sidekick, a major factor to consider is the size difference. While the four "long and lean" models we tested all had similar volumes, the SportRack is much larger than the Sidekick. At a measly eight cubic feet compared to the SportRack's 18, volume alone may be enough to edge out the SportRack over the Sidekick. For a difference of only twenty dollars, the SportRack, at $320, provides a much bigger space than the $300 Sidekick- and isn't moving gear what cargo boxes were made for? There were only two boxes in this review that we thought did not justify their price tag, and the Sidekick was one of them.
Honestly, we were really surprised by how mediocre the Sidekick was. Difficult assembly, flimsy materials, and a compromised security system all contributed to the Sidekick receiving the lowest score of any box in this review, and unless you were driving a car too big to be compatible with the SportRack's rear opening system, we cannot imagine recommending this product.
— Lauren DeLaunay