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Hands-on Gear Review
Yakima Skybox 16 Carbonite Review
Cons: Frustrating installation
Bottom line: The SkyBox Carbonite is an exceptional value because of its top-notch user friendly design.
Before we started testing, we had all six of these cargo boxes laid out side-by-side in a garage. It was pretty readily apparent that our two $300 boxes, the ones we've deemed the "short and stumpy," were considerably less nice than the other four. What we were the most curious about, then, was what was going to separate a $500 box from a $700 box. At first glance they seemed really similar, so we couldn't quite figure out what the secret of the top-of-the-line boxes was, but we were determined to find out.
We've awarded the Yakima SkyBox Carbonite our Best Buy Award because we feel that it is only a hair off our Editors' Choice Award winner, the Thule Motion XT. This decision can almost singularly be narrowed down to the mounting systems. As far as value goes, we felt that the more expensive Thule box was better than the mid-range one, the Thule Force, but we genuinely like this mid-range Yakima box much more than its more expensive brother, the Yakima ShowCase. The SkyBox scored highly across the board: we love its sleek, easy-to-use handle; matte black finish; and sturdy construction.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Cargo Box Review
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The SkyBox Carbonite is an undoubtedly good buy. For $529 you can expect exceptional value, especially in comparison to the more expensive boxes in this review. The opening/closing handle is one the best we tested, tied with the SlideLock system of our Editor's Choice Award-winning Motion XT, and its matte black finish was hands-down our favorite look. The only downside to the SkyBox (which holds true for the other Yakima box we tested, the ShowCase, as well) is the mounting system. We know that many of you only plan on mounting this box once, though, before leaving it planted on your roof for months. If this description fits you, we bet you'll quickly forget about the annoying twenty minutes you spent mounting it and will spend months enjoying all the great other features of its box, including the $200 you kept in your pocket.
Ease of Use
We love the handle of the SkyBox and found it extremely easy to open and close, a key factor in its enjoyment score as we packed for a big climbing trip. The box came fully assembled, which we were grateful for, but we were less than impressed with its mounting system. Of the two boxes in the $500-range in this review, we gave this box a much higher score than its competitor, the Force, due to its superior handle and security system, which we'll talk about in the next section.
With absolutely no assembly required, we were able to get right down the mounting business with this box. We were already familiar with the system after testing the ShowCase, but we were still left frustrated. The directions given with the box were difficult to understand, and, as with the ShowCase, we had to turn to the Yakima website for an instructional video to understand the multi-tiered approach. Compared to the U-bolt systems of our two short and stumpy boxes, the Thule Sidekick and SportRack Vista, this system was significantly easier, but compared to the Motion XT or Force, we were a little disappointed. It only took us fifteen minutes to mount, but we were still relatively unimpressed.
Great Value from Yakima
Our Best Buy Award winner, the Yakima SkyBox Carbonite, comes in a smaller volume than the one we tested. It can still fit skis up to 215 cm but has a volume of 12 cubic feet, compared to 16. For $479, this may be a great solution for buyers wanting to save a few dollars on their way to the ski hill.
The mounting system includes two thumb wheels and a big, sturdy lever. We weren't instinctively sure which of these three things to do in what order, and it took some playing around to find the right level of tightness for the thumb wheels. Goldilocks syndrome was the name of the game with the Yakima mounting system: we would loosen them too much, but then the lever wouldn't snap tight; we'd tighten them down, but then it was too tight. It took some back and forth to get it right, and then we dreaded taking it off the car because we knew we would have to go through the same ordeal next time. Snapping down a too-tight lever also left the box extremely difficult to remove from the car. While you may be left wondering why we'd recommend this box at all, here's the "but." Many people who use roof boxes install them once and leave them there for a long time. In this case, saving $200 may be worth the one-time annoying install, especially since the rest of the features of this box scored marks almost as high as our Editor's' Choice Award winner.
Once we got the box on our tester's car, the SkyBox really started to shine. We loved its Superlatch handle which is easy to turn and click. The handle pops open the lid, which is both sturdy and easy to open due to the big lip that overlaps the bottom of the box. While not as ergonomic as the lid on the Motion XT, we never had issues opening or closing this box and really enjoyed its straightforward design. It was one of the sturdiest of any in our test and we thought it above-average in simplicity and elegance (if a cargo box can be elegant). All four "long and lean" boxes in our review open on both sides, an amazing feature that shouldn't be overlooked on this box. While not particularly useful on the tester's bigger vehicle, we unanimously agreed that this is a must-have component.
For this metric, we looked at how well the cargo box could withstand both time and weather. We drove around in harsh conditions and waited out numerous rainstorms watching movies in the van while the SkyBox kept our beloved gear safe and dry above. While aerodynamics have long been a big concern in cargo box shopping, we were pleased to find that there was no noticeable difference in our gas mileage during our tests, with the SkyBox or any other model.
Against the elements, the SkyBox was superb. Yakima's mounting system leaves no openings in the box whatsoever, leaving us completely confident in its waterproofness. We sat through a big wind storm on the Eastside of the Sierra one evening and thought we could hear the box bumping around. When we peeked our heads out of the van, however, we could see that the only movement was coming from the flexing factory roof bars themselves; the SkyBox was undoubtedly solid. We should note that since the manufacturer doesn't claim full waterproofness for this box, it would be smart to take extra precautions for your electronics, just in case.
The construction materials of the SkyBox are top-of-the-line, and we love how easy to open and close it is due to its sturdy lid. While it doesn't feel quite as thick as the Motion XT, we were still able to open the box with one hand. Its hinges and locks feel on-par with the rest of the boxes in this review. Its handle, one of our favorite qualities that we described above, is burly and firm. We have no doubts that the SkyBox Carbonite will be with you for ages, but if you don't believe us, Yakima offers a lifetime warranty as long as the box remains with the original owner.
As a full-time road tripper, our main tester was understandably worried about leaving her beloved skis and climbing gear in the roof box while away on overnight missions. The locking mechanisms of the SkyBox left us all more confident, though, and by the end of testing, we felt completely comfortable trusting in the box's security.
There was only one box in our review, the Sidekick, that legitimately concerned us in this category, so we also looked at the extra features of each box to bump certain products' scores. One of the things we really appreciated about the SkyBox was how easy it was to tell if the box was properly latched or not. The big, beefy handle that we adore stays tilted until perfectly latched. Like all the boxes we tested (except the Sidekick), the key cannot be removed until the box is latched and locked, but we especially like the clear "click" the SkyBox makes to let you know you've closed it right. With the help of the big handle, we can tell from a glance if the box is locked or not, a nice feature that adds to our sense of confidence in the security of our belongings.
We know, we know: all the boxes in this review look pretty similar. At highway speeds, you may not even be able to tell one box from the other. We gave appearance fifteen percent of the overall score, though, because we know that looks matter- whether you admit it or not. We love the matte black finish of this box, similar to the Force, and we think its timeless shape will let you appreciate this box for years to come.
Three other boxes in this review scored the same 7/10 score for appearance: the Motion XT and ShowCase for being the only products offered in more than one color, and the Force for its similar matte black look. While marketed for its aerodynamic properties, we just generally like the slightly less flashy but equally classy look of the matte and agreed that black was a universal color option. We think the textured finishes hides dead bugs easier and could conceivably hide scratches from rocks or other road debris the same way.
This cargo box is an especially solid product that we would happily, wholeheartedly recommend. Because of its annoying mounting system, however, this box is especially great for the shopper looking to save a little money (compared to the top-end products in this review that are $200 more) who doesn't feel the need to constantly be taking the box on and off their car. Once we mounted the SkyBox, our "alpinist memory" kicked in, and it was arguably our favorite to use on a daily basis, much more so than its price-competitor, the Force. But once we had to take the box off again, we were reminded of how frustrating its mounting system was and were thankful we didn't have to mount it again. If you're looking for the best bang for your buck and plan on leaving it mounted to your car for the foreseeable future, you'll have no problem seeing why this box was our clear Best Buy Award winner. Fitting skis up to 185 cm, this model is a great choice for skiers; it comes in a wide range of sizes, too, so you'll have no trouble finding the one with the right volume for you.
We think this box is an exceptional value for its price. It falls right smack in the middle of the price range for our review, and while its performance was light years ahead of the cheaper boxes, it was also nearly on par or ahead of the most expensive ones. For $529, the SkyBox provides excellent user-friendliness, cool style, and long-lasting confidence. What you don't get is ease in taking the box on and off the car, which we think can be overlooked if performed rarely. If you do need to take the box on and off, though, and simply cannot go up in price to the $700 Editors' Choice Award-winning Motion XT, the Force may be a solid option for you.
We knew pretty quickly when testing this box that it was a great value, and couldn't at first figure out why it was only $529, especially compared to the $679 ShowCase. Better and cheaper? The SkyBox was the obvious winner of our Best Buy Award. Its ergonomic handle is easy to open while also letting us know if the box is latched properly or not. The matte black is our favorite look of any box, and we were impressed by its durable materials and solid construction. While annoying, its mounting system is significantly easier to use than that of the cheaper boxes in this review, the Sidekick and SportRack Vista, so unless you find yourself taking this box on and off your car every weekend, we can wholeheartedly recommend this product.
— Lauren DeLaunay
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