Thule Ascent 1600 rooftop cargo box review

Instant extra room

BikeRadar score4/5

Got a smaller car that sometimes needs to emulate a big one? Thule’s Ascent 1600 roof box will cheerfully swallow all the extra gear you need for a race or riding weekend, albeit at the expense of gas milage.

The additional 16 cubic feet afforded by the Thule Ascent 1600 roof top cargo box roughly turned our compact Subaru Forester into a full-sized Ford Explorer, at least in terms of storage capacity.

While adding the box also correspondingly increased our fuel consumption almost to the same level, the Ascent 1600 still let us decide when that extra space was needed without having to put two vehicles in the driveway.

The Ascent 1600’s wide and tall dimensions make for more usable interior space than the longer and narrower boxes intended more for skis and snowboards. It’s also a good visual fit on our Subaru Forester test vehicle.

It was most adept at swallowing mounds of overstuffed duffel bags and camping gear that all-too-often accompany weekend trips to races and other events (think 24 Hours of Moab). The 76in (193cm) maximum length can still easily handle most winter sports gear, though, so it’s also versatile.

Loading all that gear is pleasantly easy thanks to the spring-assisted top that opens from either side of the vehicle. The included lock cores keep things reasonably secure, too.

However, the generous width also takes up the entire crossbar span front and rear on our test vehicle, meaning there is no space leftover for bicycle trays.

Vehicles fitted with longer crossbars that hang over past the towers might be able to get around this issue a bit but it’s definitely something to keep in mind.

Thankfully, we were equipped with a hitch-mounted rack so it was a non-issue in our case.

A bit thirsty but worth the extra gulps

Unfortunately, those squatter dimensions that yield so much usable space also produce more frontal area that takes its toll on fuel economy.

We noticed only minor losses in city driving but up to a twenty percent hit at highway speeds (keep in mind that different vehicles will likely yield different results).

On the plus side, the box’s reasonably aerodynamic shape (which includes ‘diffuser technology’ on its underside) produces only moderate wind noise, even through our test vehicle’s giant glass moonroof panel, and probably prevents the fuel economy from being even worse.

That drop in gas mileage was greater than we expected but we still wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Ascent 1600 to anyone who occasionally needs some extra space.

Technical details

The Ascent 1600 is the third-largest of four models in the company’s newest line of roof top cargo boxes that range in volume from 11-17 cubic feet (312-481L).

It falls just shy of the top model in terms of volume at sixteen cubic feet (453L) but its slightly squatter dimensions makes it a good fit for smaller SUVs, smaller cars/wagons and so-called ‘crossovers’ whose more economical operating costs have recently become so popular in North America.

The plastic-shelled Ascent 1600 is reasonably light at 37lb (16.8kg) but its unwieldy bulk makes for a somewhat tricky one-person installation job.

It’s definitely possible, though, and Thule’s scissor-like Quick Grip hardware makes for easy and secure clamping on a wide variety of crossbars once the box is properly positioned.

James Huang

Former Technical Editor, US
James was BikeRadar's US tech editor from 2007-2015.
  • Age: 40
  • Height: 173cm / 5'8"
  • Weight: 70kg / 154lb
  • Discipline: Mountain, road, cyclocross
  • Preferred Terrain: Up in the Colorado high-country where the singletrack is still single, the dirt is still brown, and the aspens are in full bloom. Also, those perfect stretches of pavement where the road snakes across the mountainside like an artist's paintbrush.
  • Beer of Choice: Mexican Coke
  • Location: Boulder, CO, USA
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