Summer driving holidays with the family are times of joy, laughter, good food and good times but before the picture postcard scenes, there is the sticky issue of squeezing a brace of screaming children and their assortment of bulky accoutrements into a car.
Despite owning a large, family-friendly estate, I find that prams, bikes, boogie boards and the dog’s bed quickly swallow up the generous boot’s load space, leaving little room for important things, such as clothes.
Thule, the Swedish manufacturer of luggage systems, has long been the go-to name for well-designed roof-based storage systems and its recent line of Ocean roof boxes is perfect for those who need more space when travelling.
Compatible with an array of Thule roof bar systems (as well as other brands, but more of that later), the Ocean 200 offers 450-litres of extra load-lugging capability in a sturdy and aerodynamically designed plastic shell. It measures 175cm x 82cm x 45cm and is able to carry 50kg of luggage, and one way of viewing the £250 price is that it’s probably a lot cheaper than buying a larger car.
The ‘aeroskin’ lid is designed to assist the rather cumbersome box in slicing through the air for a quieter and more economical drive, while its overall shape and blunt rear allows access to the boot without having to remove the box.
Various sizes are available in the Ocean line-up, ranging from the comparatively compact 80 (offering 320-litres of load space) to the gargantuan 200, which is tested here.
It weighs 14kg when empty, so it’s worth roping in some extra muscle to get on top of the car during instillation, but when up there, it’s surprisingly easy to fit.
Firstly, you’ll need a set of roof bars. Predictably, the Ocean range is compatible with a whole host of Thule bars (Wingbar Edge 9582 tested here, also a doddle to fit) but the D-clamp fitting system is generic enough to work with a number of standard roof bar shapes.
However, Thule was unable to give an exhaustive list of compatible roof bar manufacturers, so it’s worth checking with your local Thule dealer before committing.
Once the roof box is in position, it’s simply a case of sliding the metal D-clamps underneath the roof bars and into the slots in the bottom of the roof box and manually screwing on the provided caps. The box is anchored in four places, while Thule provides a set of additional straps to keep items from sliding around inside.
All in all, it took a DIY dunce like myself around 20 minutes to fit the Thule roof bars and a further 10 minutes to get the box in place.
It’s a well thought out piece of kit, as a neat central locking system keeps items safe from light fingers and the key can only be removed if all locking points are securely closed. Great for distracted parents.
Irritatingly, the box only opens a single side via the hinged system, which means drivers must be mindful of how they park if they wish to access items on the move. Dallying digits be warned, that hinged box top also has a nasty habit of slamming down on fingers if not closed with care.
But how does it affect the driving experience? Naturally, there is a bit of extra wind noise from up top, especially at motorway speeds, but it doesn’t grate and it’s certainly not loud enough to drown out the din of young children.
Finally, it’s worth noting that several studies suggest that sticking an enormous roof box on the car can affect fuel consumption figures. Thule told Driving that it official mpg figures are likely to decrease by more than 5 per cent but a recent study by WhatCar? advocated it can be reduced by over a third.
Regardless, that shouldn’t put you off purchasing one, as the Thule offering is extremely easy to remove when not in use. It also comes with a two year warranty. Just work out where you plan to store this mammoth load-expander when the holidays are over.
Originally posted by Leon Poultney for The Sunday Times Driving