Yakima Grand Tour 18 Review | Glossy, pretty, squashy

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Road trip! Summer is officially here, and that means it's time to really get out there and start exploring the country again. If you're like us, though, you're bound to need more stuff for the journey than your car, or let's face it, SUV cargo area can handle. They may be big, but they're not that big – especially with kids and dogs along. The solution for most will be a rack-mounted roof carrier, and I got a chance to test one of the most popular (and attractive) on the market, the Yakima Grand Tour 18.

This would be one of two "premium" roof carriers sold by the Oregon-based company, the other being the newer Yakima CBX I tested last year. While that one features a tougher, more angular design with a matte, dimpled finish, the Grand Tour line is sleek, smooth and finished in a very of-the-moment gloss black. There's no doubt that it looks better mounted to luxury cars with glossy black trim of their own. For instance, either the Mercedes E 63 or Audi RS 6 wagons we tested last year.

The 18 attached to Grand Tour indicates the carrier's volume in cubic feet – there is also the Grand Tour 16 and Grand Tour Lo, which is 15 cubes, mostly intended for skis and ironically the priciest version. The CBX is only offered in 16 and 18 sizes, plus the unique CBX 16 Solar version we tested (pictured above right) that adds a solar-powered USB charging station.

The Grand Tour 18 gets its extra volume by its considerable extra length (91 inches versus 79) and modest extra width (37 inches versus 35), however, it's actually an inch lower than the 16. As any good car designer would tell you, longer, wider and lower equals a better looking car, and that's definitely the case with glossy black roof carriers, too. The 18 is bound to look better on those vehicles long enough to accommodate it, including my own 2013 BMW X5.

The downside is that your loading of stuff may be impeded. Not just by the overall height, but by the significantly pinched nose and tapered sides. I actually managed to fit more suitcases inside the smaller-by-volume CBX 16 than I could in the Grand Tour 18. While both could fit my largest roller suitcases (26L x 16W x 11H) and one standard roll-aboard bag (23L x 15W x 10D), the Grand Tour's pinched front end prevented fitting the other roll-aboard that did manage to fit inside the CBX (above, lower right).

There was still plenty of space left over for three small duffle bags, though (above, lower left), and ultimately, the 18 can indeed hold more. It just requires using smaller bags/items to do it and likely putting up with a more difficult loading procedure. I found there was lots of trial and error (and closing and opening the lid) to see which items would be low enough to let it close and/or exactly where to place those items. The CBX and its more uniform height simply made it easier.

There is another key difference with the CBX: Its 18-cubic-foot version is actually 2 inches taller than the CBX 16 in addition to being 8 inches longer and the same width. In other words, it's more likely to be a useful size upgrade. To be fair, I did not test the Grand Tour 16 to know for sure, but putting aside the not insignificant $170 price difference, the pricier CBX seems like the better choice to actually carry cargo.

It's worth noting that the two carrier designs may differ in their lid designs, but their bases are basically shared. This includes Yakima's unique system for tightening the carrier's grab hooks to the roof rack. Rather than having tightening knobs or mechanisms at all four attachment points (as the Yakima SkyBox and all Thule boxes do), the CBX has one large knob that you move between each attachment point. It plugs into either side of the carrier when not in use. This allows for a flatter load floor and a larger knob that's easier to turn (once you've torqued it three clicks, you know it's secure). And although I mounted the Grand Tour to Yakima's Timberline racks that affix to raised rails, it'll mount to any crossbars.

I unfortunately tested the Grand Tour and CBX on different vehicles, so I can't comment much about noise, fuel economy or vehicle stability differences. Experience and research would suggest there should be very little, if any. The differences to be experienced really come down to the vehicle you mount them to. On a big, heavy vehicle with tank-like highway stability like my X5, the Grand Tour might as well have not been there. On a lighter, narrower car like the Subaru Crosstrek, though, be prepared to be blown around a bit. And if your car has a panoramic sunroof with a mesh cover, be prepared for lots of wind noise. Fuel economy? Expect a 1-2 mpg drop.

The Grand Tour 18 tested goes for $729, with the 16 coming in at $679. Those prices are actually a bit closer to Yakima's SkyBox series below ($100 difference) than they are to the CBX 16 at $849 and CBX 18 at $949 above. It's safe to say the Grand Tour line is the best looking of the bunch, and even if it does sacrifice utility due to its aesthetics, it's also safe to say that many will be just fine with that tradeoff. You have a great-looking car, why not pair it with a great-looking hat?