It is absurd to suggest that a person could have a gear crush on something as utilitarian as a vehicle rack, but I will suggest it because I do in fact have a gear crush on the Front Runner Outfitters Slimline II. It was a pleasure to assemble—really—and is even more of a pleasure to use. It looks amazing atop my Lexus GX470 and works with a host of modular additions and components.
The Slimline is the first full-size rack I’ve placed on a vehicle. All my other racks have been from Thule or Yakima using the standard crossbar-and-attachment system, and I’ve had no complaints with them. But the GX is tall, my garage door is low, and I wanted to try a rack that would let me drive in and out without worry. Full-length roof racks like the Slimline are not uncommon, but they are a commitment, and they aren’t cheap. Baja is a well-known brand, as is Gobi, and even Yakima now makes a platform-style system, but I liked how Front Runner has created an ecosystem for additional products around its t-bar slot crossbars. I also like how the modularity of the Slimline future-proofs it: I can easily adapt the GX470 kit for use on a smaller truck or car.
Front Runner seemingly has a bajillion ways to mount its racks. There are more than 250 vehicle kits for the Slimline II ($1,500 or so, depending on vehicle) alone (Nissan Patrol Y60? 1998 Suzuki Jimmy? No problem). For the GX, Front Runner uses two longitudinal support bars that replace the factory rack, then the platform itself sits atop the bars, with five bolts on each side.
Having assembled far too many pieces of Ikea furniture, I viewed Front Runner’s flatpack boxes with trepidation, but once I spread the parts out on a tarp on the garage floor and glanced at the instructions, my worry eased. The components are machined beautifully, tolerances are tight, the crossbar locations are predetermined, and the whole thing came together on the floor in about a half hour. Securing the rack supports in the factory holes and mounting the platform were equally breezy.
At every step, I was impressed. The uniform distance between crossbars enables tons of other products to bolt into the t-slots without fuss. For example, mounts for Maxtrax recovery devices ($196; link) have been built with the crossbar dimensions, widths, and hole distances already calculated: bolt the mounts to the bars, place the Maxtrax on the mounts, add the burly eye bolts to secure the devices. The process takes about five minutes, unlike with my old rack, where lining up the mounts and holes and crossbars was a fiddling, Ikea-like process.
Along with the rack and Maxtrax mounting kit, I also got Front Runner’s Wolf Pack Pro storage boxes ($138 a pair) and locking straps ($65). Internal specs for the stackable, well-sealed boxes are 17.5 by 13 by 8 inches)—I use one for all my kitchen stuff and one for recovery gear. The locking straps take a bit of adjustment to get them tight, but once done, they’re brilliant—it’s sooo nice not messing with ratchets and cable locks. (In the photos here, the straps are attached loosely and not for driving.) If you do want to use ratchets, I recommend Front Runner eye bolts, which lock into the t-slots and provide secure loops for each end of the strap.
The Slimline II crushes it on utility. On aesthetics, even AJ’s art director was impressed. As for actual road use, three categories are worth mentioning: rack noise, wind noise, and effect on fuel economy. After its first off-road use, the rack unsurprisingly started making little noises from bolts loosening—once all the bolts were retightened, it fell silent again. Wind noise has increased, also not surprising, and is fine when there’s nothing on the rack. Add the Wolf Packs, though, and it jumps up considerably, indeed, too much for my taste. I now use the lower-profile Pelican V800 vault for rooftop carries, along with Front Runner’s locking straps, and the noise level is back to acceptable levels.
Finally, MPG: I was disappointed to lose about two miles per gallon, which in a truck like the GX, with its 263-horsepower V8 engine, is about ten percent. Any full-length platform rack is going to ding you, of course—anything on the roof, really—but in these days of $7 gas and climate change, that hurts.
My conclusion? If you’re happy with your rack, keep it. But if you’re looking for a full-length rack, either to replace your old one or for a new vehicle, Front Runner is an amazing choice. It’s super low profile, cost-competitive with Baja, cheaper than Gobi, and a joy to use in practice. By swapping the mounts, you can adapt it to any other vehicle. Its modularity means you can even remove and store it without taking up much space. Other than issues endemic with any rack—noise, etc.—it’s five star.