I used a Yakima roof rack on my then-new 1988 Nissan Sentra for about 10 years. My 1992 VW Golf saw time with the same rack. There was no denying the marring to the paint over the years from long-term use. I opted against a roof rack when I bought my Mk3 Jetta in 1998. I moved to a hitch-mounted cargo tray and have stayed that course ever since. I still prefer to use my hitch carrier when I transport two bicycles. I put everything inside when I bike alone. I prefer to keep all cargo out of the passenger compartment when I travel (seats down with a bicycle inside being the exception). Family trips drove a need for external cargo capacity. I’ve already shared my choice of cargo box. Here’s how I carry it:
Volkswagen factory roof racks fit great, but they’re reported to be noisy, sit kind of high, and come only in silver. I wanted a style with flush, contoured crossbars for improved aerodynamics, which would also help fuel economy and noise control. I was willing to sacrifice some capacity for style and aerodynamics. Yakima’s new “Flushbar” rack looks promising, but it’s not available for the Mk7 Golf as of this writing. Instead of another Yakima rack, opted for the Vortex 2500 RS, by Rhino Rack. It’s available in black, is low-profile, and uses a crossbar spread that matches the factory rack. However, it does not use the factory mounting points.
I had done a bit of research on mounting points and crossbar spreads. Most rack makers mimic Volkswagen’s 28-inch crossbar spread (±½”). However, I have no idea how each aftermarket company chose their mounting locations. I suspect it has to do with their selection of adaptive footpads and where they best match the contours of each car’s “gutter” and door jambs. The factory points are equidistant from the B-pillars and are marked very well in the door frame. The front mounting points center 10 inches from the top of the windshield. Thule, who’s rumored to make Volkswagen’s racks, centers their front crossbar at 9 inches; Yakima and Rola each center their front crossbars at just seven inches; and Rhino Rack centers theirs at a whopping 14 inches. Each company swears their location is highly researched, stable, and ideal. So does it really matter?! For the record, I feel that Rhino Rack’s footpads fit better at 16 inches, or two inches aft of what they prescribe.
My main goal with regards to crossbar placement was to ensure that my ShowCase cargo box would be able to swap directly between the car top and the trailer without adjustment. The ShowCase has a pretty wide adjustment range, which allows it to fit on both long and short rooftops. I had intentionally positioned the racks forward on the trailer to avoid having any cargo protrude past the tailgate. Coincidentally, the same configuration is perfect for the car, too. The ShowCase is not even close to impacting the hatchback, but still sits back far enough to reduce the aerodynamic “block” above the windshield. The only drawback is that I must swap to a tiny, single-band ham radio antenna when the cargo box is mounted.
I mentioned marred paint in my opening paragraph. I don’t expect to leave my rack mounted for extended periods. I considered adding some 3M film to where the footpads contact the paint. However, I’m much more attentive to wax and paint cleanliness than I was 20 years ago. I wash the car immediately prior to mounting the roof rack, then I remove the rack as soon as I’m done using it. I don’t use my rack as a fashion statement, so it’s only mounted for as long as I need it, which usually is less than a week at a time, often just a day or two, and hardly more than a few weeks out of the year.
I also mentioned noise, aerodynamics, and fuel economy above. I’m an analytical type who wants to know “how much noise” and “how much fuel economy” each option provides. So, I did some testing! The noise test was first since it is easiest and fastest to do. I could see that my level of detail was going to make this entry longer than I prefer. So I’ve shared details on my full round of testing in this entry. I was pleasantly surprised to hear almost no difference with the roof rack mounted. I can hear a change in sound, but there is no measurable difference in sound levels; there certainly isn’t any howling, as I had on an old round-bar setup. At 70 mph, I can hear what sounds like mild crosswinds. This effect increases at 80 mph. But, to be honest, the noise is barely perceivable over the tires on concrete roads, the ventilation set to medium-high, or with music at moderate volume. Adding the ShowCase to the roof obviously increases noise, but it’s not as bad as I expected. UPDATE: Adding a fairing INCREASED wind noise.
I still prefer to transport two bicycles on my hitch carrier. The Rhino Rack will be primarily for the ShowCase. A possible exception may be if my wife and I decide to get another tandem bicycle. We carried our previous tandem on a Yakima rack in the 1990’s and then started carrying it on the trailer rack in 1998. We’ll see what the future brings.
Here is a comparison in roof clearance between the Rhino Rack and the OEM rack:
Thanks for the info. As someone who will be taking the rack on & off more frequently, can you comment on the ease and time of installation? Will this rack get old if I’m installing it and removing it a few times a month?
Matt – I guess that depends on you and how much you value your time and paint. I’ve read that VW recommends against having the rack mounted for more than a week or two (cannot quite recall) so that the door seals don’t develop a memory for their rack-mounted positions. I’ve left my rack mounted for a month without deforming the seals.
To me, the real bore would depend on what you have on the rack and how time-consuming the accessories are to mount. I only carry a cargo box, which is easy enough to mount and dismount. But several individual items may be a hassle or not. It all depends on how you go about mounting and dismounting. All you can do it give it a shot and see what you think. Good Luck! -Scott
Do you happen to know the part numbers for the fit kit components on your rhino rack? I just purchased this setup for my 2019 R, and have been having a hell of a time getting the clamps to seat properly in the door frame. While the part numbers all seem correct, I’m beginning to think some component may be mismatched. Appreciate any input.
Luke – Sorry to take so long to reply. I wanted to put my eyes on my pads to be sure. The rear pads are both M416 with the arrows pointing outward. The front right pad is an M415 and the front left pad is an M414, both with the arrows pointing outward. If you look at my photos, you’ll see one with a sticker that also marks the position of each tower. Also, despite the appearance in my photo album, the pads will not land perfectly in line with the seam on the roof. Where they appear perfect at the front of the pad, there is a small gap at the back. These pads are likely generically designed to fit a wide variety of roof tops. Let me know what you think. Also, where are you? -Scott
It just dawned on me that you may have been asking about the door clips instead of the landing pads. The front clips are SUB0464 and the rears are SUB0465. I did not verify the numbers on my own clips. I’m out of town; so, I got the numbers from the fit sheet.
Many thanks for the reply – very helpful! Those are all the same part numbers I have so I’m pretty stumped as to why they don’t sit flush. Tried them on my friends 17′ GTI as well and same issue. I’m located in NYC.
What do you mean by “they don’t sit flush?” Are you able to share a photo? If not, I’ve sent you an email so that you can send me photos as attachments.
Been watching your videos on youtube because Im in the market for a roof rack. Was seconds away from purchasing the OEM VW racks because I have a buddy at VW that can help me out but after watching your videos Im really interested in the Rhino Racks! Now the links that you set up on your youtube page for the Racks are no longer available. Can you point me in the right direction for the set up that you have? I drive a 2017 MK7 Golf R. I check my emails daily if you wanted to message me back on there!
Hey Josh! I’ll reply here in the open for the benefit of other readers. The 2500RS system was replaced by the “ROC25.” It costs the same as before, but I think it has some improvements for better aerodynamics at the towers. See one at https://www.etrailer.com/p-RR23QR.html?hhyear=2017&hhmake=Volkswagen&hhmodel=Golf+R. Feel free to e-mail me via my “Contact” page for follow-ups. Take Care!
I’m not sure these racks would clear high enough to allow the oem sunroof to open fully. Perhaps that’s why the oem racks are so high.
Jeff – The Rhino Rack does clear the sunroof when it’s fully open. I shared photos in an album at the bottom of this page. I visited someone with a sunroof and mounted my rack. The photos include measurements. Thanks for visiting.