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Rack Superstar: The Yakima CBX Solar Packs a Big Charge

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Yakima may not have invented the roof-mounted cargo box, but it continues to tinker with the basic concept. The CBX Solar, the 16.0-cubic-foot CBX Solar counterpart to the lesser Yakima CBX 16 cargo box, advances its cargo-carrying capabilities by adding an integrated solar panel to the top side of the unit. The CBX Solar is capable of supplying up to 36 watts of power by way of two 5-volt USB ports, both of which Yakima hides within the cargo box itself. That’s enough juice to charge small electronics such as cell phones and portable speakers.

Big Sun

At $1,299, the CBX Solar stickers for $450 more than the CBX 16, which is no insignificant sum and makes the CBX Solar the most expensive cargo box in the company’s lineup.  Nevertheless, we strapped the low-slung CBX Solar to the roof of our 1993 Honda Accord SE sedan to see how the box performed over the course of a two-week journey from Chicago, Illinois to Aspen, Colorado and back, during which we shoved both luggage and skis within the 83.0-inch long unit. 

At 60 pounds (3 pounds more than the CBX 16), the CBX Solar is light enough for two people to lift with relative ease. Once positioned on your car’s aftermarket or factory crossbars (Yakima notes the box will work with any type), the CBX Solar’s rack mounts easily slide about to handle a crossbar spread of as little as 24.0 inches and as much as 35.5 inches. Yakima even fits a knob on each side of the CBX Solar’s interior to manually tighten the box’s mounts around your car’s crossbars. We, however, found the knob somewhat difficult to grasp and ultimately broke out a socket wrench—with a square-head screwdriver attachment—to get the job done more comfortably and quickly.

Regardless, the CBX Solar’s quality materials give it a sturdy feel. It also looks slicker than a number of other roof carriers available today. Alas, the CBX’s low-slung style limits its ability to hold thicker luggage. While our chunkiest suitcase fit snugly within the 15.0-inch tall box, we discovered its girth made it more difficult to latch the CBX Solar’s dual-side opening lid shut. (This was not an issue with less bulky items on board, such as smaller luggage or skis. )

On the Road

Although our aging Accord’s 140-hp four-cylinder engine struggled with the extra weight of the CBX Solar and our loads of luggage packed within it, the old Honda’s fuel economy averaged around 24.9 mpg over the course of approximately 2,500 miles of—mostly highway—driving. Not too bad for a midsize sedan—wearing winter rubber—with an EPA fuel economy rating of 26 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg combined. 

Credit the CBX Solar’s svelte shape, as well as the fact that the Solar’s built-in USB charging ports all but eliminated any need to idle the car’s engine to keep its electrical system active in order to charge our devices at rest stops. While the 1993 Accord lacked any USB ports when new, the car we drove included three such ports: one in its aftermarket head unit and two from an aftermarket 12-volt plug-in converter. 

Even with all these in-car USB chargers, though, we often found our phones running low on juice. Blame the fact Honda placed the cupholders in this generation of Accord directly in front of the center stack-mounted 12-volt outlet. Due to this, the 12-volt-plug-powered USB ports were inaccessible any time both cupholders were in use (in other words, much of the trip). More modern vehicles with better ergonomics and built-in USB ports might eliminate the need to charge devices during rest stops, which in turn might undermine the benefits of the CBX Solar relative to its cheaper CBX 16 counterpart. 

Maybe overlanders, who both need a place to store their gear and charge their small devices without using their limited resources (such as their vehicle’s fuel or battery capacity), are likely to find more practical use from the CBX Solar. Even so, the extra coin Yakima charges for the CBX Solar over the CBX 16 is far greater than the cost of many portable solar chargers, including BigBlue’s sub-$100 28-watt model that includes three USB ports and measures a compact 11.1 inches long when folded. 

Solar Charge

Yakima’s crafted a sleek, spacious (provided you don’t place anything too tall inside), and modern roof-mounted cargo box with the CBX Solar. Arguably the biggest thing holding this piece of cargo-carrying kit back is its price, as the CBX Solar struggles to justify the delta between it and the lesser CBX 16, which lacks the Solar’s solar panel and integrated charger but seemingly mirrors everything else about Yakima’s flagship roof box—and all for hundreds of dollars less. 

Although we might struggle with rationalizing the additional cost of the CBX Solar over the CBX 16 (especially when portable solar chargers are available with similar wattage for significantly less money), we still support the basic concept of Yakima’s high-dollar cargo carrier, which provides a more energy-efficient alternative to charging small electronics in an idling vehicle. We bet it’s only a matter of time until Yakima, and others, begin applying this technology to more of its roof boxes, which could lower the cost of entry for such a setup.

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The Rossmӧnster Overland Baja Truck Camper Replaces the Pickup Bed Entirely

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Post-pandemic adventurers, control yourselves. Behold, the Rossmӧnster Overland Baja truck camper, one heck of a cool looking off-grid camper that happens to come with a name suitable for shouting from the mountain tops. Cue the Ricola cough drops commercials.

The “Ross” in Rossmӧnster comes from Ross Williamson, the founder of the company and mastermind behind the Baja. Rather than the scary creature that hides in closets (made scarier by umlauts), mӧnster in Rossmӧnster refers to “mӧnster” in the Swedish language, meaning “to design and create artistically, simply, and skillfully,” according to the website.

In 2015, Rossmӧnster Vans started building custom vans out of its shop in Longmont, Colorado, suited for adventuring and overlanding. Next, Rossmӧnster Rentals, launched in 2019 and also run out of the Longmont location, provides opportunities for people to rent Rossmӧnster Sprinter 4x4s, VW Vanagons, Promaster Cities, and (now) pickup-truck-based campers.

Most recently, Rossmӧnster Overland launched in 2021 with its first truck camper model, the Baja. Broadening from its van-life focus to include truck campers was a natural expansion since the truck market is huge and there seems to be tons of demand for off-grid camper setups like the Baja. Not a spur-of-the-moment idea, the Baja project took about a year to fully develop and test.

The base truck for the Rossmӧnster Baja is a 2019 and newer half-ton or heavy duty truck with a 6.5-foot bed. That means a Ford F-150, Ford F-250, Ram 2500, Chevy 2500HD, and GMC Sierra 2500HD all work. Many truck bed campers utilize trucks equipped with long beds, but notice that the Baja is not a traditional in-bed truck camper that attaches to the factory truck bed. It’s not a slide-in camper, either. Instead, the camper replaces the whole bed, seamlessly continuing the cab’s body lines throughout the length of the camper so that it still looks like the bed could be there. Notice how the back of the camper overhangs beyond the length of bed, adding additional room.

Since the Baja camper replaces the bed, the whole setup more resembles an RV with its connected cab and living space. There’s an insulated pass-through from the cab of the truck into the camper, which can be closed via a roll down insulated partition that seals off the camper to reduce noise while driving. The camper also can be entered directly through its rear door.

Besides the pass-through, Rossmӧnster says the truck cab remains largely untouched and retains four factory seats. As for the rest of the truck, Rossmӧnster adds custom front and rear bumpers, Baja Designs fog lights, a Warn winch, upgraded rear air bag suspension, and front and rear locking differentials.

The custom composite Baja truck camper shell is inlaid with a Baja Designs LED light bar. Electric actuators control the rear door, while a 400-watt Zamp solar setup, customizable exterior rear storage racks, a Fiamma awning, and a custom MAXTRAX table mount round out some of the exterior highlights.

The hard shell top of the Rossmӧnster Baja truck camper pops up, adding over a foot of additional height. This feature keeps the camper compact and more fuel efficient while driving but more spacious, less dungeon-like while camping. The extended top uncovers a bounty of side and front windows that allow for a healthy amount of natural light to enter.

The Rossmӧnster Baja truck camper has three layout options that sleep 2 to 4 people. There’s a Queen-size bed with a fancy Tochta mattress and elegant skylight. It features multiple lighting zones, a 30-gallon fresh water tank, Cruise 85 Isotherm stainless fridge/freezer combo, True Induction cooktop, Ruvati workstation sink, exterior hot water shower, Rixen hydronic heat/hot water system, and Victron power system (3000-watt inverter, 400 Ah lithium battery bank, and Bluetooth battery monitor). An AC unit, water filtration system, and onboard air compressor are a few of the items on the upgrade list.

The Rossmӧnster Overland Baja starts at $175,000 (which includes the truck), a detail that may keep this dream rig locked tightly in dreamland. That’s an outrageous price tag when contrasted to the run-of-the-mill slide-in truck bed camper or used toy hauler, but right on par when you consider other luxurious, niche expedition vehicles (think EarthRoamer, a super-sized truck camper). These lightweight, compact off-grid setups are inherently expensive. Despite this healthy price tag, the crew at Rossmӧnster doesn’t seem bored, as the next available build slot is August 2021. The build itself takes about four weeks. If you’re interested and not currently rich, hey, maybe cross your fingers and think to-the-moon thoughts about your crypto investments…

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What’s the Best 2021 Toyota Camry Trim? Here’s Our Guide

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Toyota Camry Full Overview

The Toyota Camry is a bona fide legend when it comes to affordable, reliable, drama-free transportation, and especially in the case of the current model, even the base trim comes well equipped. But what if you want a more stylish exterior, a few luxury touches, and the best driver assist features Toyota has to offer? The Japanese automaker provides five basic trims to choose from, and we’re here to spell out exactly what those trims get you. Shall we?

2021 Toyota Camry LE

At around $26,000, the base Camry LE provides few frills but just about everything you need. Notably, Toyota includes all of its essential driver assist features—limited speed range adaptive cruise control, automated emergency braking, lane keep assist with lane tracing, automatic high-beams, road sign assist, and rear-seat reminder are all standard.

The entry-level Camry also features LED headlights and daytime running lights, LED taillights with black accents, and a dark gray front grille. Camry LE models ride on 19-inch wheels and sport color-matched side mirrors and door handles.

Inside, you get fabric upholstery with an eight-way power driver’s seat and six-way manual passenger seat. Auto up/down functionality is included for all four windows. The base infotainment setup is a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto plus six-speaker audio, and a 4.2-inch instrument cluster display is also standard.

2021 Toyota Camry SE

The Camry SE, priced at around $27,500, gets you all the same features as the LE plus some sporty touches. (Toyota breaks down the Camry lineup into two pillars—traditional luxury and sporty—with the former using “LE” in the name and the latter getting “SE. “) The SE’s LED headlights gain black accents, and styling benefits from a black front grille with sport mesh insert plus sport side rocker panels. There’s also a body-color rear spoiler, and the LE’s single-exit exhaust gains a new finisher with dual chrome tips.

While not luxurious, the interior provides a few niceties. Open the door, and you’ll find the base model’s fabric upholstery replaced with leatherette. The SE adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters, too, and single-zone automatic climate control.

If you’re feeling dark, the Camry SE Nightshade provides blacked-out trim to differentiate itself from the standard SE. This special edition adds black side mirrors, black window trim, black door handles, a black rear spoiler, and black Camry badging.

2021 Toyota Camry XLE

Think of the XLE trim as a non-sporty base model with several extra luxury and convenience features (like an LE Xtra, or plus). And a much higher price: This model is a little shy of $31,000. There’s a bright metallic grille up front, 18-inch wheels, heated side mirrors with turn signal indicators, door handles with touch sensor locking and unlocking, plus keyless entry.

You’ll notice most of the changes once you step inside. Just on the seating front, the XLE adds leather upholstery, heated front seats, an eight-way power passenger’s seat, and adjustable rear headrests. Dual-zone automatic climate control with rear-seat vents is also included. Other luxe touches include wood-tone interior trim, ambient interior lighting, a 7.0-inch instrument cluster display, and a 9.0-inch infotainment setup.

There are driving improvements, too. The XLE adds improved stop-and-go adaptive cruise control, an electric parking brake, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and dynamic guidelines for the standard backup camera. XLE models also feature a drive mode switch that allows drivers to choose between Eco, Normal, and Sport.

Buyers have an additional powertrain option with the XLE. Whereas the LE and SE are offered in four-cylinder FWD and four-cylinder AWD configurations (as well as a hybrid setup), the XLE can be had with any of those options or Toyota’s 306-hp V-6. If you opt for the more powerful engine, you’ll also get a JBL nine-speaker premium audio system, a panoramic moonroof, sun visors with illuminated vanity mirrors, and a 10-inch head-up display.

2021 Toyota Camry XSE

Starting at around $31,400, the Camry XSE combines most of the luxury features of the XLE (upgraded interior, extra safety features, keyless entry, etc.) with the sporty aesthetic of the SE. Instead of the XLE’s 18-inch wheels, though, the XSE rides on 19s. Up front you’ll notice the same gloss black grille as the SE, and the profile shows off the XSE’s sport side rocker panels. The rear displays a dual-exit exhaust system with quad chrome tips. Interior touches include the SE’s leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters (the XLE lacks paddles), and patterned metal trim in place of the XLE’s wood-tone trim.

Opting for a Camry XSE V-6 adds all the same niceties as the six-cylinder XLE. That means the upgraded audio system, big moonroof, head-up display, and illuminated vanity mirrors are all included.

2021 Toyota Camry TRD

Essentially, the Camry TRD (Toyota Racing Development) is a more sport-focused Nightshade SE with the V-6 as standard. It lacks most of the luxury touches of the XLE and XSE, but it’s the least expensive way to score the Camry’s most powerful engine. Prices start at around $33,000.

The TRD is visually differentiated from the rest of the range with black heated side mirrors with turn signal indicators, black window trim, matte black wheel center caps with the TRD logo, a TRD rear spoiler, and a red TRD badge. A TRD cat-back dual exhaust changes up the soundtrack a bit, too.

The TRD’s interior is dressed up in red. There’s a TRD instrument cluster with red accents, red contrast stitching throughout the cabin, and TRD floor mats with red detailing. You’ll also notice a fixed rear seat (instead of the 60/40 split in other trims) and aluminum sport pedals.

So Which 2021 Toyota Camry Model Is Best?

Our money would probably go toward a Camry SE. Toyota includes all the crucial safety features with the entry-level LE, but we appreciate the SE’s design flourishes, leatherette upholstery, and automatic climate control. If you have a little more cash to spend, go for an XSE to score the upgraded infotainment system, improved driver assist tech, and better interior materials.

2021 Toyota Camry Trims:

Looks good! More details?

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2022 Volkswagen Taos Earns Best-In-Class Highway MPG

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VW’s newest small SUV is the most fuel-efficient cruiser you can buy.

Volkswagen has announced official EPA fuel economy ratings for the 2022 Taos, its new entrant for the crowded subcompact SUV segment, and the numbers are good.

Due to go on sale this summer and starting at $24,190, the Taos comes with a single engine choice: A 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder developing 158 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, backed by an eight-speed automatic transmission. The small engine benefits from variable geometry turbocharging, which delivers improved performance and better fuel economy.

Case in point, the front-wheel-drive Volkswagen Taos is EPA-estimated at 28 mpg in the city, 36 mpg on the highway, and 31 mpg combined. These figures earn Taos FWD a tie for best-in-class highway fuel economy. For example, Nissan’s front-drive Kicks is EPA-estimated to deliver 31 mpg city, 36 mpg highway, and 33 mpg combined. The front-wheel-drive Hyundai Venue and Honda HR-V come close, at 34 mpg highway each, as does Kia’s Soul, which nabs a 35-mpg highway rating.

Taos models equipped with the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system and a unique seven-speed dual-clutch automatic get an EPA-estimated 25/32/28 mpg city/highway/combined; still good, but more in the thick of things with the competitive set.

It may be worth noting that these EPA ratings are based on the use of regular unleaded fuel. As stated by the EPA, compared to the national average for new vehicles, consumers who buy the front-wheel-drive Taos could save up to $750 in fuel costs over five years compared to the average new vehicle. Those buyers who opt for the Taos in all-wheel drive could expect to save $250.

Arriving this June, the 2022 Volkswagen Taos is entering a dog-eat-dog arena. Among its competitors are the Kia Seltos, Honda HR-V, Subaru Crosstrek, and Hyundai Kona. We’ll find out where the Taos stands (beyond fuel economy) in the highly competitive segment in our first test review. Stay tuned.

2022 Volkswagen Taos Fuel Economy (city/hwy/combined)

  • Taos FWD: 28/36/31 mpg
  • Taos AWD: 25/32/28 mpg

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