New car for kayaks/canoes

I have a 15- and an 18-foot canoe, also several 14-foot kayaks. Max load, 2 at once. Currently using a 2008 Subaru Forester to haul them; I love the car with its long, flat roof, but it’s giving out on me. Starting to do research, will begin test driving soon. Looking at the following:
Subaru Crosstrek, Honda HR-V, Honda Fit, Kia Soul (only because Edmunds dot com suggested it and it has a long flat roof). Not considering Forester or Outback: too big.
What’s important to me: reliability, room for stuff behind the first row of seats, good rooftop configuration for kayak rack (bars for carrying flat, no J-cradles) low price, automatic transmission (after 40-some years of manual, my left leg is tired), good visibility all around (I’m short). I have enjoyed all-wheel drive but could probably do OK with front-wheel. Some snow and ice here in central NC but not much.
I don’t care about looks, “infortainment center,” sunroof, etc. I’m pretty cheap. Just want some good wheels for me and my boats.
I’d welcome hearing your opinions, experiences, and advice. (Like, is a Kia Soul ridiculous?)

I have a 16 Honda CRV and can only fit one kayak on it easily.

Just FYI I think (or rack attack?) will show you the max spread between front and r ear bars for all racks made for a vehicle so that is one nice reference. I used to work in automotive and also just went through the car buying process…ended up with a CRV but partly because we also have a 4Runner for carrying canoes.

I’d point you towards the cross trek because it is an amazingly civilized vehicle plus the roof rails are perfect for boat racks. I’d also fully endorse a Kia Soul…a super nice vehicle at a great price. I liked the base model with 1.6L engine best. But you need to check…you may be better off putting a rack straight on the roof rather than ordering roof rails where the front to rear span will be shorter because you must use the factory mounting holes. Of course a few Kia Souls and other Kia’s seem to be catching on fire…

Tom, thanks! This is helpful. By “putting a rack straight on the roof,” do you mean using those towers that grab some rain gutter or other part of the roof or doorframe or something? I think that’s what my partner’s Honda CR-V has. No rails.
Thanks for comments about the flat-roofed Kia Soul. What drives me crazy about most other current car design is the curved roof that severely limits the span of the crossbars.

The Kia Soul has an added benefit over many other cars - the racks bolt on to the roof. Much more secure in my mind than rain gutter or door clips.

Peter, does that mean the rack is bolted through holes in the roof? If so, who would I likely find to do that for me?
Thanks for your opinion.

I just looked at the site. It says a Kia Soul will have a 30 inch span with a bare roof but that you can get a 38 inch span with flush roof rails so personally I’d go that route in a minute. The direct mount system may indeed be more secure than some sort of roof rails but personally I don’t think the roof rail systems are prone to failure plus I prefer to not have the attachment clips on the sheet metal where the door seals are. Rackattack says you get a 40.5 inch span with a Crosstrek. 38 is pretty darn good too.

If it were me I’d take a long look at the Ford Transit Connect. I know it’s bigger than you want, but man, the possibilities!

@gingernc said:
Peter, does that mean the rack is bolted through holes in the roof? If so, who would I likely find to do that for me?
Thanks for your opinion.

The Soul comes with bolts in place built in to the roof under a cap, so you would just need to get mounting towers that are made to mate with these bolts. They aren’t the only car to do this - but just one from your list which I had noted does this. Here is what those bolts look like on the Audi that I use: (note, there is a plastic slug in mine that gets removed to expose the threads when attaching a rack).

Does limit the width of the bars to be where the bolts are set. You may give up some bar width, but in exchange you get what could be a more positive connection between car and rack.

If you want little with some room I saw this today in the UP…

Why not another Forester? We have a 2009 and expect it to last several more years. Sounds like it might have given you trouble. We have 130000 miles on ours

Peter, thanks for showing me what those hidden bolts look like.
Tom, I have flush-mounted rails on my Forester and really like them. They seem stronger than elevated rails.
Overstreet, that’s a very cute car. I could go for it!
High Desert, you have a point: the van life has its appeal, and all these little cars I’m looking at are too small to sleep in, even for someone as short as me!

Kayamedic, I love my Forester but new ones are much bigger – kind of like stuffed with steroids or something. I have 133,000 miles on my 2008. Not all that much, really. First the compass gave out, then the external thermometer, then the tire pressure light (on continuously for 6 months and resistant to fixes). Plus, there’s an oil “seep,” I’m told, related to the famous Subaru head gasket. I want to be able to drive to far-off paddling locations and not worry about getting back! I’m sure you feel the same.

Meh… Our TPMS light has been wonky forever. Now we use an old fashioned tire gave. Compass? Brunton has a nine dollar model
The thermometer always lies. I can tell if its hot by sticking my thumb out the door. Oil consumption is not a problem though I am told that a quart in 5000 miles is no big deal. A big deal would be a oil drip in the driveway. So far none for us at all. The 2009 were bigger than the 2008 but its still a good parker in inner cities.
What mostly seemed to give out on you is doodads that rely on computer sensors. And the new cars have even MORE of those.

If I were closer I would take your Forester.

@Peter-CA said:
The Kia Soul has an added benefit over many other cars - the racks bolt on to the roof. Much more secure in my mind than rain gutter or door clips.

You are saying there are still cars with rain gutters? I personally haven’t seen one or heard of one seen one since the 80s (with the notable exception of the Jeep Cherokee and Dodge Caravan, for a while at least), and the plain truth is, racks attached to those kinds of rain gutters were far stronger than most you can find today. Also, I’ve seen plenty of door-clip mounts that were much stronger than many factory racks that are bolted to the roof, in which cases the sheet metal frequently yields under forces directed either up or down. General statements like these deserve to be qualified and/or backed up with examples.

Edit: Okay, I see in a later post you showed one example of a bolt-on method. Though I can’t tell a thing from that photo about how the rack mount actually works, I don’t doubt it is strong, but if you look at what you first wrote you can see why I said what I did about it, when there are so many dozens of different bolted-on factory racks on modern cars (many of which are pretty flimsy) which that that statement seems to be referring to.

I put a set of Bolton’s to our Honda Oddessy . After market factory racks that fit the nut plates under the “rubber” trim for the factory racks.

Rain gutters…not so much. They use clips that use tension between bars, towers and q clips in door framing. (ie Yakima racks)

If a vehicle has bolts accessible to bolt on a rack directly into the roof no reason to pay anyone. How to access them will be in the owners manual.
I remain a bit fuzzy about whether you want to rely on factory cross bars or want to install a third party system like Yakima or Thule… If the first, check the weight bearing carefully. Many will max out below the weight of two boats.

The external temperature and the compass - I assume you have an auto dim rear view mirror - is annoying but not fatal. I have never had one fail but if they are going to that is what happens.

However I understand your concern about a head gasket issue, especially if it is a dual engine. Cost times two. If a Subie is going to have a head gasket failure, your vehicle is coming into a ripe mileage for it. I went thru it twice and am really not interested in a third round.

Yeah, I am old skool and call them rain gutter mount. I wish it was rain gutter mounts, as they likely are more secure than the current iteration - clips that hook on to the door jamb. The chance of a mistake or mis-attachment with those clips seems higher than something that bolts into a spot made for it.

The cars with the bolt attachments use a landing pad which bolts in to that attachement point, then the towers which attach to that landing pad.

My wife and I just went through this. WE were after a station wagon like vehicle, with a roof low enough to make roof loading easy. We could only find two cars that fit the bill, VW Alltrack/Golf Wagon and Volvo. We went with the VW and it has met our needs well.

Celia, no to factory crossbars. Yes to my Yakima bars. I have a couple of different lengths. The shorter bars will carry two kayaks riding flat.
Thanks to all who have offered advice. I’ve learned some things.