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TESTED: ARB BASE Rack and accessories

By Mark Watson, 07 Mar 2021 Outdoors

ARB Base Rack test

ARB’s BASE Rack system delivers lightweight, rugged construction and the lowest of low-profile designs.

IN PAST months, in between lockdowns, we here at 4X4 Australia have managed to use and abuse a shed full of modular alloy roof platforms and accessories. We’ve thrown kayaks, mountain bikes, high-lift jacks and rooftop tents at these sleek alloy trays to find where they excel and their shortcomings.
The honest truth is the key players are all delivering decent quality products, albeit with their own positive and negative nuances.

So when ARB decided to enter the fray of low-profile modular alloy roof platform systems in 2020, we wondered how different the ARB BASE Rack might be from all the rest.

Well, the answer is ‘vastly different’.

ARB has taken the bullbar by the horns (excuse the dad joke) by doing away with T-slots to develop a progressive dovetail attachment for its fully welded platform, and thrown in an entire range of accessories to boot.

The roof-rack market is a playing field for a plethora of high-end manufacturers with proven non-welded trays and a mass of existing T-slot accessories. So, the obvious questions arise; is a fully welded rack any better than other assemblies, and is moving away from the industry standard T-slot a smart move?

I was sceptical whether the risk would be worth the reward, however, months of mixed multi-day sojourns including 4x4 trips, rooftop camping trips, and regular mountain bike, surf and kayak excursions all in the name of serious evaluation purposes, proved my scepticism unfounded.
In fact, this fandangle dovetail cut-out might just be my favourite discovery of the year.

Read on and you might agree.

ARB BASE RACK

ARB is synonymous with off-roading and touring in Australia. Such prevalence within the industry is well-deserved, for ARB has been manufacturing 4x4 accessories for nearly 50 years.

But what you might not know is a small suburban garage in Melbourne was where ARB was born, and more accurately, where Anthony Ronald Brown designed his first home-made roof rack. Yep, you heard right, the birth of ARB was not via bullbars, air lockers or canopies but rather roof racks.

Fast forward 50 years and ARB is now a multinational 4x4 accessory giant, but in today’s world of sleek, techy and stylish off-roaders the bombproof ARB roof racks of the past just haven’t cut the right image against some of the sleeker low-profile alloy roof platforms.

In 2020 ARB changed the game and introduced its own low-profile modular roof platform, redesigning the platform accessory system from the ground up. The result is the ARB BASE Rack.

On delivery of a 1835mm x 1155mm platform ARB BASE Rack for our trusty ol’ Prado 120, it was immediately evident the new rack is light ... I mean really light. In fact, our seven-bar platform weighed in at a ridiculously impressive 18.5kg, a near 10kg weight saving to some other low-profile alloy trays we’ve evaluated.

With such a light tray it’s easy to assume strength and structural integrity might well suffer, however a cross section of the powdercoated extruded aluminium cross-beams displays a box-beam construction with internal bracing. When combined with short lateral beams and a fully welded construction, the system delivers a max 170kg carrying capacity, well beyond the 100kg maximum load capacity of our vehicle.

ARB: Complete Slide Kitchen

Fitting the platform is a hell of a lot simpler than an IKEA bookshelf and took myself, with the occasional help of a neighbour, less than an hour to complete ... but remember, don’t skimp on the Permatex to seal up mount points or the next monsoonal downpour might just trickle its way into the cab.

When sealed and secured, the requirement for such a strong and rigid platform becomes obvious. The sleek one-piece longitudinal blade mounts have a mere 45mm clearance at the midpoint mount, meaning the BASE Rack sits an impressive 90mm above the roofline at the Prado’s midpoint channel mount. With dovetail accessories sitting near flush to the cross-beams, the ARB BASE Rack delivers our lowest profile platform system yet.

Unsurprisingly the lateral crossbars of the ARB rack produced more wind noise than some other tested platforms, but, on installation of the supplied deflector, wind noise was dramatically reduced.
The real talking point of the BASE Rack is the dovetail mounts.

ARB brand marketing manager, Mark Barger explains: “The side profile of every BASE Rack beam features a dovetail extrusion that allows for attachment and removing of accessories, anywhere along the rack’s beams and/or perimeter without having to slide them into place from one edge, or having to remove one accessory to get to another.”

It is in the ease of the attachment and removal of accessories where the BASE system excels over T-slot systems. Our experience has proved heavy use of BASE mounts in all types of terrain saw no less reliability than a T-slot.

Once installed on our Prado, there’s no doubt the BASE Rack rivals the best for looks and style, but what about accessories? Read on.

AWNING & LIGHT KIT

TO ensure we’re ‘up with the Joneses’ we fitted ARB’s 2 x 2.5m Awning & Light Kit to our left siderail. The awning is quick and easy to set up, and the 300gsm poly/cotton ripstop canvas and 1200-lumen colour-adjustable LED light strip are a one-stop solution for sun, rain and camp lighting.

HOLDERS

The siderail accommodated an ARB premium high-lift jack holder. We opted for the premium mount over the classic to allow for simpler placement and removal of our jack via dual padlock-able hinged cradles. Aside from looking tough, we managed to use the jack in anger on our first foray with our BASE Rack, and the ease of the jack cradles is a rather nice bonus when things go to shit.

In fact, on one outing, we required a full set of recovery tracks that were mounted on our dovetail-mounted recovery track holders. The holders sit the tracks flush onto the BASE Rack and once again are padlock-able. Not much to add but they do what they are supposed to do, and the ease of installation means you’ll always have these accessories rather than not.

The horizontal jerrycan holder is just as simple and easy to install via the dovetail mounts, as was the gas bottle holder, and the full-width low-profile roller was barely noticeable at the rear of the rack while easing the loading and unloading of heavy gear.

It’s possible you’re seeing a pattern emerge. We’re big fans of the practicality and simplicity of the dovetail system. In fact, it was the simplicity of the spare-wheel Y-strap that excited us; until we tried to use it. The dovetail clips occasionally slipped when they should have offered grippy positive connection to the crossbars, and the 150kg rated polyester webbing was too smooth for the central Y-buckle and slipped when tightened.

WHAT TO PACK? For a 4x4 trip

In a severe case, this could lead to the dovetail clips loosening and causing the entire system to disengage. Fortunately, some grip-tape should alleviate the slipping dovetail clips (tyre tread can be used to direct the Y-straps) and rethreading the webbing with extra loops in the Y-buckle will cause more friction. Easy fixes but something we would like to see addressed.

While we are on a whinge, we might point out ARB is yet to offer a dedicated dovetail shovel holder. All other key recovery components are covered so we were surprised not to find a shovel mount in the BASE accessory catalogue.

LIGHT BAR

WE installed ARB’s new BASE-specific 130W low-profile light bar in our initial fit-out. The light bar provides mid- to long-range spread of 8552 effective lumens and sits sleekly with the rack’s low-profile design. We mounted the light bar to sit aft of the front perimeter beam and wind deflector. The narrow profile of the light bar meant it sat flush with the top surface of the BASE Rack, thus offering unimpeded placement of gear. For peace of mind we snapped on the polycarbonate covers to protect the lens when not in use.

HOME DUTIES

WHEN we’re not heading to the hills, is the BASE Rack usable around home? We tested that too. Our toys of choice were bikes and boats.

As a dedicated off-road accessory provider ARB hasn’t yet delved into the world of ‘toy attachment’ like Thule, Rhino-Rack and Yakima, who all use a T-slot attachment. However, ARB are no fools. With a mass of trade and sport equipment T-slot accessories already in existence, ARB offers a T-slot adaptor. The adaptor clamps to the dovetail and delivers a bracket for T-slot accessories.

For the bike we fitted a Whispbar Frame Mount Bicycle Carrier to the T-slot adaptor, and it held our carbon Santa Cruz MTB firmly and securely. The only downside was a need to fit four T-slot adaptors for the width of a narrow bike carrier, and so we’d like to see some wider T-slot adaptors in the future.

We were also able to slide a kayak on the BASE Rack, using the roller kit and dovetail eye-bolt brackets to lash the boat down. For our 5.13m 30kg Exodus Sea Kayak we fitted Rhino-Rack’s Nautic 581 Rear Loading Kayak Carrier (via T-slot adaptors). A couple of Yakima AceO’Spades clamps held the paddle, but we had to swap the T-slot screw and bolt to suit the ARB adaptor. I suspect this might become an issue for many accessories and so a deeper T-channel might be better suited to fit various equipment.

After months of tests and tweaks we found a solution to all our needs in the ARB BASE Rack. As such, it’s hard to hold a grudge for minor annoyances.

THE GOOD STUFF

• Strong, sturdy and durable.
• Easy fitment.
• Super low profile.
• Dovetail accessories are quick and easy to fit and remove without a need to ‘juggle’ other accessories.
• Trusted brand with a lengthy warranty.

THE NOT SO GOOD

• Platform is noisier than some other key industry players (wind deflector a must).
• Spare wheel Y-strap needs a rethink.
• No T-slots limit third-party accessories (T-slot adaptors don’t suit all accessories).

VERDICT

THE ARB BASE Rack delivers a cutting-edge design and the quality we have come to expect from ARB. One of the lightest and lowest profile roof platforms on the market, the BASE Rack delivers exceptional strength-to-weight ratio in addition to a quality finish.

The dovetail design provides one of the most considered modular accessory systems we have used to date, and the simplicity and ease of accessory placement, installation and removal is key to the BASE Rack’s appeal.

A dedicated list of quality low-profile BASE-specific accessories accompanied by a growing list of dovetail attachments, delivers an exceptionally usable platform for off-road use.

The ARB BASE Rack loses a few points for wind noise (without the deflector), simple design faults in the spare wheel strap and a limited accessory range. We would love to see ARB applying its manufacturing expertise toward dovetail BASE mounts for trade, sport and recreation. It is difficult to fault the ARB BASE Rack and what ARB lacks in cross-platform usability, it delivers in the world of off-road touring. The BASE Rack should be a consideration for anyone fitting a low-profile roof platform to their vehicle.

STAR RATING

Build: 5/5
Lightweight yet solid powder-coated welded platform which partners well with the aerodynamic one-piece blade mounts.

Style: 5/5
Sleek, super low-profile design with strength in simplicity. Pleasing matte black powder-coated finish suits most vehicles. The development of a dedicated low-profile BASE light bar adds to the aesthetics rather than detracting from it. Lowest profile platform and accessory offering yet.

Install: 5/5
Easy to assemble and well-considered installation with minimal tools. Vehicle-specific mounts allow for easy first stage fitting and the platform simply lifts on and bolts in place.

Drive: 4.5/5
Excellent solid fit with no movement or loosening of parts throughout evaluation period. Initially noisier than expected until wind deflector installed. Wind deflector reduced most excessive wind noise but not all. Dovetail accessories fitted on securely and didn’t budge.

Accessories: 4/5
The majority of key off-road accessory mounts are available but the system loses points for lacking just a few key accessories (like shovel holder, axe, chainsaw, side mount recovery track) and the (at present) limited range of vehicle-specific mounts. A few accessories (especially the C-clamp type) have limitations with placement. We would ideally like to see development of dovetail trade and sport accessories to offer an expanded BASE accessory range (but this is a personal wish).

Usability: 5/5
Dovetail system is extremely user-friendly and offers a well-considered and simple accessory attachment system. The attachment and removal of accessories is fast and simple and offers endless layout options.

OVERALL: 28.5/30

ESSENTIAL INFO

AVAILABLE FROM: arb.com.au
RRP: $1395 (1835x1155 ARB BASE Rack, Mount Kit, Deflector)
WE SAY: Strong and durable. The low-profile ARB BASE Rack is easy to fit and use