The Creme of the Crop in the 4-Seat World!
No matter what industry you are looking at, there is always a battle for supremacy brewing from different competing manufacturers. In our case, the UTV industry has seen a battle brewing between Can-Am and Polaris for many years. Remember the days when the first Maverick broke 100 horsepower and we thought that was incredible?! Then, shortly after, the RZR XP 1000 broke that number with 107 horsepower. After those naturally aspirated engines felt exhausted, turbos helped spool up the horsepower race again with better ability to harness power and expel it with ease. Today, we are seeing numbers greater than 150 horsepower be the norm in the UTV industry.
On these pages, you are looking at the top 2 performance, 4-seat machines in the UTV industry – the 2017 Can-Am Maverick X3 MAX X DS and the 2017 Polaris RZR XP4 Turbo. Some will ask us why we didn’t bring out the X RS model of the X3 MAX? Well, if you dig deeper into the spec sheets of both of those Can-Am machines, the X DS model more closely matches up to the RZR XP4 Turbo, and we wanted to put our thoughts together on two machines that matched each other spec wise. For full reviews of these machines and the complete list of specs/revisions for this model year, you can check out the January issue for our 2017 RZR XP4 Turbo review, and then you can browse the May 2017 issue for our Maverick X3 MAX X DS review. We’ll keep those details to a minimum here and focus on the stuff that makes this test special… So, let the driving begin!
Right off the bat, looking at both of these machines brings you to your initial realization – the Can-Am has a much more buggy-esque look to it with it’s low and wide stance, while the RZR almost has a more upright looking chassis with an upright seating position and shorter hood and overhang design. Upon first glance, we were amazed that we thought the RZR was so low-slung when it first came out, and now the Can-Am has an even more laid back profile to it. Also, the interiors on both of these machines are vastly different, and the extra interior space translates into a longer wheelbase for the Can-Am. How will that impact the test, if at all? Let’s find out…
We listed the suspension first here because all of our testers felt that this is one category that really sets the two machines apart. There is no doubt that the X3 MAX comes with the more customizable suspension of the two with true dual-rate (with crossover nuts for that extra bit of fine-tuning), fully adjustable FOX Podium RC2 Piggyback shocks. The XP4 Turbo comes with compression and preload adjustable FOX Podium Internal Bypass shocks, and it offers up less overall suspension travel (16” in front, 18” in the rear) versus the X3 MAX (it features 20” of front and rear travel). Both include front and rear sway bars from the factory.
After repeated loops around our test course, one of our drivers shared his thoughts on the X3 MAX suspension by saying, “I am torn here because the suspension performs extremely well, especially in the front, and offers the feedback that I like when driven aggressively or when the trail turns fast and rough. The back works well until a sharper hit or a bigger bump and then it bottoms fairly hard. Even with the compression dampening at full hard, it blew through the stroke and bottomed uncomfortably hard for the rear passengers and gear.” The same tester had this to say about the Polaris RZR XP4 Turbo suspension, “As it cycles through the motion in the rear it transfers the energy directly into the back of the driver and passenger. This does not mean it is not working it just beats up the occupants more and offers a stiff feel. The front can be adjusted enough to offer an almost plush ride but the rear suspension design will not allow it to ever feel plush or cushy in high speed whoops or chop. The suspension package stays firmly planted while never doing anything out of the ordinary and will take a ton of abuse whether rock crawling or desert blasting.”
The suspension difference is definitely felt from the driver’s seat – the X3 MAX feels like the vehicle is driving through the terrain with superior bump absorption and suspension movement over the obstacles, whereas the RZR does its best to stay on top of the bumps. In turn, it jars your body back and forth in the seat as you push the machine over whoops and rough terrain. As another tester put it, “ Although …. [the RZR] … was a little rough over the small hits, we never bottomed it out. It had a firm ride that felt like it wanted to be driven aggressive.“
In the suspension category, all of our testers agreed that the Can-Am had the most adjustability and could offer the best feel after testing and multiple adjustments to the FOX shocks. While the RZR suspension includes less adjustability, it does offer a good baseline feel for the package, but still leaves the driver wanting more adjustability in stock form. For those wanting more out of their suspensions, there are countless shops to get more of your shocks, and FOX is always there with specific valving and spring kits for each of these vehicles.
Chassis & Handling
In the beginning of the review, I mentioned how you can visibly see the chassis differences between the RZR XP4 Turbo and the Maverick X3 MAX. The X3 has a low-slung, aggressive stance right from the factory, while the RZR XP4 has a more upright profile and aggressive front end. To each his own on a preference between the two, but our testers liked the aggressive stance on the X3 MAX and its fresh look. The RZR “look” has been around since 2014 and has aged very well, especially with the Turbo-model design enhancements and the larger front grille and hood scoop.
When you walk up to the chassis, you immediately notice how the Can-Am has more gussets on the chassis and an overall wider chassis tubing, giving you the idea that the vehicle is more stout from the showroom floor. When stepping into both vehicles, that feeling of enhanced safety and security in the Can-Am is kept alive with more frame gussets found on the inside and a safe and secure feeling. The XP4 Turbo feels cheaper on the inside with seats that aren’t as planted, an open frame design above you, and not nearly as much rear leg room.
One tester had this to say about the Can-Am driving experience, “ The way you feel sitting in the car, the comfort during driving (except my right knee), the stiff chassis and the way the car reacts to being driven hard is phenomenal.” The chassis is flickable and does a good job of keeping its line in tight corners, especially in 4WD. It also stays straight and planted over large whoops.
At the end of the day, we concluded that the XP4 Turbo is the point-and-shoot
vehicle of the two of these cars, with one tester commenting that the RZR chassis, “feels light and nimble compared to the rest and while I think the layout could be better, especially in the back-seat area, it does everything well.” It is one of those chassis that begs you to drive it hard and, in turn, rewards the driver with precise cornering, effortless and very predictable powerslides, and very good stability in off-camber situations. The power steering was also regarded as better with less unwanted feedback and quicker response overall. Each one of our testers agreed that this chassis puts a huge smile on your face because it is so much fun to throw around!
Again, the horsepower war is where Polaris and Can-Am have been trying to one-up each other every year, and this year is no different. The Maverick X3 MAX makes 154 horsepower (Editor’s Note: the 2018 model was just released and features 171 horsepower!), and the RZR XP4 Turbo makes 168 horsepower. But, how does each feel through your foot and how well is all of this horsepower transferred to the ground?!
We’ll keep this short and sweet… our testers all universally agreed that they could feel the additional power in the RZR and really liked how the engine felt like it was directly connected to the wheels. One tester explained it by saying, “Polaris has done a great job with the power delivery on this version of the ProStar power plant, and I really was impressed with the lack of turbo lag and the firm pull when the trail opens up and the speeds increase or the heavy load of sand comes into play.” And, the power in the RZR is instantaneous, no matter where you are in the RPM range. It is just as easy to go slow in the RZR as it is to be going fast (and don’t worry, it gets up to speed in a HURRY!). Clutching on the RZR is spot on and the electronic throttle is tuned perfectly to where you don’t feel any lag in the pedal. We just wish that the notchy gear selector had a little bit more of a positive engagement to it. Drivers really have to pay attention and get the car fully in gear before taking off – it takes a good, positive pull on the shift lever to do so.
On the Can-Am side, one tester put it this way, “The Can-Am X3 is quiet when you need it to be quiet and reminds you that you bought a performance car when you put your foot down on the skinny pedal with a great exhaust note at full song. It needs a little more grunt down low when you have 3 or more people or have lots of gear loaded on it but the top end is unreal fast and the engine never stops pulling.” Clutching on the X3 MAX was universally regarded as “good” but not “great”. It takes a higher RPM to get this car rolling from a dead stop. Again, we wish the motor had more bottom end power to go with that endless power on top.
In regards to the 4 Wheel Drive systems on both of these machines, testers generally commented on how they appreciated the positive engagement of 4WD on the RZR XP4 Turbo. Additionally, one tester commented on the RZR saying, “ With the gear selector in “low” and the 4 wheel drive engaged, there are not many places the car won’t go.” Generally, there were some concerns about the loud noises coming from the 4WD system on the XP4 when engaged, and we hope Polaris fixes this in the future with better carrier bearings to hold the driveshaft and associated 4WD components.
On the Can-Am 4WD system, we all came to the conclusion that, “The Maverick 4X4 system worked flawlessly and had no vibration or funky noises. When engaged, the steering did not get heavy or respond any slower when you had all 4 wheels pulling. … Traction was abundant regardless of the type of terrain you are on when the system is engaged although in “ECO” mode it did seem to rob a lot of power.” Can-Am’s Visco-Lok auto-locking front differential is still a great differential that modulates the engagement on its own, but it doesn’t allow you to have the traction of the RZR in tricky situations because it doesn’t engage immediately when you want it. It has to detect slip to engage, whereas the RZR is always engaged and gives you positive traction. One place we really noticed the difference is in the rock crawl sections around our test loop. The RZR was more confident going up these sections.
A couple final notes on the powertrain… The Can-Am Maverick X3 engine has some great qualities, including an abundant 154 horsepower that really feels substantial in this machine. We had no issues climbing the tallest dunes in glamis, and for the most part the power is readily available. You can feel more turbo lag in this car than in the RZR, and the clutching isn’t quite as spot on as the RZR. On the Can-Am, we were not impressed with the throttle lag when you are going down steep climbs and anticipate on picking up the throttle at the bottom of the hill. We hope Can-Am looks into this in the future.
Again, straight to the point here… Can-Am did their homework when designing the interior of the X3 MAX. It has a significant amount of legroom for both the front seat and back seat passengers. So much so that we put a 6’7” basketball player into the back seat and he had plenty of room, in fact his knees weren’t even touching the driver’s seat that was positioned all the way back. Rear seat passengers will also appreciate the fact that their seats are on seat sliders, which make them adjustable, so they can obtain the optimum view over the front seats. As one of our testers put it, “The dash in this car has a little bit of a Jekyll and Hyde scenario going on with good visibility and everything well within arm’s reach. Where things get ugly is in the placement of the key and its location relevant to your right knee while driving.” He went on to say that the dash also “flexes excessively” when the going gets rough. On the contrary, it was all positivity in regards to the seats. “I really enjoyed the factory seats and it took no time at all to get used to the laid-back seating arrangement and it makes you want to drive the car further and longer,” commented one driver. Additionally, the same driver expressed his satisfaction with the rear seats by saying, “The rear seats are the best in the business with tons of legroom and good seats and mount angles. You will run out of gas before you run out of passengers willing to ride with you.”
Essentially, the interior of the X3 MAX was universally praised for being one of the top selling points of the vehicle. Sitting in the Can-Am makes you want to stay in it for an all-day ride because of its superior comfort and personalization for all 4 passengers. There are additional little storage areas in the center area console area of the X3 MAX, and every passenger has a cup holder for their convenience.
On the RZR side of things, comments were all positive on the redesigned dash, “The layout of the Polaris XP dash is fantastic and nothing impedes the drivers or co-drivers ride regardless of what you are doing. Nothing hits your knees or rubs holes in your shins in the lower half of the cockpit and quality is excellent despite there being a significant absence of metal.” All good news there, and then we get to the seats… Oh, the seats caused some issues, and hone driver said, “The steering wheel is nowhere near the quality that other manufactures are using and the seats leave a little to be desired in comfort, padding and bolster support. Aftermarket seats and belts would be one of the first things I upgraded if I purchased this car to help with comfort and to make me feel a little more ‘in’ the car than on top of the car.”
Maintenance and Durability
Overall, both cars have very easy access to the engine and transmission areas to check the fluids and ensure that all of your hoses are intact. The Can-Am has slightly more room to move around and find the parts you are looking for, and the X3 MAX is also better
assembled from the factory with more protection for the hoses and other vital components. The XP4 Turbo belt is easier to get out of the case when you take the cover off because there is more room away from the plastic encasement, but the Can-Am is designed well with the new engine and transmission placement for belt changes (compared to the Maverick body style). Also, both cars feature easy-to-change belts that just require the correct tool (included) in your tool kit.
We still need some more miles and seat time in both vehicles to really see how they hold up over time, but both show promising signs after several hard runs in the desert. Both showed us some hot engine temperatures when we were running them in 100+ degree heat on our test loop, but that is to be expected when running hard. We hope both manufacturers continue to improve their cooling systems over time.
Overall, the basis of this test comes down to this – the machine you choose all depends on what kind of riding you do. If you love going fast in the open desert and dunes, then the Can-Am has the interior comfort and the amazing suspension to handle that terrain with ease and literally make you want to stay in the car. The one thing that all of our testers agreed upon was that we didn’t want to get out of the Can-Am because it was so comfortable for all-day riding. Now, if you want a machine that is a better all-around vehicle because you venture away from the dunes and the desert into the mountain trails and rocky terrain, then the RZR is a better machine with its shorter overall package, room for 4, and obviously plenty of capability and power.
Also, just for a reference, 2 out of our 3 testers would have taken home the Can-Am over the RZR. Both of our pro–Can-Am testers cited that the better interior, build quality, and suspension of the Maverick X3 MAX were the top reasons they would take it over the RZR. The one tester who would take home the XP4 Turbo said that he really liked the motor setup on the RZR better, as well as the nimble handling of the chassis that allows it to be more fun to flick around than the X3 MAX. If he were to buy one, he would put an aftermarket cage system and seats/harnesses to bring the comfort and safety levels up to the Can-Am. To each his own…
We just returned from a 2-week trip with the XP4 Turbo and enjoyed how it could go from the desert to the dunes to the Moab trails to the mountain hardscapes near Bryce Canyon with ease. Some of the mountain trails we were on wouldn’t have been so kind to the X3 MAX with its longer length, but we knew that going into the adventure.