Petrichor wafting through the air always betrays rain’s presence long before a single drop falls to the ground. The scent followed us from our hotel in the little town square to the OHV park where our chariots awaited.
We were greeted by big smiles huddled near the smokeless firepits where we would eventually be drawn to throughout the day feigning an attempt to stay dry. It was here where I finally had a moment to scan the group for familiar faces – likely the other members did the same – while representatives from the Canadian manufacturer recited the common list of safety requirements:
Wear your helmet and goggles if you don’t have a windshield. Check.
Always keep your limbs inside the vehicle. Reasonable.
Follow in a line and don’t try to pass. Defer to common sense, but okay.
Go slow; this is not a race. Sure…
Aside from the “keep your limbs in” and “…windshield,” I’d heard the rhetoric before, only at motorcycle events. More often than not, our leader – some 5-time Dakar Finisher or six-time such-in-such champion – would take off like a bat-out-of-hell, giving chase to the faster folks up front while the rest of us found glory in the middle pack or merely tried not to die. Pre- and, now finally, post-quarantine, motorcycle OEMs brought their guests to far off lands to test out their fresh productions because, well, that’s where most of them are. But this often meant ancient, unkempt streets which barely size-up against an American alleyway. And when dirt is finally introduced, it’s after the aforementioned harrowing pursuit, so adrenaline is through the roof, and occasionally, the stress won’t allow any thoughtful observation of the vehicle as it performs.
So, honestly, it was a relief to see that Can-Am and Backbone Media appeared sincere about their intent to keep us out of harm’s way. Yes, a sensible person might still be a bit nervous when taking charge of an unregistered, expensive piece of equipment that isn’t yours. But it’s all the same when lives are at stake. All that to say, understandably, safety is paramount because danger is ever looming. However, if the organizers didn’t want us to open her up a bit, they wouldn’t have hired Dustin Jones (Mint 400, multi-time Mud Racing and UTV World champion) to lead the ride. Not quite a baptism by fire, but trying to keep up with several accomplished drivers in a deluge was a proper initiation with the Can-Am clique.
Everything has a beginning, a jumping off point. But only the most impactful are truly remembered. Memories which are carried and recalled for a lifetime. I had one of those moments at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, when I finally made physical contact with two specimens I’d only ever made eyes with before – one in the woods and the other on the racecourse. Maybe it was the tumultuous weather that day. Or the colorful personalities I’d encountered. Or perhaps it was the mere sight of Georgia’s lush green and burnt-orange landscapes which held my attention so tightly. But when I think back to my experience at Iron Mountain Resort, what comes to mind – before the conditions, the friendships or the view – is how Can-Am’s new lineup made me feel… Unstoppable.
The earliest a UTV distinctly registered on my mental radar was at a rally raid in Mexico. Justin (USM Editor-at-Large) and I had been documenting international rally races for only a short period at this point, and my work kept me focused on the bikes, T1s and glorified garbage trucks. But for some reason, the side-by-sides kept slipping past unseen – in competition and leisure alike. Maybe it was at the Sonora Rally, or the BAJA RALLY, but there was a pair of SSVs parked under some pop-up tents in the bivouac going through the rigmarole of Tech Inspection. I’d heard of their more task-oriented predecessors – much closer to a Defender, but I couldn’t quite grasp what a farm tool was doing at a navigation race. And then I saw them in action. These particular metal monsters were, coincidentally, of the Can-Am variety – a Canadian company remarkable for single-handedly transforming a workhorse into a racehorse. A winning one at that… And I haven’t stopped thinking about the Maverick since.
With a newly refined palette, I began sampling different flavors of Utility Task Vehicles, admittedly more figuratively than literally, but still hadn’t tried my hand at a Maverick, or any of Can-Am’s squad, until the 2022 premiere. The updates over the last seven years of X3’s have been tantalizing for sure, but what we’re seeing today is top shelf. Faster, stronger, tougher. A vamped up turbocharged and intercooled Rotax ACE engine broke records when it came to fruition. Every other aspect was subsequently fortified to handle the additional power. And this fact reached me (of course) before I reached it. So, I’m glad the crew put me in the Defender PRO XT to begin the test. This gave me plenty of confidence to later slide into the driver’s seat of a vessel reputable for winning trophies, especially when driven by a prestigious captain like Jones.
ENTER THE DEFENDER
Narrow tree-lined trails are a familiar place for me. I learned how to ride a dirt bike on the slippery backroads of the Pacific Northwest. Mud, I understood. Forest navigation on my dual-sport motorbike became a daily occurrence that summer. Tight, dimly lit single and two-track tangled in a network of adventure under the canopy of evergreens. Rain was also commonplace on the Olympic Peninsula. The Cascades and the Olympic ranges boast twisty, humidity-moistened routes like what you’d expect from any old-growth woodland. All elements which on paper seemingly prepared a rider for the more modest Appalachians. But this was not quite what awaited us in Dahlonega, especially with a weather system planning to crash the party. In Georgia, if you’re “lucky” enough to experience a Spring shower, the wet is more like sopping and the terracotta-colored earth which makes up its mountains transforms into a cake batter so famous it has its own song. And now at the helm of the Defender, I was eager for the challenge.
The Maverick doesn’t deserve all the credit. Defender family brings a lot to the table, and they should with up to 1,700-lb payload and 2,500-lb towing capacity. And while 82 horsepower isn’t a shocking number in the grander scheme of things, it eclipses what its closest competitors are putting down. Tech takes the machine to another level. The simple blending with complex attributes for an immersive ride which can dial up or down, catering to the driver’s needs and environment. From its Dynamic Power Steering (DPS) to Electronic Hill Descent Control, 4.5” digital display to multiple drive train modes with Visco-Lok QE auto-locking front differential. Those options, classic and contemporary, are what make the Can-Am a figurehead in the industry. Plus, the accessories, like 4,500-lb (2,041 kg) winch with roller fairlead, 2-inch receiver, DC outlets, USB ports, a variety of water resistant and removable boxes and cup holders (important), coupled with the safety features – XT front bumper, HMWPE full skid plate, full hard roof, ROPS-approved profiled cage, et al. – round out this bodacious package. With a plethora of plug n’ play options to choose from, this SXS is customizable for every personality type. Or, if you’re me, you take what you can get and make the most of it.
Ready for our first go around the park, I sat aloft in my chariot. But this wasn’t just any Defender. An impromptu game of musical chairs left me the odd man out along with the only remaining option: Can-Am’s 115.5” extended PRO XT, equipped with a handy hydraulic power-tilt bed. To my pleasant surprise – again, I’m a n00b – the extra inches (32.5” to be exact) and the 1,960 of poundage gave it a ton of stability, making the network of Slip ‘n Slides carved between the trees actually seem conquerable. A gentle, yet powerful, Oxford Blue whale swimming among a pod of short-bed dolphins. It glided through Georgia’s rolling hills with grace, always keeping up with its capricious cousins in the waves. I never felt like it needed more for the application, conquering short, steep climbs, negotiating slippery crevasses like a crampon-wearing alpinist, or wading through puddles like a British kid [read: champion splasher] in wellies.
Unlike its more compact counterparts, this elongated UTV seemed unbothered by the terrain, barely noticing the elevation changes, scattered bumps or deep scars in our path. The necessary attitude when it’s expected to carry a heavy payload all the way back to base. But what was once intended as farm equipment, or a hunting aid, is now also a pastime. For someone like me, who has neither farm nor opportunity to hunt, what’s left for me to do with a Defender is have adventures. Maybe a bit slower and more calculated than any adventures in the X3, but they’ll include a whole lot more beer…
AND THEN THERE WAS MAVERICK
It’s no secret the Maverick has an appetite for velocity. When you back off the brakes, the X3 DS Turbo RR gallops in search of sweet, sweet speed to satiate its hunger. Initially, I hesitated. The drizzle had broken through the clouds before we parked the Defenders. A fruitless effort at delaying the inevitable soaking we would all endure in the second half of the day, the group of us huddled by the firepits hopelessly trying to keep dry. Even with a roof I wasn’t saved from an impromptu shower. Lesson here: make a splash while you can because trying to stay dry in a storm is a stupid and futile effort. Next lesson is that no matter how fast you think you’re flying through the course, a professional race driver will always be faster. (But more on that later…)
I couldn’t believe how well the 30” Maxxis Carnivore tires stayed glued to the earth. Pulling up to a steep hill climb behind a sequence of X3 Turbos reminded me of my youth, cuing up the tall steps at the waterpark waiting for a free enema offered by the notorious “Cliffhanger” slide. And yet, whenever my Can-Am would surmount a blind crest, and breath filled my lungs in anticipation of a freefall, we never lost traction. Never so much as a knob stepped out of place without my command. The Carnivores gripped the clay with every available nub while we seesawed in and out of uneven corners recently disfigured by the rain.
Before an onslaught from the 2022 Can-Am lineup, I asked my friend George, local racer, former factory rider and owner of Avid UTV, what to expect from the Maverick. “They can take a beating and still win the title, so you know these cars are nimble, resilient and fast as…” (You get the point.) “And when you’re deep into a turn and the sensation that you might flip creeps in, just keep the wheels spinning. Feed her more gas, and she’ll pull herself out of it.” At one point I hopped in the lead car with Dustin so he could show me how it should really be handled. It was madness. The water was pervasive to the point of blindness, and that didn’t slow him down one iota – until it was absolutely necessary.
Although the stark contrast of our driving skills was made exceedingly apparent in that moment, it somehow didn’t deflate my confidence in commanding the Can-Am’s myself. It’s all relative, right? When the world blurred in my peripherals, I didn’t feel any less meteoric. For me, the X3 simulates a fighter jet. And thanks to the dual-phase 980 steel chassis, 102” wheelbase, 14 inches of ground clearance, 20 inches of travel on the TTX suspension and, of course, the 200-horsepower, plunging through shallow pools and maneuvering in and out of chasms, I didn’t feel any less capable. Crawling out of gaping ruts felt like second nature despite my moderate experience. All day, the rubber-clad cast-aluminum wheels ate up every baby head, bump or brutal ledge in our path. Was the Maverick X3 DS Turbo RR too confidence inspiring? With the torrent in full force, I was advised to keep the beast in four-wheel-drive.
Controlled chaos: Functioning precisely despite the appearance of mayhem. That’s what these machines were designed to do. To make you experience the many worlds outside your door. From working land, transporting a carcass or taking the family for a cliffside cruise with the Defender. To surfing waves of sand, terrorizing the desert or testing the Turbo RR on the racecourse… The possibilities are endless. This year’s upgrades make for a well-rounded batch, fresh baked to service any spirit or handle whatever task. Can-Am’s Defender is the Every-Man’s tool of choice with all the bells and whistles – if you want them – plus a comfortable cab to boot. It’s that reliable buddy who’ll help you move or take a body into the woods, should you need it. The X3 exhilarates its passengers, letting them put their toes on the edge without allowing them to go too far and plummet. Evoking the Dustin Jones in all of us, if only for a ride.
This event certainly made its impression on me. Was it too short? Truly. Is Can-Am the only UTV brand worth considering? Maybe not the only because, well, this sort of thing is subjective. But if you ask me if my day in the mountains left me wanting more… More seat time, more water-crossings, more red Georgia clay, then I’d give you a resounding “hell yes!” What else can I say about my experiences with Canada’s champion fighter and prized bull? Both have achieved accolades in their fields. The two are ever-evolving creatures, responding to technological advancements, consumer needs and competition – among other things. And, finally, each vehicle – the Maverick X3 DS Turbo RR and the Defender PRO XT – gave me another first I’ll never forget.
- Heavy-duty Rotax® V-twin, liquid-cooled engine
- Smooth, durable and responsive transmission
- True Can-Am DNA with a strong identity
- Work or ride with confidence
- Meaningful and versatile functionality
- Easy handling and capabilities
- Advanced comfort and intuitive cockpit with optimized visibility
- Multifunction cargo box with sturdy tailgate and smart storage
- 1 year maintenance-free and easy access to key maintenance components
- 115.5 in. wheelbase
- 13 in. of ground clearance
- Dynamic Power Steering (DPS™)
- 2,500 lb. towing capacity
- Multifunction cargo box
- Rear differential with Turf mode
- 4.5 in. digital display
- 64 in. wide with arched A-arm
- Visco-Lok QE front differential
- 14 in. cast-aluminum wheels
- 28 in. Maxxis Bighorn 2.0
- VERSA-PRO bolster bench seat with reinforced XT seat skin and adjustable driver seat
- HMWPE full skid plate
- 4,500 lb (2,014 kg) winch
- Hydraulic power-tilt bed
- XT front bumper
- Full hard roof
- Brake holding mechanism
- Lower box storage with 83.6-gal (316.5 L) capacity
Maverick X3 DS Turbo RR 64, Starting at $22,999
Octane Blue / TURBO RR | Can-Am Red / TURBO RR | Desert Tan & Carbon Black / TURBO RR
- Trademark Can-Am DNA with next generation design
- Low seating position
- Ergo-Lok cockpit with four-way adjustable seats
- 200 hp turbocharged and intercooled Rotax® ACE engine
- 900 cc turbocharged triple-cylinder engine, liquid-cooled with integrated intercooler and high-performance air filter
- Advanced airflow dynamics
- QRS-X transmission
- TTX suspension with industry-leading travel
- Ultra efficient and lightweight chassis
- Sharpest handling features
- 64 in. wide
- 102 in. wheelbase 20 in. suspension travel
- 14 in. of ground clearance
- High-torque Dynamic Power Steering (DPS™)
- 20 in. suspension travel
- FOX 2.5 PODIUM QS3 piggyback shocks
- 14 in. aluminum wheels
- 30 in. Maxxis Carnivore tires
- 4.5 in. digital display with keypad
- Rear tow hook
- Belt-monitoring system
- 200 hp Turbo RR engine
- 850 W magneto