Off-road Vehicle

Is Can-Am better than Polaris?

The battle between brands has always been at the forefront of marketing and business competition. Everywhere you look, companies are vouching for their products claiming that theirs are the best on the market.

It gets difficult for consumers, especially many of us who might be indifferent, or simply uneducated about the various products that we consume to know the companies background or their quality.

The UTV world and market are no different from the rest of them. There are forums upon forums on the internet, where people sit and hash out, through their computers, what brand is best and why.

How does the saying go? “Buy them cheap, bury them deep”? This is just one of many phrases bikers use to slam one another’s a brand-of-bike choice. Other more obvious insults range from, “What did you expect when you bought a Polaris?” to “That would never have happened had you been riding a Maverick X3 X rs.” Yes, the dirty talk is alive and well in the world of off-roading, with Honda enthusiasts pitted against KTM bikers, and Kawasaki fans against those who prefer Yamaha. Of all the rivalries, however, we have to say that none quite compares to the ATV shootout between Polaris and Can-Am owners.

Whether you own a Polaris or a Can-Am, you can say without a doubt that your machine is capable of reaching incredible speeds, handles perfectly and is immune to breakdowns—unlike bikes from that other brand. The problem is, riders of the rivalry brand feel just the same, which is why you’ll never see more verbal shade exchanged between two groups than that which goes on between Can-Am and Polaris riders. Though our office certainly has riders from both camps, we thought we’d do everyone a solid and put this debate to rest once and for all. So, without further ado, here’s our take on the great Polaris vs Can-Am ATV and UTVs debate.

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70 Years of Competition

Polaris and Can-Am share a common starting point. They both opened shop as snowmobile companies. Can-Am’s founder, J. Armand Bombardier, built the first propeller-driven sled as a teenager in 1922 and built the world’s first track-based snowmobile in 1937. He later founded Bombardier Inc. in 1942. Can-Am itself wouldn’t appear until the 1970s.

Polaris didn’t enter the game until 1954 when they created their first snowmobile. This snowmobile was small and designed for only 1-2 people. It was the first modern-style snowmobile.

From the start, these guys were competing. Bombardier innovated with it’s standalone, wind-powered snowmobile and Polaris refined it with a smaller, sleeker, and more broadly appealing vehicle.

But let’s fast forward past the creation of the personal watercraft, past their jumps into the motorcycle markets and Bombardier’s creation of Can-Am, past one of Polaris’ founders leaving and starting his own company (later to become Arctic Cat) and get to the good stuff of the last 20 years—both companies venture to the off-road vehicle.

Both companies got into the 4-wheeler market late. It was already completely dominated by Honda and other Japanese manufacturers. You may also be surprised to know that neither was first to the UTV market either.

Polaris released the Ranger in 1998 following the Kawasaki MULE’s lead. Although the Ranger was popular, Polaris didn’t take control of the UTV market until it released the Ranger RZR 10 years later.

What really paved the way for the Ranger RZR was the Yamaha Rhino. The Rhino took the increasingly popular utility vehicle and made it sportier. It was half work machine, half play machine and was hugely successful when it released in 2004. The Ranger RZR released in 2008 and was laser-focused on being the best recreational sport vehicle available. In that respect, it was a first for the industry and blew the Rhino away. Finally, a machine built for fun with no compromises.

While Polaris gets the point from me for bringing such a game-changer to the industry, Can-Am gets another point right back with its release of the Commander 2 years later just in time for Polaris to release the RZR 900.

The Battle Begins Between Who Has the Fastest and Most Reliable ATV and UTV

Both Polaris and Can-Am entered the ATV and UTV arena late into the game after Honda and other Japanese manufacturers were already dominating the industry. However, being late bloomers didn’t stop either party from entering this segment of the market. In 1998, taking cues from Kawasaki, Polaris released the Ranger. Though popular, ATVers remained fairly unimpressed with Polaris until about ten years later, when it released the Ranger RZR.  

The Ranger RZR was what helped Polaris truly get its foothold in the ATV industry. The RZR was the first UTV designed for all play, which the industry loved. Can-Am responded within two years with the Commander 2, which, though wasn’t as laser-focused on the play, was super-focused on power. The Commander 2 boasted a 1000cc engine, which gave thrill-seekers more opportunities to go buck wild than what the RZR or its successor, the 900 model RZR, could offer. From there, the R&D teams at both headquarters went back and forth, trying to one-up each’s the latest model.

Fast forward to today, after both companies introduced turbo engines to the mix. For the sake of this post, we’re going to examine the specs on the two brands’ fastest UTVs: the Polaris RZR XP Turbo and the Can-Am Maverick X3 X ds.

Off-road Vehicle

RZR Turbo Vs. Maverick X3

The Maverick X3 shocked the UTV world when it released machine boasting a triple-cylinder four-stroke engine, 20 inches of front- and rear-wheel travel and an engine that flaunts 154-horsepower. Polaris wasn’t about to throw in the towel, however. In response, the company one-upped Can-Am with a twin-cylinder four-stroke engine capable of 168 horsepower. To add insult to injury, Polaris strengthened the travel rear suspension, quickened the steering and made some more much-needed improvements to outpace the Maverick. Due to their similar suspension, engines, width and price points, the question of, Is Polaris or Can-Am faster? 

The Polaris XP features a 925cc, turbo-induced, parallel twin-cylinder, DOHC engine that is electronically fuel-injected and liquid-cooled. Can-Am’s setup is not much different, as it boasts a 900cc, triple-cylinder, turbo-induced, four-stroke engine that is, as the XP, electronically fuel-injected and liquid-cooled. Though extremely similar in makeup, the small differences, plus body differences, makes each perform differently in different situations.

For instance, though the XP Turbo is slower to gain momentum, it cuts through terrain over which the Maverick X3 has a hard time getting. The RZR can climb hills and scale rocks without issue, whereas drivers of the Maverick needed to hit certain obstacles harder than they normally would have just to make it through. However, when put on flat terrain, the X3 excelled and outpaced the Turbo toward the end of the range.

The Maverick X3 was designed for speed, which is also evident in its suspension. Our test drivers could tell from the beginning that the Maverick’s suspension is the clear winner of high-speed stretches, which they attest to the machine’s suspension travel, its low centre of gravity and its longer wheelbase. Though the Polaris handles whoop sections quite well, the Maverick provides a smoother ride and more confidence on both long and short stretches of whoops. However, when put on rocky or choppy terrain, the Polaris soaks up the shock and doesn’t send you bouncing as the X3 does.

In short, the Can-Am excels at higher speeds, thereby making it the faster of the two vehicles. However, the Polaris is more of a true all-terrain vehicle. If you’re looking for a UTV for all types of terrain, the RZR is the better option.

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Can-Am Maverick X3 X rs Turbo R vs. Polaris RZR XP Turbo

Power

Both machines are blindingly fast. As shown in our SPEED RUN VIDEO, The Turbo RZR is a little quicker off the start and accelerates to its top speed of 80 MPH quicker than this X3. We actually feel but have not yet confirmed, that the narrower X3 might be just as quick as the RZR Turbo, due to the fact, the wider X3 Xrs is turning heavier tires, that are 8 inches farther out, causing a little lag. On the top end, the X3 is not limited as much as the RZR Turbo and we were able to hit a 5 MPH greater speed before it hit its limit at 85MPH. Still, the Polaris RZR Turbo and Can-Am Maverick X3 are the fastest UTVs you can buy.

Transmission

Polaris and Can-Am each rely on a strong, fully automatic, belt-driven CVT transmission. For the X3, Can-Am not only increased the size of the clutches and belt, but they also moved the whole powertrain rearward, making it much easier to access. Polaris has always had an easy to access the belt, and the belt strength drastically improves with each new model. The X3 and RZR Turbo almost have the identically sized belts. We have had to change one belt on each car so far. They both broke right around the 200-mile mark during hard driving.

Suspension

It’s incredible how well each of these machines drives over nasty bumps. Certainly, the extra wheel travel, wheelbase and width help the X3 in this department, but the Polaris holds its own and can skip over any bumps the X3 can. The Can-Am is a little more planted and mellow through them. Doing the same section in the RZR takes a little more skill, steering input and line selection, or you will find yourself bucking or two-wheeling through the rough and off-cambered sections.

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Handling

The Polaris RZR is easy to throw around. It handles great and is easy to drive slow or fast. It does nearly everything perfect. But, when we compare it to this Maverick, it feels narrow and a bit tippy around the corners. The tighter steering box Polaris added for 2017 is a plus and is really great in the slower, tighter turns.

Having a wider stance, more wheel travel and a good solid stance should allow the wide X3 X rs to top the RZR in this category. However, something in the steering system gives the driver a ton of steering feedback when braking hard into tight corners and accelerating out of them. Unfortunately, the undesirable sensation feels just the same in all three Dynamic Power Steering modes. Slow speed bump absorption is much better in the RZR, too. We have yet to find a compression setting, on the X3, that works as well in slow speed chop as it does on the fast bumps.

Comfort

Cockpit comfort is great in both cars. We like the simplicity of the Polaris seat and seating position as well as the view out the front. The Can-Am also has great seats with lots of adjustability and legroom. The intake noise behind the drivers head is probably our only complaint, and it’s a small one.

Braking

When Polaris added a Turbo on the RZR, they added larger brakes. That must have been something their developers decided it need with the extra HP. We never complained about the brakes with the old RZR. The new set up is awesome and slows the RZR down very predictably every time and all day long. Several of our test drivers noted the Can-Am’s brakes were a tad soft and were fading after long runs. The brakes are not bad, they’re just not as good as the RZR Turbo.

Wheels & Tires

Can-Am installed a great set of aluminium Beadlock equipped 14-inch wheels with 30-inch tall 10-inch wide tires on this X3. It’s a common size for every long travel, and high speed modified UTV. Both cars use Maxxis Big Horn tires which are very good for all-around travel. The updated 14-inch wheels Polaris is using in in 2017 are some of the nicest looking non-beadlock wheels anywhere.

Ergonomics

Each car has great egos. Things are easy to reach in the cockpit, and nothing feels out of place. Again we like the seating position in the RZR, but having the adjustability that the X3 does, will probably suit more people.

Instrumentation

Nice digital displays are found on both machines with lots of features such as temps, milages, warning and diagnostics. Neither of these models has the GPS features we would like to see on all high-end models these days.

Fit & Finish

We are disappointed at the fact that both of these $25,000-plus priced vehicles come without full doors. We like the doors that the Polaris has slightly better than the X3 due to the RZR’s latch system. The X3 does come with a roof where the Turbo RZR does not. The rest of the fit and finish is pretty equal although we don’t like that the skid plate on the X3 is riveted on instead of bolted.

Corgo

Although we like the cargo platform more on the Maverick X3 than we do on the older Maverick, we do not like how hot the platform gets. Engine and exhaust heat radiates through the vent holes in the platform and radiates to the cargo. The platform is hot to the touch after every ride we have done. Polaris gives the Turbo RZR a deep cargo area to hold down whatever you want to bring along. However, we do with the tie-down hooks were a little bigger.

Price

Can-Am’s 2017 Maverick X3 Xrs is the most expensive 2-seat UTV you can buy at $26,699. It does have some great features such as long-travel suspension, a fast engine and Beadlock wheels that can possibly save you thousands in the long run. The Polaris RZR XPTurbo costs $1700 less than the X3, but you get some of the best technology Polaris has to offer with its great brakes, fast engine, great suspension and cockpit.

After days of testing the two cars in this contest, discussing them with our test drivers and looking at the numbers, we came up with a tie between these two machines. Can-Am could have had an easy win if the X3 didn’t have the steering issue we felt as well as the hot cargo area. We are working on fixes for both of those issues to share with you soon.

Who’s the Best?

So who wins? It looks like a tied ball game at the moment. Individual owners might take umbrage with different aspects of each companies’ design philosophy which will inform their ride-ally of choice. Looking at the X3, one might see the overabundance of plastic bodywork as a negative aspect. Others might look past that and appreciate that the plastic provides lightweight yet alluring curves and angles.

Some might look at the RZR and still see a stubby, puerile buggy borrowing too heavily from older off-road vehicles and missing a sleek modern look. Others might think the RZR has the quintessential sport UTV look, and that to deviate from its style is to make something that doesn’t look like a UTV.

As you move away from the cosmetic, you have different handling and throttle feel about dealing with. The Maverick X3 is powerful but bulky. The RZR Turbo is smaller, easier to handle, but not quite as powerful. And now Can-Am is making the X3 more powerful; Polaris is making the Turbo handle even better, which in turn makes this article to write because we said we’ve given you a winner.

And the Winner Is…

So, again, who wins? At the risk of sounding entirely too earnest, you do!

That’s right! Good old capitalism, at its best means you, the consumer, win every time. As these companies duke it out for your favour, their vehicles are getting better and better and cheaper. Both companies offer insanely powerful vehicles for under $20,000, and their diverging philosophies mean that no matter what kind of riding you’re interested in, there’s a top-of-the-line vehicle out there for you.

Not to mention companies like Yamaha have made a move into the sport UTV market as well with the YXZ. Honda finally released their Pioneer 1000, and Kawasaki is still killing it with the Teryx. And Arctic Cat (ahem, Textron) has finally graced us with the Wildcat XX.

So feel good about having a Polaris or a Can-Am, or a Yamaha, Arctic Cat, CFMOTO, Honda, or Kawasaki. And feel free to stick it to the other guy for buying the piece of junk that he did. From what we’ve learned, that’s just how the game is played. You just might want to be prepared to prove your claims. You wouldn’t want to have to admit that your ride isn’t as perfect as you said it was, or even worse—than your buddy’s ride is better.

We can easily award winners in categories here. The Polaris motor is simply amazing in the length of the rpm range that it works happily in. It has stronger brakes, better visibility, and is easier to get in and out of. It also has significantly more efficient and effective 4WD and more supple suspension while you are driving slow, technical sections. The RZR is a more all-around machine. It handles mud, woods and technical trail riding better with a shorter turning radius.

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