–The best in the business go head to head —By the staff of Dirt Wheels.
Beginning with the legendary RZR XP 1000, Polaris has been at the top of the sport performance ladder for the last four years. The XP1K opened up a new era of UTV improvements—an era that included the introduction of the Can-Am Turbo, the first Turbo-inducted engine to be produced in a stock machine for the UTV market. Polaris wasn’t far behind when they introduced their own turbo-inducted engine in an XP 1000 chassis. Horsepower numbers grew over the Can-Am Maverick 1000 Turbo, and since the Maverick still couldn’t keep up with the RZR’s handling before the drop of the 2016 XP Turbo, Can-Am set their sights on building an all-new powerhouse performance machine, the X3.
SETTING THE STAGE
The 2017 Maverick X3 shocked the industry when it was released with 20 inches of front- and rear-wheel travel and a triple-cylinder four-stroke engine that boasts 154-horsepower. On top of that, they also introduced the X3 X rs that is 72 inches wide, while the X3 X ds and XP Turbo are only 64 inches wide. Polaris couldn’t let Can-Am take all the glory, so they upped the power output of their parallel twin-cylinder four-stroke engine to 168 horsepower. They also quickened the steering, strengthened the 18-inch travel rear suspension and added a few more needed improvements to keep up with the brand-new Maverick. We decided to test the 2017 Polaris RZR XP Turbo against the Can-Am Maverick X3 X ds due to their similar width, suspension and price point. To truly test these machines, we took them out to multiple types of terrain, including dunes, desert, rocky trails and anything that would give these powerhouse performance machines a run for their money.
PUTTING DOWN POWER
There are many elements to supplying power to the tires of a UTV. You start with the engine, move to the transmission and end with the final drive system. The Polaris XP Turbo has a turbo-inducted, 925cc, DOHC, parallel twin-cylinder engine that is liquid-cooled and electronically fuel-injected. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) helps push 168 horsepower to the On-Demand all-wheel-drive system.
The Can-Am Maverick X3 holds a 900cc, turbo-inducted, triple-cylinder, four-stroke engine that is liquid-cooled and electronically fuel-injected. The X3 also utilizes a CV-style transmission that is paired with a 4×4 system that Can-Am calls their Visco-Lok X, which has an automatically locking front differential (in theory) just like the XP Turbo.
We drag-raced these powermonger turbo UTVs in the sand dunes and in the desert. We took them rock crawling, swimming in mud and up tricky hill-climbs. Each vehicle provided different results, and the choice between which engine and drive system is better couldn’t be more unclear at times. The Can-Am can’t crawl over big boulders. The front differential doesn’t work as well as the Polaris’. We would get hung up on rocks with the X3, push the skinny pedal and struggle to get over the obstacles. We ended up hitting things faster than we normally would to let the Can-Am bounce over. The XP Turbo would cruise right through the same sections where the Maverick struggled without spinning tires as much. The same goes for climbing hills. The RZR power is strong on the bottom end of the power range and grew stronger through the midrange with the signature high-rpm turbo rush before it signs off. This fact made it easier to ascend mountains because it was in the right range of power at all times. The X3 likes to be revved up higher, like most triple-cylinder engines do, to get the most out of their power.
The X3 doesn’t lose the power battle. When drag racing in the sand, the X3 stayed right with the XP Turbo and even pulled ahead at the end of the range. When you have perfect traction conditions, the Can-Am mill is easier to manage. When cornering, the power output isn’t as abrupt, so you could play with the throttle and ultimately corner better with power alone compared to the RZR. The X3 is in its happy place when it is going fast. The engine is in the right power range where it likes to breathe fire at the mid to top end of the rpm range.
WORKING THE SUSPENSION
The Polaris RZR XP Turbo matched the biggest suspension-travel numbers in the sport performance UTV market until the Can-Am Maverick X3 stepped in. The XP Turbo utilizes Fox shocks with compression adjustment. The front suspension provides 16 inches of travel with a dual-A-arm design. The rear has a trailing-arm design that offers what was class-leading in 2016, but is a humble 18 inches of wheel travel for 2017. Can-Am didn’t mess around when designing the suspension for their machine. The front end gives the machine 20 inches of suspension travel out of a dual-A-arm design while also providing 20 inches of rear travel through a trailing-arm design. The Fox shocks on the X3 are also more adjustable than the ones on the Polaris, both compression and rebound adjusters.
From the start, you can tell that the Can-Am is the clear winner over high-speed sections. A lot of that performance edge isn’t only due to the amount of suspension travel the machine has, but the fact that it has a lower center of gravity and a longer wheelbase than the RZR by 12 inches. The lower center of gravity allows the X3 to feel more planted in high-speed driving and with less body roll while cornering. Whoop sections are no sweat for the Maverick, and the Polaris handles them quite well, but the X3 provides more confidence and a smoother ride on both single impacts and long stretches of whoops.
The RZR isn’t the best at cornering, either. The machine sits taller than the Can-Am and has a higher center of gravity. The X3 has body roll, but you feel more pronounced body roll in the RZR, and it wants to lean far more. The Polaris beats the Maverick in choppy and rocky terrain. The shocks soak up smaller chop at slow speeds with ease and don’t toss you around like the X ds does. If you rock crawl or drive in the woods and tight trails, the XP Turbo is a clear winner with the 90-inch wheelbase and smoother suspension at slower speeds.
STAYING IN CONTROL
There is a clear-cut winner in the steering department. Can-Am has a great steering-stem feel and choice of three levels of electric assist, but we preferred the high setting. Polaris upgraded the 2017 Turbo’s steering from a two-turn steering rack to a 1 1/2-turn steering rack, but it pushes where the X3 grabs in turns. The steering wheel is large, and while it can tilt like the Can-Am’s, it’s positioned more awkwardly. The Polaris steering column also has some play in it that the X3 doesn’t have. The steering is smoother through slow, technical terrain. This helped the machine corner and turn a lot better and easier with less input from the driver
The biggest issue we have come across with this turbo shootout is that the machines differ in what they are built for. The Can-Am excels in the high-speed department. And while the RZR does fast well, it is more of a multipurpose UTV. The seating position in the X3 leaves you more reclined, and it provides more legroom for taller riders, but that same comfort amplifies the blind area in front of and below the front of the car as you crest hills. The steering wheel is smaller and more comfortable than the RZR’s. The shifter is gated and easy to manipulate.
When driving the Can-Am you feel more immersed in the machine, the seat height is low and the wrapped steering wheel feels like it is an extension of your arms. We felt a lot more of the terrain through the Maverick’s steering system than we do the XP Turbos. The Polaris features an ordinary-looking cockpit in comparison to the X3’s, but it’s comfortable and everything is easy to reach. The seats are more upright and comfortable in the Polaris, but the base of the seats aren’t tight and the seats flex a lot. The RZR has fewer blind spots than the X3 does.
Each of these machines was well made and thoroughly thought out in terms of design. The Polaris has amore powerful engine; however, that hinders its fuel consumption. The Can-Am has an eco mode that cuts down on the power output to save fuel. Even with the sport mode engaged, the X3 still sucks down less fuel than the RZR. Either that or the extra gallon that the X3’s 10.5-gallon tank holds makes us feel that way.
A downside of the Can-Am X3 is that it is more difficult to wash, service and work on than the RZR. The Polaris is a more simplified machine while the X3 is more radically shaped and designed, which in turn makes it a bit more difficult to turn wrenches on. Strangely, the machine provides a lot of body noise while driving. On the up side of things, the Maverick does have a stronger roll cage than the RZR.
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.
The Can-Am excels at higher speeds. It does handle rock crawling, but the power is softer at crawling speeds, so you end up ramming the machine through rough sections rather than driving them. The front differential lacks a lot for hill climbing and rock crawling as well. Oddly enough, the Can-Am front wheels throw almost as much roost in the dunes as the rear wheels do, but when you hit roads or fast, rough terrain, the Can-Am is at another level. It handles turns with less effort and less thought on the part of the driver. If you want a high-speed, corner-carving monster, the Can-Am is the way to go, but if you plan to ride every type of terrain, you’ll find that the Polaris is the better option.
Drivers in the market for a cutting-edge, turbocharged UTV will weigh the performance at speed in fast, open terrain or in the dunes highly. There are distinct areas where the RZR XP Turbo surpasses the X3. Factor in the Can-Am X3’s suspension excellence, cockpit comfort and the higher level of standard equipment for the same price and you have a new king of the class.