Trails to anywhere By the staff of Dirt Wheels
Can-Am and Honda make two of the newest and most impressive 1000cc, normally aspirated, trail-focused UTVs on the market. It seemed only natural to get them together for a rigorous comparison to see which one has the goods for trails, and to find out where they excelled. Can-Am sent the all-new 64-inch 2020 Maverick Sport X xc that starts at a price of $21,199. It faced off with the $19,999 Honda Talon 1000 X. Of the two available two-seat Talons, the X is most comparable to the Sport X xc. Both are 1000cc twins with a 64-inch track width, and both have basically equal suspension travel numbers and Fox QS3 shocks.
Things only differentiate wildly with the engine and transmission packages. The Can-Am chooses a throaty 976cc V-twin with the iTC (Intelligent Throttle Control) electronic fuel-injection system and a traditional but still effective automatic continuously variable transmission. The Maverick claims 100 horsepower. This proven engine traces its roots to the very first performance Maverick when it was the most powerful engine Can-Am offered in a UTV.
The iTC operates electronically with no direct cable connection between the gas pedal and the EFI butterflies. The ECU smooths the throttle inputs for response that is less jumpy than cable-style throttle operation. With iTC, Can-Am provided the Maverick Sport with Eco and Sport power modes. Eco takes some fun away to improve fuel economy, and it allows smoother operation in low-traction, technical sections.
Honda’s Talon shunned everything in the Can-Am drivetrain. It is an EFI twin, but a UniCam parallel vertical twin with a claimed 104 horsepower. Honda’s 270-degree firing angle has a pleasant staccato sound, but still sounds more civilized than the Rotax V-twin. Honda coupled the engine to a six-speed dual-clutch transmission. It sounds great going through the gears, and there is no belt.
Select AT and it acts like a full automatic. Sport mode still shifts automatically, but lets the engine pull longer in each gear before shifting. Override either automatic mode using the paddle shifters. Manual mode isn’t completely “manual.” The DCT downshifts if the engine rpm drops too low, and it shifts to first gear if you stop. The Talon has direct engine braking like any gear-to-gear transmission. A sub-transmission provides low range.
Can-Am blessed the Sport X xc with a Smart-Lok differential. Shut it off for 2WD or toggle the 4×4 system. In Trail mode it senses traction and trades power between the front wheels. Select Trail Activ mode and the diff will feed power to the front wheel and grab more traction, or it will engage both at the same time. Finally, you can fully lock the front differential to have full-time, 100-percent 4×4 engagement.
The Talon has I4WD where Honda uses technology to avoid a locking front differential. I4WD is made possible by the installation of the Brake Traction Control System (BTCS). When one wheel is spinning, the BTCS slows the offending wheel and channels torque to the wheels that have traction. The brains of the system measure the force required to stop the spinning wheel, and it shuffles four times that amount of power to the wheel on the opposite side.
I4WD is complex, but it does a great job maintaining traction. You have the benefits of a locking differential, but the steering always feels normal. This system is claimed to be easy on the front differential, and you are allowed to select between 2WD and I4WD on the fly. Unlike automotive ABS off-road, EBD is completely transparent in use.
BABYING THE BUMPS
For the most part, the two machines are similar in front suspension, though they use different terminology. Can-Am says “A-arm” and Honda “double wishbone.” Can-Am has strong, high-clearance A-arms in the front and rear for 14.75 inches of wheel travel front and rear with 2.5-inch QS3 shocks. They are compression- and preload-adjustable coil-over piggyback reservoir shocks that soak up trail abuse. Progressive-rate shock springs are standard, and the front and rear of the Can-Am have sway bars installed to aid stability.
The 1000X double-wishbone front suspension (not arched arms) uses Fox Podium 2.0 QS3 shocks with Quick Switch three-position damping adjustment for 14.6 inches of travel. The X has 15 inches of rear-wheel travel using a traditional three-link rear suspension with high-clearance trailing arms.
Can-Am chose 14-inch beadlock wheels with 29-inch-tall Maxxis Big Horn 2.0 tires, and they help the suspension. Honda went for 15-inch non-beadlock wheels with 28-inch Maxxis tires that are a Honda exclusive. They add a lot of predictability to the chassis and slide without catching, but they don’t do much for the suspension.
A comfortable cockpit is vital, and for drivers of average stature, both of these are quite nice. The Sport’s seats are a bit more upright, and it has less legroom than the Talon. Most rated the Talon as a more hospitable interior, but the difference was not great. The Honda has better cup holders, but the Can-Am has half doors, while the Honda has quarter doors with nets. The Can-Am has profiled cage tubing, so it can accept a fully closed cab for extreme weather.
Both machines have much appreciated in-cab storage. The Can-Am gauge is a bit easier to read at speed. Both steering wheels are tilt-adjustable, and both have gated shifters that work well. Our Honda wasn’t instantly engaged when we went to low range. Both machines have retractable three-point belts, but there are pass-through openings in seat backs for four- or five-point harness-type seat belts.
The Sport X xc was developed with tight trees and technical trails in mind with a relatively short 90.6-inch wheelbase. That is a whopping 11 inches shorter than a Maverick X3. Oddly enough, the Talon 1000X has a wheelbase 3 inches shorter than the Maverick Sport, but the Honda is almost 2 inches longer overall. That gives the Talon a sleek, sporty profile, while the front of the Can-Am is abbreviated. Basically, like the difference between a greyhound and a bulldog, but that difference gives the Maverick Sport great approach and departure angles. Add in more than 2 inches of ground clearance and those high-clearance, arched suspension arms, and you can see why the Maverick Sport is a serious, tight trail car.
A Talon X is no slouch on the trail. It is battle-ready, but the high-clearance on the Sport literally allowed us greater line choice threading through rocks and ruts. It also pushed deeper into a route with drifted snow before getting bogged down. One part of an in-and-out route required see-sawing through tight brush going down and coming back up. Not fluffy brush, but spring steel bushes that will scratch and rip body parts off. The Can-Am thrived and felt like it was 10 inches shorter.
There is a tipping point, though. The Can-Am feels just as short and hyper-responsive when the trails open up. This is California, after all, and our sections of tight, twisty trail are separated by faster and often rougher sections. Sections where ground clearance and snappy steering are not required and can be a handicap at times. Both cars do fine in our typical western terrain, but in the open, the Honda is more at home. The seating position and cockpit layout make it feel like it wants to roll fast, and you can toss it into rutted turns with less concentration than you would the Can-Am.
As a blanket statement, the Can-Am suspension is smoother with more comfort for the driver and passenger in all situations. Cab comfort is high with the Talon, but suspension comfort is harder to find. One day of our testing was over extremely steep, rocky and rutty terrain. Many of us equate long-travel suspension with high speed and whoops, but added travel makes a car more reactive to rocks and slow-speed obstacles, and that shows up in passenger comfort. Both of these cars are firm and bouncy over abrupt rocks. This is especially true of the Talon. On the positive side, you can push the Talon hard—really hard—and the car stays composed. Repeated impacts like deep whoops eventually have the Can-Am kicking up its heels, but the Talon simply gets with the program.
Fox QS3 shocks have adjustable spring preload and three compression settings. For choppy trails we kept the shocks set to one—the lightest setting. For more aggressive driving we’d go up to number two, or at times just bumping up the rear shocks to setting number two. The Can-Am has 2.5-inch shocks, but the Honda has 2.0-inch shocks.
DOWN AND DIRTY
When it came to measuring the difference between the two machines, the overall handling was a significant difference, but the engine and transmission performance made an even greater difference. Some UTV fans have strong opinions about CVT belt-motivated drive systems, either pro or con, and it is unlikely anything we say will sway them. The Talon 6-speed DCT transmission performs well. It has a warning light for excessive clutch temp, but we never saw it. We have a lot of hard time on our Talon 1000X, and the transmission and clutches are still going strong, but no matter how smooth you attempt to drive, there is constant drivetrain snatch at a level that rocks your head forward and back.
While there is always the risk of tearing up the Maverick’s CVT belt, we didn’t experience even a hint of belt trouble, and our testing included ramming the Sport through snow drifts until it got stuck, then stuffing it into reverse before it dug in, then pounding back into the drifts. No problems at all. No matter the pace, the CVT engages smoothly with no odd surges of hiccups. There are many times that the Honda is not at the optimum rpm for the situation, but you never feel that with the CVT. At higher speeds the Talon feels like it is happier than the Can-Am.
At low speeds the Can-Am is happy, and the low range is quite low, so it feels ready and able for ugly terrain. It tops out at 30 mph in low range. For one narrow trail with steep climbs and descents joined by straight sections, we had to shift into low for the climbs, then stop and go back to high for the descents and straight bits. The Talon does a shade over 50 mph in low! We could drive the whole trail in low with no problem. Both get the job done very well, but the transmission, mode selection and possible override are constantly there to be considered with the Talon, but with the Maverick, you simply drive, and the CVT requires no thought except for when and where you engage low range.
TROPHY OR THE TRAILER
At an identical price, the Can-Am would have an edge in this comparison. The price difference is only $200, and for the extra money you do get beadlock rims, and those are high value for trail use. You also have 2.5-inch shocks compared to 2.0 shocks, and the Can-Am suspension’s ride quality is more comfortable. Both are great machines, but the CVT is more effortless to drive yet just as sporty as the Talon’s DCT. Most favored the Honda interior, but both are comfortable and well-appointed. Neither offer spacious legroom. Drivers over 6 feet tall were able to drive both cars, but they would have liked more room. Even though the feel of the engines and way the transmissions operate are very different, the actual performance is quite comparable. Can-Am’s V-twin and CVT are energetic but smooth and responsive. Honda’s Talon is harder to drive smoothly. We have learned to left-foot the brake when backing the machine up. Otherwise, it can lunge, and we found we needed care backing it off the trailer. On the trail the Honda feels a bit more potent at higher speeds. In fact, everything about the Talon says “race,” even though it is trail oriented. It isn’t that much quicker anywhere; it is just a feeling. Everything about the Can-Am feels trail-ready.
It should be clear, if you are willing to sacrifice some ride quality to get a machine that craves fast cornering and aggressive driving, the Honda is for you. The faster the route and the smoother the terrain, the happier it is. If things are tougher, the Can-Am thrives. It rarely barks the undercarriage on the trail, and the high clearance allows more freedom of line choice without penalty. It all comes down to your personal definition of “trail.” Both are great trail rigs, yet we wouldn’t turn down a day in the dunes with either machine. Is a “trail” rough and technical or faster and flowing to you. Choose your weapon accordingly. Go to www.can-am.brp.com or www.powersports.honda.com to check out their off-road line-ups.
SPECS 2020 CAN-AM MAVERICK SPORT X XC VS. HONDA TALON 1000X
Engine V-twin, OHC, liquid-cooled, 4-stroke; Liquid-cooled, four-stroke, four-valve, Unicam parallel-twin
Displacement 976cc; 999cc
Fuel system EFI
Fuel capacity 10 gal., 7.3 gal.
Transmission Automatic CVT, 6-speed dual-clutch transmission with P/R/N/H/L
Final drive Shaft
Front Dual A-arms w/ 14.75”; Double wishbone/14.6”
Rear Dual A-arms w/ 14.75”;3-link trailing arm/15.1”
Front Dual hydraulic discs
Rear Dual hydraulic discs
Front 29×9-14; 28×9-15
Rear 29×11-14; 28×11-15
Length/width/height 122”/64”/74.25”; 123.9”/64.0”/75.3”
Ground clearance 15.0”; 12.7”
Wheelbase 90.6”; 87.6”
Curb weight 1,428 lb.; 1,490 lb. (1,492 lb. CA) wet
Payload capacity N/A lb.
Cargo bed capacity 300 lb.; 299 lb.
Towing capacity 1500 lb.; N/A
Colors Triple Black, Hyper Silver & Can-Am Red (one scheme); Red, blue
Price $20,199; $19,999