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TESTED | CAN-AM MAVERICK X3 | First Impression | Tested

We go on a wild ride through Mexico with Can-AM's Baja blaster the Maverick X3.

Remember those Tamiya remote-control cars from the ’80s like the Frog and the Hornet?  The Can-Am Maverick X3 is basically one of those that you can sit in.  Just look at it.  It looks ultra-cool in photos and 100 times better in the flesh.

But we are on the Baja California course, just outside Ensenada, Mexico. Looks count for nothing here.  And if something does break we’ll end up in a Mexican hospital and, as our hosts remind us numerous times, you really don’t want that.

The side-by-side market is massive in the U.S. and the majority of the guys at the world launch have only had to travel a few hours south.  They find ways to complain about it until myself and another Aussie journo mention our near 20-hour journeys. This was pre-COVID.

Things become very real, very fast when someone points you down a random dirt road and tells you to go for it.  Not just for 20km … for the next 250km. Don’t forget, this is Mexico, home to the world’s deadliest cartel. But from the moment I hit the dirt I am hooked.

You just can’t help but light up all four wheels and start kicking up massive amounts of dirt and rocks into a massive dust storm behind you.  Almost as instantly you start tasting dirt as well.  No matter how you cover your mouth and nose there is just no way to stop it entering the cockpit.

But it’s not annoying … it makes the experience that little bit more real.  The best thing is as soon as I start driving I forget everything else in the world.  Instantly.  Why?  Well, it’s 50 per cent Can-Am’s doing and 50 per cent because driving on these tracks is madness.  The fact they race on them defies belief.  It really could only happen in Mexico.

Never before has a top speed of roughly 135km/h felt so fast.  Strange thing is that when you get there, you kinda stay there, learning the Maverick’s capabilities is as much about maintaining speed as it is about reading the track you are on.

The rear-mounted 154hp turbocharged and intercooled 900cc engine has very little lag, but you learn to use it to your advantage, almost like having a pistol trigger cocked. You keep it in that zone until you come over a crest (remembering most of the time you have no idea which way the track is about to turn) and, when you know you are right, you just plant your foot again.

The only downside is the noise the engine and exhaust makes. Even when equipped with the optional Yoshimura pipes, it just sounds like a snowmobile on dirt.  After a full day of driving the lack of noise is probably not such a bad thing and the truth is I did not care.

Side by sides are all about suspension travel and the travel on a Maverick X3, particularly in RS form, is like nothing I’ve felt.  The coolest thing is that you can see it all working and, in the case of the RS, that is 610mm at the rear.  Only once do I come close to bottoming out but with 381mm of ground clearance I’m pretty sure we only lightly scraped the bashplates.

In X3 RS form, the massive FOX 3.0 shocks, with remote reservoirs mounted just behind your head, soak up things that I still cannot believe.  But they also deliver a ride that will never shake a filling loose.  At one point sitting in the passenger seat on a seriously bumpy trail I almost fall asleep.

Even in the DS, with its lower-spec but equally impressive Fox 2.5 rear suspension (without the remote reservoirs) there’s 508mm of travel all round and 356mm of ground clearance.

The other area Can-am nailed is the power steering.  Your arms just don’t get tired.  It has what Can-Am calls Tri-Mode dynamic power steering system, offering three different levels of assistance but I can not tell the difference. That said, the terrain we cross in Baja has a habit of changing three times in 100 metres so it is just too hard to really tell.

The sheer abilities of the Maverick are extraordinary.  The only time its limits are tested is when braking too late into corners, and that is my fault.  The Maverick dares you to push it harder and harder, and the more you drive the more you learn its abilities are far in excess of yours.  But you are never far from danger.

Just as we are getting into a flow on day one of our tour we come around a long, sweeping corner with a 20m drop on the outside to find an X3 freshly launched onto its roof.  How the bloke didn’t go over the cliff is beyond me.

The Maverick was rolled back onto its feet and continued for another 150km to the overnight stop and through the next day as well.  Visually you could hardly tell it had flipped.  I’ve seen car and bike companies put their products on the line a few times but they are nothing compared to what the boys at Can-Am exposed themselves to out on the Baja California course.  For that alone they deserve an award.

Reliable, fast, absolutely go anywhere… if you could register one you would have the ultimate all-terrain vehicle and they would be everywhere.  I find myself wondering why the army doesn’t have a fleet.

Can-Am had three models for us to test but Australia gets only two, with the X3 DS priced at $33,149 and the X3 RS coming in at exactly $3k more ($36,149).  That extra $3k gives you a monster amount of additions, none of which you truly need but all of which you must 100 per cent have.  If you were in a regular DS and chanced across an RS you would feel the same as a Porsche Boxster driver does every time a 911 pulls alongside.  The fact that the RS comes in probably the coolest colour scheme (gold and Can-Am Red) that suits the massive cage-mounted FOX reservoirs makes it look like the performance upgrade bargain of the century.

Do I want one?  Yes.  The fact that I want one more than any other car or bike I sampled back in 2016, regardless of price, says something.  What would I choose? Well I’d recreate that Tamiya Frog I had when I was six.