Sunday, October 24, 2010

Can-Am Commander Shakedown Run at Sand Mountain

By Bob Balunda, Factory UTV

After patiently waiting months for delivery of our Can-Am Commander 1000 XT, we finally got the call it was in! Our good friend Denny Robinson took delivery of a 1000 XT one day earlier so we loaded our two brand spanking new 1000’s onto our flatbed trailer and headed for Sand Mountain Nevada for a shake down cruise. Sand Mountain is located in the Nevada high desert east of Fallon on Highway 50, infamously referred to as “The Loneliest Road in America”. A great testing ground for UTV’s, Sand Mountain’s 600 ft tall Comp Hill is as tough a UTV performance test as can be found. The soft sand of its tall steep face rejects climbing attempts from all but the most powerful of UTV’s, while the surrounding deserts provide miles of washes, technical sections and fast fire roads.
We got up bright and early to gorgeous blue skies, unloaded the UTV’s and headed out for a preliminary feeling out of what these new machines were all about.  The comfort level of the stock seating is hands down the best in the business and Denny and I both commented that the XT’s were all day comfortable right out of the box. The cockpit more closely resembles a trophy truck than it does the other OEM UTV’s and performance wise Can-Am has raised the bar to another level as these 976cc fuel injected Rotax V-twins flat get with the program. Although 5 point restraint systems are usually our first mod with any UTV, we hadn’t had time yet to fabricate a restraint bar, so we rode with the stock seat belts on this trip and they served their purpose. We loved the innovative side netting attachment setup on the XT, simply grab the buckle and snap it into place. A well thought out passenger grab handle located on the center console makes you wonder how we got this far into UTV development before someone thought of it. We have absolutely no complaints with how BRP laid out the controls, everything worked and felt flawless. Ergonomics, fit and finish are simply second to none in the UTV industry.
Once out in the dunes, we realized we needed to air down the stock tires to get any type of reasonable traction. In fact our first attempts at climbing the face of comp hill left us about half way up before we had to turn back a bit embarrassed. Not to worry, with the tires all set at 5 psi, we were smoking modified long travel RZRs with paddle tires on them. Make no mistake about it, there is a new sheriff in UTV land. Grinning ear to ear, we raced round and round Nascar style in Sand Mountain’s huge Superbowl having as much fun as I’ve ever had in any UTV stock or modified. Anywhere we pointed the XT it went without complaint, which is a bit different than what we’ve become accustomed to with stock UTV’s in the sand. The machines do feel a bit top heavy or “tippy”, but with a set of 2 inch wheel spacers that tippy feel was mostly eliminated. The big 1000 XTs surprised us with their duning ability as waiting around for the UTV’s to catch up is simply no longer an issue. There can be little doubt with long travel suspension, paddle tires and exhaust these 1000 Can-Am’s are going to be very, very popular with the duning crowd.
Out in the desert the Can-Am’s were even more impressive. Even with the less than stellar stock XT suspension, we were able to charge hard across the desert landscape where only the bigger whoops and g-outs made us back off the throttle. Its civil manners were excellent as well when we headed towards the mountain tops on sight seeing adventures. In 4wd Sport mode the machine tracked through high speed washes like it was on rails as we chased each other relentlessly. When the pace picked up we both felt the big Commander felt a bit vague in the handling department in 2wd as the front end hunted and pecked around for where it wanted to go. The good news is that unlike a lot of other UTVs, the XTs seemed as quick in 4wd as they do 2wd. Steering with the rear end in 2wd Sport mode on smooth slick fire roads is frankly more fun than a person should be allowed to have, as the Rotax power and quick steering ratio made long power slides effortless.  Following Denny around can often lead to zany adventure and/or a throwing up of the hands simply questioning WHY? and this trip proved no different.  He found some seriously technical sections that put the 2 XTs through the ringer and the Commanders handled every obstacle we could find with ease. Engine braking is simply phenomenal, we’ve never tested a CVT that worked better. Down the steepest of descents the engine braking instinctively slowed the big XT’s with minimum or no brake pedal required, in a word, outstanding. The steering got a bit stiff in the big rocks, but nothing more than a little extra effort was required. While we didn’t get into any muddy conditions, the XTs both preformed admirably in 4wd low range, no complaints here. Without question the overall performance, ride comfort and ample storage of the two rear beds send the Commanders directly to the head of the UTV adventure touring class.
While our initial impressions of the XTs were excellent, all is not perfect in Commander land. The noise level of the running gear when speeds exceed 40mph is a bit excessive and sent us searching through our trailers for ear plugs and/or trading our shortie helmets for full face helmets that covered the ears. On our first high speed rip down a long straight fire road, Denny actually pulled over because he thought something was wrong. I told him mine was just as loud and subsequently we spoke to a Can-Am Renegade rider who confirmed the Can-Ams had a very loud running gear. We’ll be looking into sound deadening modifications once we get it in the shop and start tearing into it.  Another issue we aren’t too excited about is the clunk that can be felt whenever you change gears and step on the gas. We’ve been told this is a normal trait for Can-Ams and frankly after a couple days it seemed a minor annoyance we’ll just learn to live with. Heat is also an issue as outside temperature on our desert ride approached 90 degrees; we could really feel the engine heat in the slow technical sections of trail. Sticking a cup of cold chocolate milk in one of the factory cup holders would net you a cup of hot chocolate in no time. Again once we get the Can-Am into the Factory UTV service bay we’ll be looking at ways to mitigate the heat issue through the use of heat insulation material and header wrap.
Our overall first impression of the new Commander 1000 can be summed up in one word and that word is WOW!  There is no question in our mind that Can-Am has raised the bar in just about every area of UTV performance, comfort and style. While those who frequent 50 inch trail limits will still be happy with the Polaris RZR, all others should take a serious look at Can-Am’s lineup. As an aftermarket UTV parts manufacturer we’re pretty excited about the platform Can-Am has provided us and rest assured Factory UTV is hard at work on UHMW undercarriage protection, 5 point restraint systems, long travel suspension and the list goes on...
We predict Can-Am has a winner on its hands that will force the other OEM’s back to the drawing board. That’s the natural progression of the motor sports industry and we the buying public are the beneficiaries of that progress. Very nice first effort Can-Am, now have you got any recommendations for wiping these smiles off our faces?

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