Our thoughts after a year's worth of riding
With the crack of sunlight blistering through the trees here in Northern Georgia it was a day we had hoped would elude us a little longer. This would be the part of our job that we dislike the most as an old friend would leave us for now. Yes, the 2011 Can-Am Commander 1000 XT we had kept to ourselves for over a year had to get back to its home at the dealer, but not before one last ride through the north Georgia Mountains near the Amicalola Falls State Park.
The Can-Am Commander had been the most anticipated side-by-side in our industry for a few years and up until 2010 no one thought it could even be possible with the economy headed south. But then the silhouette style yellow posters started showing up at events across the U.S. and from that moment on the anticipation built a head of steam. Some say a previously released photoshopped version of the Commander had been strategically enhanced by a well versed forum artist, but if you compare the poster issued by BRP/Can-am and the previouly released photo you’ll quickly see a striking resemblance. Does this mean Can-Am had already been testing the waters to see what readers might think? You can be the judge on that. The brainiacs at Can-Am had been stalling the full production of even a prototype so they could fully concentrate on the Spyder three-wheeled street cycle program. Its just like Can-Am to concentrate on one thing at a time because results have shown that this is when you get the best end result and like many other Commander owners we too were impressed.
Some of the first things we were excited about had to be the unique ergonomics and styling of this UTV, combined with its expected over-the-top power program. The styling cues were similar, in our opinion, to the Can-Am Renegade up front but on a much larger and stretched out scale. The bright yellow color on the machine was indicative of the “we bleed yellow” statement I had heard many times throughout the years from Can-Am. The projector beam type headlights really get the world lit up when riding at night and seemed to be resistant to scratching in the tight tree branch covered muddy trails here. Being 60 watts each, these four lights made seeing in the thick darkness a breeze.
Seating in the cab was super plush and the fact that you could take the seats out and use them as lawn chairs at camp was a very well thought out bit of the Commander’s design. You are indeed sitting higher than the competition, but it feels like you are down in the machine. The Commander’s gate-style shifter was well within a comfortable reach of the driver. Starting the machine with the push of a button, like a racecar, was also a unique approach and leans towards the racing heritage or Can-Am as a whole. With tilt steering on the Commander the range of driver seating profiles was covered for most anyone and the fact that the tilt on our Commander had a gauge pod that tilted with it meant that we could see all the impressive information at anytime during our ride.
Overall the comfort and fit of the cabin had all the things you would expect from this company and it was tough enough to take the abuse ride after ride during the year. Fortunately for us we never had the chance to test the ROPS certified cage, but it did take the abuse of tight, tree-lined trails really well.
As expected, the 85-horsepower mill of our Can-Am Commander 1000 XT was impressive, although as time wore on the throttle-by-wire didn’t seem to mesh well with the mind, the foot and the actual response we had anticipated. When this motor comes on, though, it really rips open the ground beneath the tires and away you go into pure bliss.
The power coming from the single overhead cam four-stroke mill is just what you would expect from a Rotax powerplant and if you think the engine looks similar to the new Can-Am Outlander 1000 then you are indeed correct. The biggest difference between these two motors is the redesigned cases on the Commander that allows for the longer stroked 976cc firebox. This also allowed for a little lower engine placement in the Commander. With a 54mm throttle body that is feeding twin Siemens VDO fuel injectors the power delivery is not the only bonus here as fuel economy is also mapped into the equation. However, don’t let the properly engineered fuel economy fool you, because if you’re a trail rager and not the occasional peddle slammer you will suffer the financial blows at the pump. But if trail riding is your goal this machine will provide many hours of fun on single tank.
The suspension on the over 1300-pound machine is very adequate for its intended purpose. We had loads of comfortable fun on rocky and rutted trails as well as smooth ranch roads, but expect the primary shock package to be set up for a broad general audience and don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll get race speed performance from these stockers right out of the box. The stock Commander suspension enabled our machine to handle very well under many different conditions such as tight turns and off-camber high-speed hill climbs and feeling in control ride after ride is worth its weight in gold.
One thing we would like to see changed on the Commander is the steering response. We think a quicker responding steering wheel would add to the overall handling package. We are fans of the trailing arm design, which is similar in design to both the Outlander and Renegade, but it feels more refined on the Commander. The trailing arms are lower on the pivot points and broader to help with strength as well as durability. The huge torsion bar across the rear of the machine helped in stabilizing the handling even more.
Our Can-Am Commander 1000 XT retails for $14,299 ($14,699 for a 2012 model), which is $1,500 more than the base Commander 1000. That extra money gets you a 4,000-pound winch, 26-inch Maxxis Bighorn 2.0 tires, 14-inch cast aluminum wheels, upgraded gauge with analog and tachometer and speedometer, heavy-duty front bumper, rugged bed rails, mud guards on the wheel wells, and premium leather-wrapped steering wheel.
So with almost a year of staring, looking under the hood, driving the trails and just simply enjoying the Can-Am Commander 1000 XT we would have to say it has been a very fun experience. The marketing team for this machine built up the hype and Can-Am delivered on it. The Commander has what every off-road enthusiast would need for every fun day of riding for years to come. Sure there were things that wore out such as the drive belt and the nets covering the driver/passenger that do not stand up well to constant outdoor use, but nothing lasts forever. Would we change anything? I think a more weatherproof lower box could help protect water-sensitive items being carried there and the frequent noises heard in the driveline should be addressed, but to be honest it’s a machine that is driven off-road with probably less than ideal conditions and to pick it apart may be unfair after a year of riding.
With that said I would definitely recommend this machine as a pick for anyone looking to buy quality, reliability and overall great performance. The Can-Am Commander 1000 XT delivers on a promise and that is the fact that Can-Am will not build anything that isn’t fun and doesn’t control the front end of the off-road segment they are building it for. Now go ride!!