2011 Can-Am Commander 1000 XT Review 0

Timing is everything. Just a few months ago, Can-Am announced that, with its then-new Commanders 800 and 1000, it had the fastest, most powerful UTVs on the planet. In its videos the Canadian manufacturer drove home this claim with drag races and sled (weight) pulls, showing both its 1000 and 800 side-by-sides destroying all contenders, including the previously fastest, pure-performance Polaris RZR 800.

Top speed is around 70 mph, which is plenty fast for most off-road riding situations.

Top speed is around 70 mph, which is plenty fast for most off-road riding situations.

Those videos are still on Can-Am’s website, but, with the more recent advent of Polaris’ new pure-performance, lightning-fast and great-handling RZR XP 900, now they may be old news, at least according to Polaris, our preliminary tests, and unsanctioned drag races.

Bad timing on Can-Am’s part? Probably. Has Can-Am hung its head in shame? Nope. While the RZRs are pure-performance UTVs, (only minimal cargo room and much lighter overall weight), the Commanders are marketed as sport/utility machines. And in that category, they’re probably still on top for performance.

For a couple years, Can-Am had been dropping hints about its upcoming side-by-side, and the machine does indeed live up to most of its claims. It’s got a very strong motor, handles great and has several thoughtful – and some unique – features.

Between the 800 and 1000, there are five models. The 1000 comes in three versions: base model ($12,799) with X package ($14,699) or XT package ($14,299). The 800 comes in only the base model ($11,699) and XT ($13,199). With the X package you get a major shock upgrade, sway bar, beefier tires, black/yellow bodywork, and other cosmetic goodies. The XT goes with the stock shocks, but adds to the X package mudguards, two different wheel upgrade choices, bodywork color choice of red, yellow, or camo, and a winch (your off-road pals will be happy to have you along on any ride where some camping gear needs schlepping or, for that matter, when they feel there’s a good chance of getting hopelessly stuck).

On a sunny, warm afternoon at the Oregon Dunes, we scored from DuneGuide.com a 1000 XT set up with ATV sand tires, and ripped up the dunes for several hours. Powering all the 1000s is an identical 976cc, V-Twin, liquid-cooled, SOHC, 8-valve, four-stroke with EFI. The 800 has the same motor with a 13.5mm shorter stroke, hinting at less torque. That’s the only significant design difference between the 800 and 1000.

Can-Am claims 85 horses for the 1000, compared to Polaris’ claim of 85-90 for its 900, and that machine is 300 pounds lighter than the Can-Am. If you can believe the speedo readings – Polaris says theirs exactly matches a GPS – the Polaris top out around 75 mph, and the Can-Am 70 mph.

We spent several hours on a Commander 1000 XT and had a blast. Of the three off-road areas at the Oregon Dunes, Winchester Bay (here) has the most varied and challenging terrain.

We spent several hours on a Commander 1000 XT and had a blast. Of the three off-road areas at the Oregon Dunes, Winchester Bay (here) has the most varied and challenging terrain.

A UTV is a machine the owner is likely to take to some pretty remote places and on longer trips, and the Can-Am gets 18.6 mpg, the best of any UTV according to manufacturer claims. Unique to Can-Am, every Commander comes with three different ignition keys, each allowing a different level of performance – a feature that can take some of the pressure off when letting someone else drive your machine.

The V-Twin 1000 produces a healthy rumble at idle and, screaming, still meets the strictest decibel requirements, like at the Oregon Dunes. At the Winchester Bay area the 1000 rockets up the steepest and longest hills (which are a little steeper than Oldsmobile at Glamis, for example), and revs out very hard. Can-Am’s quads, also powered by Austrian Rotax motors, pack a punch, and its UTVs are no different. Another unique feature on the Commander is Can-Am’s Intelligent Throttle Control System. When the driver smacks whoops or other really rough terrain, the right foot can tend to bounce on and off the throttle. The ITC senses this and smoothes out the input to the fuel injectors. Pretty slick.

As with most UTVs, these Commanders come with a CVT (continuously variable, belt-drive transmission). The adjustment weights in Can-Am’s CVT are set up for a strong, rather than sedate launch. Many CVTs have built-in automatic engine compression braking and the Can-Am’s is set up for a less-dramatic effect and therefore more aggressive driving. A right-hand lever controls the drive positions: high, low, neutral and park. The Can-Am has selectable 2WD or 4WD. Be ready to get a workout in 4WD, though, because there the steering gets pretty stiff. Two-wheel-drive isn’t so bad, but we’d sure enjoy power steering, which will eventually makes its way onto every UTV, as is the trend with 4WD quads.

The Can-Am is fast, but it’s also a very capable workhorse. The cargo area in back, which Can-Am says it’s the biggest in the industry, will carry 600 pounds and is designed with two levels, the bottom of which is watertight. Tow rating is 1500 pounds. Note that these limits are typically set by corporate lawyers and are based more on braking power and stability concerns. Actual pulling power is probably higher. Unique to the Can-Ams, no tools are required to adjust the driver’s seat. And, Can-Am takes it a step further by allowing, via collapsible legs, both seats to be used outside the vehicle. The no-tools steering wheel can be tilted up to 30 degrees, making entry and exit a little easier. Clearly, Can-Am put a lot of thought into these machines.

Because of the extra weight, these UTVs don’t feel quite as nimble as the RZRs, but they’re still a cut above any of the other UTVs for handling. Some UTVs will tend to push (or wash out) in turns, but the Commanders carve a precise turn. Even with the higher-traction sand tires, it’s still possible to pull off powerslides in the sand and, as demonstrated in Can-Am’s own videos, also on hardpack.

Can-Am claims a close steering ratio (steering rotation lock to lock), but for aggressive driving, we’d like it tighter still. On a bike or quad, it doesn’t take much input to quickly countersteer in a turn to correct for a powerslide. But on UTVs, it’s hard to crank the steering wheel back-and-forth quickly enough. And, on a UTV without power steering, you don’t want to get a thumb or finger inside the spokes of the steering wheel. In reverse and at even a crawl, a rut can catch a tire and whip the steering wheel at the speed of light. The aftermarket does offer power steering kits and close-ratio steering boxes for UTVs.

But you don’t have to go to the aftermarket to get the Fox Racing HPG piggyback, fully adjustable (dual-speed compression, rebound and preload) shocks that come with the X package. Compared to the stock shocks (not piggyback, adjustable for only preload) the Fox suspension offers noticeably better performance, according to reports. They allow the 1300-pound beast to actually skip over sand whoops without too much fanfare. But even the stock shocks do a good job of smoothing out landings, even sideways landings, from four- or five-foot high jumps, and allow the base model and XT to stay flat in aggressive turns. Yet, they still offer a reasonably plush ride. The bucket seats also provide a comfortable ride while providing plenty of support.

UTVs have been around for several years and the early units were decidedly non-sporty. They could carry all kinds of stuff, but very slowly. Yamaha’s Rhino, which can also work hard, raised the bar a little by adding some performance to the equation, and that machine quickly became Yamaha’s best-selling ATV – including all its quads.

Now, with its Commander side-by-sides, Can-Am has raised the bar quite a bit higher. They’ve demonstrated that a sport/utility UTV can offer a high-enough level of performance to satisfy even a really aggressive driver, while at the same time carrying a surprising amount of whatever.

There are three basic configurations of the Commanders. Left to right: X, base model, and XT. We tested the XT.

There are three basic configurations of the Commanders. Left to right: X, base model, and XT. We tested the XT.


Multi-function Gauge: Speedometer, tachometer, odometer, trip and hour meters, fuel, gear position, sport mode, seat belt and 4×4 indicator, diagnostics, clock, auto shut off
Anti-Theft: D.E.S.S. (Digital Encoded Security System)
Electrical: Prewired for winch
Lighting: (4) 60-watt projectors plus tail lights/brake light
DC Outlet: Lighter type in console, standard connector in the back (15A)
Color: Yellow/Black
Basic Warranty: 6 months limited factory warranty
Extended Warranty: B.E.S.T. available from 6 to 18 months
MSRP: $14.699

2011 Can-Am Commander 1000 Specs:

Engine: 976cc, V-twin, liquid-cooled, 8-valve, SOHC four-stroke
Fuel System: EFI and 54mm Throttle Body, 2 Siemens VDO injectors
Starting System: Electric
Transmission: CVT, sub-transmission with high, low, park, neutral & reverse, plus engine braking
Drive Train: Selectable 2WD/4WD shaft driven with Visco-Lok front differential
Frame Cage: 2-inch diameter, high-strength steel, ROPS-approved
Front Suspension: Double A-arm with dive-control geometry / Motion Control shocks and 10 in. travel
Rear Suspension: Torsional Trailing arm Independent (TTI) with external sway bar / Motion Control shocks and 10 in. travel
Front Brake: Dual 214 mm ventilated disc brakes with hydraulic twin-piston calipers
Rear Brake: Single 214 mm ventilated disc brake with hydraulic twin-piston caliper
Tires/Front: Carlisle Black Rock 27×9-12 in
Tires/Rear: Carlisle Black Rock 27×11-12 in
Wheels: Steel
L x W x H: 118.3 x 58.6 x 72 in
Wheelbase: 75.8 in
Ground Clearance: 11 in
Dry Weight: 1,295 lbs
Towing Capacity: 1,500 lbs
Cargo Box Capacity: Total: 600 lbs, (Upper 400 lbs, Lower: 200 lbs)
Glove Box Volume: 4.5 gal
Under Driver Seat Volume: 3.5 gal
Fuel Capacity: 10 gal

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