First Drive: The Can-AM Maverick R ATV Is Too Quick and Ferocious for Its Personal Good
Chasing ribbons of dust across the Nevada desert, I glance down at the Can-Am Maverick R’s gauges and catch a glimpse of 100 mph on the speedometer. My mind balks. The roar of wind around my helmet supports the fact that I’m running triple-digit speeds, but other than that, the R’s radical redesign entirely masks the race pace this new side-by-side (SxS) can achieve.
Can-Am just recently announced the Maverick R, but images had already “leaked” online beforehand and revealed an almost alien-style suspension system that’s called a “finger knuckle” in industry parlance. Now, though, we know that the 2024 Maverick R also boasts a class-best 240 hp and, finally, a dual-clutch transmission (DCT) to replace the continuously variable transmission (CVT) that’s been standard with the segment. To prove the new Maverick’s bonafides, Can-Am invited me to experience firsthand over 170 miles of top-speed testing between Hawthorne and Dayton, Nev., including some of the official Vegas to Reno racecourse.
Those front control arms might look like something from outer space but they serve a serious engineering purpose, allowing for 25 and 26 inches of suspension travel at the front and rear, respectively. The critical detail here is that using a finger knuckle above the tire significantly reduces torque on the ball joints and steering arms, two common failure points that SxS owners know all too well. Can-Am claims the finger knuckle drops torque on the front upper ball joint by 85 percent and allows for shock dampers to now mount directly to the lower arm.
The styling alone will set Can-Am apart from the competition—the Polaris RZR, in particular—but I had earlier questioned whether real-world performance could possibly match the radical aesthetic. On the first graded road, all that power gets the 2,200-pound two-seater up to speed in what seems like the blink of an eye. But it feels a bit squirrelly until I play with the electric power steering settings to reduce assist as much as possible. Then, on some early small whoops, I bottom out hard—which prompts me to set the Fox Live Valve dampers to Sport+ mode.
As the desert roads open up, we transition to legit rally racing speeds and I find a rhythm, setting my front wheels into light understeer, then hammering the throttle to send the rear tires skittering out into easily controlled drifts. I notice that I can even use the impressive throttle modulation and suspension to almost float over rougher road sections by mashing the brakes and then effectively launching with another quick stab at the gas.
For most of the day, I stay in Sport+ to reduce body roll and nosedive while braking hard, but I also fiddle with the new DCT. The Auto function works just about perfectly, delivering snappy shifts and staying right in the peppy little three-cylinder engine’s lofty rev range, so I typically only use the downshift paddle to drop a gear at corner entry or when I spot a steep climb coming up.
And the new DCT even allows for shifting from 4-High to 4-Low on the fly, something that I’ve never seen on any car, truck, or SxS before. Meanwhile, it also offers the option to keep the engine at lower revs in Comfort mode, which makes the Maverick R much more tame and civilized than counterparts with the typical roar and whine of CVT-based drivetrains. New double-bonded bushings further reduce the standard creaks and squeaks that most SxS owners just learned to live with in the past.
Throughout the 170-plus miles at speed, the front finger knuckles regularly pop up into view above the hood—a fun reminder from the Can-Am design team. But we never find any real whoop sections or hardcore rock crawling to truly test the suspension. I probably only catch air a couple of times, but would hazard to predict that the new V-shaped chassis’ additional clearance and optional rock rails can take on just about any challenge with ease.
Two hard days ripping over rocky desert in the Maverick R also prove the value of the 32-inch Tenacity XNR tires that Can-Am developed with ITP to handle all those inevitable high-speed impacts. The process reminds me of the Bugatti Chiron, which required a partnership with Michelin to create tires that could handle so much power and speed without delaminating or popping. Technically, Can-Am claims a top speed of 97 mph, but I hit more than that regularly during my Maverick R drive sessions. Real concern pops into my mind about the responsibility of selling something this fast to the general public—helmets and HANS devices, which most riders don’t use anyway, can only do so much if anything goes wrong at top speed in a lightweight, open vehicle.
The Maverick R starts at $35,499, but most buyers will no doubt want the impressive Fox Live Valve dampers that come with the top premium package, as well as additional storage accessories. Tack on the long list of options and a Maverick R’s bottom line can easily double that starting sticker. At that price range, it’s disappointing that the new 10.25-inch touchscreen’s GPS and infotainment system lag far behind the rest of the vehicle and don’t measure up against the intuitive usage of Polaris Ride Command.
Hopefully, Can-Am can update its software and improve fit and finish as production ramps up. But in sheer performance terms, competitor Polaris now sits on the back foot and needs to double down on the RZR’s power and suspension. A full-on finger-knuckle copycat seems like a bit of a stretch, though, so it’s hard to imagine what Polaris might need to conceive in order to keep pace with Can-Am’s new Maverick, which certainly lives up to its name.
Click here for more photos of the 2024 Can-Am Maverick R.
Source: Robb Report