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Salute the Commander - New Can-Am Side-x-Side First Ride!


Can-Am Releases the Most Anticipated Side-x-Side in Years
Written By: 
John Arens

2011.can-am.commander1000x.yellow.front-right.riding.through-mud_0.jpgIt's been over 5 years since the speculation, supposed sightings, and internet conjuring began. Loyal Can-Am fans and Side x Side enthusiasts riding every other brand have been waiting to see the latest innovative off road machine designed by the high performance crew from Valcourt, Quebec. While a few speculated that any new model would surely be designed only for utilitarian work, permanently resigned to construction or farm duty, those who studied the Can-Am design philosophy across their other product lines expected nothing less than cutting edge performance. It's their history and what they strive for in every vehicle whether on sand, snow, water, or pavement, and with their new Side x Sides the results do not disappoint. The new models live up to the Can-Am performance philosophy in every way, and today there are no less than FIVE new models of a Can-Am invasion force soon to take command of the trails. The rumors are over; stand and salute the new Commander! 

Commander Base

Can-Am has a penchant for designing a base model and then getting the most out of it through options, upgrades, and limited edition units. The ATV and snowmobile lineups are full of examples, and from a manufacturing standpoint it is extremely efficient, and it leaves customers plenty of choices to get exactly what they want. Just like the Outlander ATVs are built on a common SST chassis, the new Commander models are built on a common chassis as well.2011.can-am.commander1000x.black_.front-left.riding.on-dirt.jpg

If you've ever wanted to get behind the wheel of a desert racing Trophy Class truck and put the go-flipper down, (And who hasn't?) driving the new Commander is likely as close as you will ever get. The Commander was designed for extreme off road action from the ground up, and the chassis holding it all together starts with a beefy steel frame. Everything on the chassis was designed to centralize mass, keep the center of gravity as low as possible for supreme stability, reduce overall weight, and maintain strength and durability. One feature we are extremely happy to have on each model is a ROPS approved roll cage built out of 2" high strength steel tubing, which keeps the driver and occupant well protected. We were also pleased to find that through careful layout of the ROPs tube structure overall height of the vehicle was kept to a minimum. It was easy to climb in and out, but the really great thing about the lower overall height is you can drive it inside a standard height enclosed trailer. We were off to a good start!

At the front of each Commander model is a tough set of long A-arms with an "anti-dive" geometry built into them. Ordinarily when the front suspension is compressed or the front brakes are applied, the front end of a vehicle dives, which in turn steepens the front King Pin angle. This can make some vehicles steer a little too quickly or even become twitchy. Imagine an old shopping cart and you'll know what we mean. Can-Am engineers overcame this problem by changing the geometry of the upper A-arm, and now as the front end dives, the front A-arm moves on a slightly different path than the bottom, which maintains consistent geometry and steering feel.

Can-Am is justifiably proud of their trailing arm rear suspension which they call TTI, and the Commander is the first Side x Side to offer this type of rear end. This is the same type of suspension all serious desert racers use on their trucks, and for the same advantages. It's very simple with few moving parts, it's durable, and it means consistent wheel travel throughout the suspension stroke. It works excellent in this application! Can-Am also includes a rear torsion bar on every Commander, and again there are very few parts, providing a huge benefit in handling. One of the differences between each of the Commander models is the shocks you get at both ends, and at the top of the line X-Chassis you'll find fully adjustable Fox shocks, while on the base model you'll have 5 way preload adjustable shocks offering 10" of travel and 11 inches of ground clearance. Every Commander also gets dual piston disc brakes at each corner, and even a 2" receiver hitch with 1500 pounds of towing capacity should somebody actually put it to work. We also took a peak underneath the chassis, and it appears to be well built and well protected in vital areas. It's beefy!2011.can-am.commander1000xt.close-up.dash_.jpg

Bodywork on the Commander clearly follows what the Can-Am people called "Can-Am DNA", which means sharp, distinctive lines, an aggressive stance, and a very bold, muscular look that appears both menacing and inviting at the same time. We like the four round front headlights, and the look is like no other. From some angles it even looks like a mini pickup, which should not be a surprise since early in the design process one of the vehicles studied was the Hummer H3 truck. We found the bodywork to be pliable and resistant to cracking. Scratches are generally well hidden except on the black "X" models. It's easy to pop off the front hood for air filter and fluid checks, and at the rear is a dump box like no other. The sturdy, sculptured dump box on the Commander holds a big surprise: another dump box! Just underneath the top dump box is a water resistant cavernous lower storage area, and both have their own tail gate. The second surprise is the floor from the upper box can actually be removed to create a very deep storage area that seems custom built for hauling ice and anything you want to keep cold. It's an awesome idea made possible by the TTI rear suspension and we love it! 

Pilot & Co-Pilot 

Before you can get a feel for what it's like to drive the Commander or any Side x Side, the first thing you need to do is get in! On some models getting in or out can be a little difficult, but on the Commander access is fairly easy. Once inside it's easy to settle into the comfy seat, and the driver can even adjust their seat with no tools needed. A really cool feature of both seats is they can be easily removed - again with no tools - and used as a camp chair!2011.can-am.commander1000xt.close-up.front-suspension.jpg

Between the driver and passenger is the engine, which is placed in the center of the chassis to centralize mass, and the resulting weight bias is almost perfectly balanced. The passenger gets a really nice, rubber mounted handhold for their left hand, and a sturdy hold for both hands just ahead of their knees. Under that is a closing dash storage box.

Both the driver and passenger have enough room for comfort, and yet are securely held in place by the three point seat belt, and a nice window net. In another great idea, the Commander has the rear portion of the net firmly attached to the roll bar, but the front is quickly held in place by a seat belt latch! One latch attaches the entire net system to one point, and it works GREAT! It's easy, quick, and very secure.

We really like the cockpit style feel of the Commander and at the drivers right hand is a smooth working gear shifter. Next to that is an override button for when using reverse. On the dash there are switches for lights, a start button, a 12V accessory outlet, the key, and a 4WD selection switch that activates Can-Ams Viscolock 4wd system when the trail gets muddy. There are even cutouts for other accessory switches as well, but the most interesting is a button labeled "Sport".

The Commander offers many unique features but two of the most innovative are the drive by wire throttle system, and "Sport" mode, which alters the engine map and power delivery. When the terrain allows, or the driver wants a little extra power, hit the Sport mode button and things will get a lot more exciting quick. We tried both the standard and sport mode, and for crawling through the rocks at a nice steady pace, slogging though mud, or anywhere we didn't want to break the wheels loose we left the Commander in standard mode for a smooth, consistent power delivery. Whenever we got into the open we switched it into "Sport" mode and let the rocks fly!

Controls on the Commander are very well placed, and we like the tilting, sporty steering wheel. The gauge and instrument package is easy to read and looks great, but we also really like how it tilts with the wheel. At your feet the Intelligent Throttle Control is another unique feature on the Commander, and much like on some road going vehicles, the electronic throttle eliminates any cables or direct linkage to the throttle body. Since the system is electronically controlled, Can-Am was able to incorporate another great feature, and if it senses too many instantaneous changes to the throttle (like when your foot bounces up and down through the whoops) it will actually smooth out the input. It's smarter than your foot!

Engine Options

The Commander comes with two engine options. The smaller engine – if you can call 800cc's small – is a liquid cooled, SOHC Rotax 800 V-Twin EFI engine cranking out 71hp like that in the Renegade or Outlander 800 ATV, but designed to pull the additional weight of a Side x Side. Engine option 2 is a liquid cooled SOHC Rotax 1000 V-Twin EFI engine that can seemingly pull a train. Can-Am claims the 1000c engine has an enormous 85hp and we believe them. It's an impressive kick in the seat and a shot of adrenaline to the brain when you put the throttle to the floor!2011.can-am.commander1000xt.close-up.engine.jpg

Both engines are center mounted in the chassis and are mated to a CVT transmission which shifts out perfectly. We should have known a company the builds sleds would get this part right! Maintenance tasks on the Commander are pretty easy, with good access to the oil filter, and we're especially fond of the large, automotive style air filter tucked high up under the front hood. The radiator is also mounted rather high under the front hood as well, presumably to offer protection, but it also makes fluid checks easy.

A feature we really like on every Commander is the coded key. Can-Am began using their digitally encoded key (DESS) on the ATVs and sleds years ago, and the simple anti-theft device has been included on the Commander models as well. As tempting as these things are you're going to need it. You can also get an extra key that limits top speed to 25mph!

On The Move

When the test rider yells to the passenger "This things got a HUGE set!" before they've traveled 100 feet you know you're onto something special, and the statement was backed up every time we rounded the corner and put the pedal down. Indeed the Commander does have a "Huge Set" and every dirt roosting, rock slinging explosion behind the rear wheels makes it even more evident. At every possible opportunity we opened it up, and the adrenaline flowed through our veins like some type of off-road narcotic fix. Regardless of the terrain the Commander would charge across it, and it feels very stable for both the driver and passenger. It was easy to slide, but it was controllable as well. On really loose gravel it would be possible to have the rear end come around, but we don't recommend pushing it that far. We really like the Maxxis Bighorn tires! They worked extremely well on the gravel roads, across the rocks, in loose sand, and wading through mud. There's little reason to change them for anything else, other than with the power at your foot you are likely to wear them out quickly.2011.can-am.commander1000xt.yellow.front-left.riding.down-hill.jpg

There are many very good Side x Sides on the market, all with their own traits, but the trait most exhibited by the Can-Am Commander is pure performance. It flat out hauls, but it also handles very well. We especially like the steering gear ratio, which is a little tighter than some, and perfect for aggressive driving like the Commander is almost certain to see. The last thing you want while winding through the woods at high speed is slow steering reaction, and every turn of the wheel rewarded the driver with an equal turn at the front tires. It was quick, but precise and predictable. Steering wheel size is excellent as well.

Cab and body noise is something we listen for in every Side x Side we test, and on the Commander we noticed no appreciable noise from the chassis or the body. It's solid! Vibration to the driver or passenger was also nil. One noise everybody does like is the sound of the rumbling V-twin engine, which lets everyone know it means business, but it's not so loud as to offend. It definitely gets attention!

About the only thing we noticed that did not help Commander performance was a slight throttle lag. When you really jumped into the throttle hard there would be a slight lag, not because of any mechanical fault, but because the throttle body is a LONG way from the engine heads and cylinder air intake. It takes a brief second for the throttle bodies to charge the complete intake tract with the extra fuel mixture, which results in a slight lag. It's our job to tell you everything, and we didn't really care about the slight lag anyway since we were quickly pinned to the seat with eyes wide open and huge grins under our helmet.

Every Commander inspires desert racing dreams. Sure they have a dump box and can haul plenty of gear, but if you leave one of these with the landscape crew we doubt you'll see an increase in productivity. It's just too much fun the drive! We love it!2011.can-am.commander1000xt.yellow.front-right.towing.out-of-mud.jpg

Package Deal

There are five models in the new Commander family beginning with the Commander 800 EFI, Commander 800 EFI XT, Commander 1000 EFI, Commander 1000 EFI XT and Commander 1000 EFI X. So what is the difference between all the Commander models? Suspension and engine packages... The XT and X models offer added value and customers can select from packages with fully adjustable suspension, cast aluminum wheels, bead lock racing wheels, different bodywork and graphics schemes, and even accessories like a winch! We're especially fond of the 1000 X package which offered a front sway bar and fully adjustable shocks. They both make a huge difference! Regardless of which model you choose we can promise you won't be disappointed!

Can-Am also wanted to be sure there were plenty of accessories for the Commanders, and as they roll off trucks and into the showroom there will already be 50 accessories available with more to come.

Baja Bound

We expected a lot from Can-Am and we got all we hoped for and more. Behind the wheel of the Commander you can easily picture yourself blasting flat out down the Baja coast, with the waves of the Pacific slapping at the beach, and a mile long dust cloud trailing behind in the setting sun. The Commander is a Side x Side like no other, and as of now there is a new Commander in

2011 Can-Am Commander Family Highlights

» 85 HP Rotax 1000 EFI V-Twin engine, or 71hp Rotax 800 EFI V-Twin Engine
» Industry-leading fuel mileage
» Dual-level cargo box
» Intelligent Throttle Control (iTC)
» Visco-Lok front differential
» TTI rear suspension
» Double A-arm front suspension with dive-control geometry
» 2-inch diameter, high strength steel, ROPS-approved cage
» 1,928 cubic inches (31.6 litres) cockpit storage
» 240-watt lighting
» Quick-attach side nets
» 10-gallon (38 litres) gas tank
» Normal & Performance D.E.S.S.™ Keys (w/ an optional third work key)
» 3-point seatbelts with anti-cinch
» 11-inch (35 cm) of total ground clearance
» 214mm disc brakes with twin-piston calipers
» 1,500 lbs. (680 kg) towing capacity
» 2-inch rear hitch receiver
» Comfort seats with sit-in fore / aft driver adjustment2011.can-am.commander1000xt.close-up.rear-storage.jpg
» Adjustable-tilt steering
» Passenger handhold and grab bar
» Dual cup holders
» 650-watt magneto
» Easy-to-use maintenance centre

Can-Am Commander 800 or 1000 XT Packages

» 4,000-pound winch
» 26-inch Maxxis‡ Bighorn 2.0 tires
» 14-inch Cast aluminum wheels
» Analog/digital gauge
» Heavy-duty front bumper
» Rugged bed rails
» Mud guards
» Leather steering wheel2011.can-am.commander1000xt.close-up.rear_.jpg

Can-Am Commander 1000 X Package

» Fully adjustable front and rear Fox Racing Shox‡ HPG piggyback shocks
» Front sway bar
» 12-inch aluminum beadlock wheels
» 26-inch Maxxis Bighorn 2.0 tires
» Analog/digital gauge
» Heavy-duty front bumper
» Rock sliders
» Leather steering wheel
» X-package seat trim and graphics
» Available in black with yellow accents

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