When Can-Am entered the UTV scene with the first Commander, we, like many of you, were impressed. It was a machine with some different features and styling that made it unique compared to the other machines of the time. Along that model’s lifespan, it received quite o few upgrades and was also stretched out to a MAX version with rear seats to accommodate extra passengers. The Commander has been very popular, especially with the trail-cruising crowd, and even with added horsepower and styling, the Commander was getting long in the tooth – It was time for an upgrade. Can-Am teased us with news of an all-new Commander and when it arrived, we were pretty happy. We were even more happy when we got to jump behind the wheel of a new Commander MAX. Is the Commander MAX the machine you’ve been waiting for? Read on and see.
Can-Am shocked us a few years back with the introduction of the Maverick Trail. We absolutely love this machine. The Trail was followed by the Maverick Sport, a machine with some upgrades in width and horsepower over the Trail, but the base platform was the same. This was a great move for Can-Am, because the Maverick platform is amazing no matter what machine you go with. That’s where the Commander starts off. It shares the base platform with the Maverick line. You’re already starting out with a machine that has great handling and a smooth ride.
The Commander Max shares a lot with the Maverick Sport MAX. the engine, frame and much of the cabin is the exact same. There are differences that make the Commander unique. A new set of wheels and tires make the Commander two inches wider, at 62 inches. This is to help with cornering because the Commander was designed to carry extra weight in the new dumping cargo box that can carry up to 600 pounds. There are other differences in the bodywork and suspension.
We didn’t get to spend too much time with the Commander MAX, but we were able to get serious with some actual test driving and we came away impressed. Walking around the outside of the machine, you’ll notice right away that the bodywork on the front is quite different than the Maverick. It has more pronounced mud guards to help keep you clean. The standard MAX DPS model comes with 14-inch, rolled steel wheels with the aforementioned offset. Wrapped around the wheels are something completely new. Can-Am is getting into the tire market with their very own XPS Trail Force tires. The Commander comes with 27-inch tires that looked a little weird to us at first.
Hopping into the Commander felt like meeting up with an old friend. Like we said, we love the Maverick Trail and Sport machines, and this interior is the same. The seats are comfortable, the steering and controls are the same. It just fits us to a tee. You turn the key and hear the familiar rumble of the 976cc Rotax V-twin motor that produces 100 horsepower. We all buckled in and took off down the trail. It all felt much like the Maverick Sport MAX, but when we took the first turn, you notice the added width and the change in tires. The Commander MAX can be pushed a little harder into the turn than the Maverick can due to the subtle changes in width, tire and suspension. We tried loading up the cargo bed with gear to get it closer to the 600-pound limit and then took the same trail, and we found ourselves thankful for the added width. The worry was that with added weight in the machine, it would corner harder. And yes, when you’re loaded up and try things at higher speeds, you’re going to notice it. There’s some push from the front end, and if it weren’t for the sway bar in the rear, you’d wind up getting “squirrelly” really quick.
In rough terrain, the Commander MAX really shines. The longer wheelbase absorbs much more than you’d expect, and the design of the frame and full-length skid plating makes sure that getting high-centered and stuck is very difficult. Trust me, we tried. The original Can-Am Commander was designed as an all-around machine, but it has proven that it was a serious adventure machine. It’s not uncommon for us to meet up with someone along the trail and have them show us that they have thousands of hours on their Commanders. The new 2021 Commander has that same ability to go anywhere and handle any terrain with a proven and reliable drivetrain and chassis.
The suspension is pretty straightforward with the Commander. Twin A-arms up front and Can-Am’s TTA rear system have twin-tube gas shocks. Up front there’s 12.5 inches of travel and 13 inches out back. It gives you a pretty decent ride quality, but you can find the limits. Finding those limits can be done if you want to do so. If more travel and ground clearance is what you are after, the Commander MAX XT is probably a better choice. For those of you who want to just cruise along and aren’t as concerned with the performance side of the handling, you can spend the extra money on a roof, windshield and other comfort accessories.
Another side of the original Commander is that it was designed as a machine that fit the gap between the popular Polaris RZR and Ranger. It was the first machine in the Rec/Utility category, and it held the spot as the only entry for years until we got machines from the competition to challenge it. So, with the performance side of the Commander covered by the Maverick DNA in the machine, can it handle some utility work, too? Yes, and it honestly did better than we thought it would.
The Commander comes with Can-Am’s amazing iTC drive-by-wire throttle control combined with electronic fuel injection. This helps give the machine a steady control when you need to slow things down. You can put the power to the ground through the QRS CVT transmission that has the same high-airflow ventilation that the 1000R Maverick has. This is another important thing for the work side of the machine, or the hardcore trail side, as well. You can really crawl with the Commander. It has selectable 2- and 4-wheel drive with the Visco-Lok QE auto-locking front differential. That’s all good for tough trails and mud, and for the work side, there’s also a turf mode to help you not tear up the lawn. It also comes in handy for tight turns on the trail. The Commander comes with a switchable Sport mode with electronic hill decent assistance, or the popular ECO mode which helps the Commander save on fuel consumption.
Let’s be serious, though. The Commander isn’t really built for work. The cargo bed is smaller than a Defender, but bigger than the Maverick Sport’s area, and it dumps. Like the Polaris General, you can do some work with the machine, but really, it’s better to just go explore the great outdoors. There’s a 2-inch receiver hitch for towing and you can pull 2,000 pounds, too. If you’ve got to move the boat around, or haul a trailer with you on the trail, you’re good to go. We have to admit that we do kind of miss the dual-level cargo bed of the old Commander, but the new version more than makes up for it.
Hit the trails
We liked the old Commander, but we really like the new version. It combines elements of the magnificent Maverick Sport MAX with the features needed to make a machine that can do some things like working around the house or farm, but the new 2021 Can-Am Commander MAX is a machine that begs to be pointed in the direction of adventure. There’s room for you and three friends to comfortably explore in style while having the power and handling to make the trip fun. You can’t really ask for more, can you?