You're not supposed to be comfortable in Baja. It's a hard, harsh place that couldn't care less about anyone or anything passing through it. Those exact qualities are a large part of why Baja draws so many racers back to test themselves and their vehicles every year, but even experienced racers know that all it takes is one mistake. One mistake, and you could find yourself with a flat tire, a broken suspension, or worse.
The learning curve there is steep, and unfortunately for me, it was a little too steep. Just as I thought I was getting used to Baja, I made a mistake. I took a blind corner a little wider than I should have. My rear passenger tire dragged off the trail, and just like that, BAM, I was on my side.
As I realized what had happened, it was hard to know what to feel worse about: I'd banged up a press vehicle, but I'd also done so in a place where things could easily have gone far worse. Thankfully, the car wasn't damaged too badly. One rear link needed to be straightened out, but other than that, the damage was mostly cosmetic. That same mistake could have ended a lot worse. And not in the way where the car won't start up anymore. The way where you don't wake up anymore.
And yet even after that experience, it's still hard to think of a car or truck I'd rather drive through this remote desert, too far from civilization to even get an AM radio signal. But that's also partly because this isn't a car or a truck. It's the Maverick X3, Can-Am's newest side-by-side, or UTV, for short.
If you're not familiar with UTVs, think of the Maverick X3 as somewhat similar to an Ariel Nomad, only with a little extra ground clearance. And an insane amount of suspension travel. How insane? Well, while the Nomad offers almost eight inches, the Maverick X3's rear suspension offers three times that—a full 24 inches. The Maverick also offers the ability to switch between rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive.
The Nomad is technically street legal and has the Maverick's 154-horsepower and 113 lb.-ft. of torque solidly beat, but if you're going to go off-road with any regularity, neither of those things are going to matter. The Maverick's ground clearance, suspension travel, and four-wheel drive should give it the ability to go places rear-wheel-drive vehicles like the Nomad can't, and it's still plenty fast in a straight line. Can-Am says it'll do 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, and I don't doubt it.
Sadly, if you're looking for a manual transmission in the Maverick, you'll be disappointed. Can-Am went with a CVT that is says improves acceleration. That's probably accurate, but neither the transmission nor the Rotax three-cylinder engine make the most pleasant noise, and the drone gets old after hours of traveling in sand. The optional sports exhaust offers a bit of an improvement, though.
The Maverick is also far more affordable. Ariel charges at least $80,000 for the Nomad, while the Maverick starts at only $23,000. Even if you spring for the top-level trim, you'll spend slightly less than $27,000. You will, however, also probably need a trailer and a tow vehicle if you want to get the most of your Maverick. That's because, while the Nomad is street legal, the Maverick isn't. That means the Maverick is more toy than vehicle, but that's not necessarily a problem.
I suspect, though, that most Maverick X3 buyers will already have a pickup truck and a trailer. Can-Am said its target demographic is a relatively well-off man who fancies himself a bit of a Ken Block. Heck, Can-Am's even gone so far as to shoot starring both Ken Block and Trophy Truck racer BJ Baldwin.
Obviously, the big question here is exactly how many upper-middle-class Ken Block fans out there are looking for a high-powered off-road vehicle they can't drive on the street. But I suspect there are more of them out there than you may think.
Can-Am was able to keep its price at a relatively attainable level since they didn't even have to try to meet road legal standards. Instead of putting your money towards things like airbags and crumple zones, it goes into maximizing off-road performance.
Actually describing what it's like to drive the Maverick is a lot more difficult. It looks like a regular side-by-side but drives like how I imagine a miniature version of a Trophy Truck that costs less than $30,000 would. And your experience changes wildly depending on what mode you have it in.
If you leave it in rear-wheel-drive mode, for example, it will happily oversteer, letting you have way more fun than you probably should on open, sandy trails. In more technical sections, all you have to do is hit the switch, and four-wheel drive is engaged. If you trail brake and stomp the gas, you can maybe squeeze out a little oversteer at that point, but in general, four-wheel-drive mode delivers almost-completely stable, predictable handling.
That's partly thanks to the Maverick's fantastic steering. The wheel is small and feels great in your hands. While you do have power steering, you can choose from three different levels of assistance. Put on the lowest setting, and enjoy sharp, direct steering with good feedback.
Even after rolling over at one point, the Maverick's approachability made it easy to get back behind the wheel. It may be a bit cliche, but this thing is about as close to "point and shoot" as you can imagine. If you want to go somewhere, you simply go there. It's that simple.
Do you want to rock crawl? Unless you're intent on some serious rock crawling, the Maverick has you covered. Its auto-locking differential got the job done with minimal wheel slippage. And thanks to its absurd 24 inches of suspension travel, the Maverick could handle some seriously uneven ground.
I've done a decent bit of off-roading, but I'm far from an expert. On parts of the trail I'd find intimidating in a truck, I didn't so much as question the Maverick's abilities. Obviously, we were on a trail picked by the manufacturer, but it was still Baja, and these were no demonstration obstacles.
In the sand, the experience was no different. We plowed through steep dunes without an issue and absolutely flew down the flatter sections of the trail. Have you ever hit 75 mph in the desert? In the Maverick, you can, and the scariest part is that it won't feel risky at all. You might even be brave enough to hit the 85-mph speed limiter.
Slowing down from speeds like that requires strong brakes. The Maverick has them, and even if they take some effort to engage, they resisted fade and were confidence-inspiring no matter what surface I was driving on.
Maybe the biggest testament to the Maverick's capabilities, though, is how comfortable it is to drive. Gravel roads are notoriously rough on cars. At anything above a frustratingly slow pace, you're bouncing around like geodes in a rock tumbler. But the Maverick's suspension is good for more than getting over obstacles; it also soaked up all those jolts like they were nothing.
Through the Baja desert, we covered almost every type of terrain except for deep mud, and the Maverick never even blinked. It might not get featured on a new episode of Top Gear like the Nomad, but it's an absolute blast to drive. And at this point, it's hard to think of any new vehicle that offers you more off-road capability for your money than the Maverick X3. Just make sure you have a way to get it to the desert.