There’s no getting around it: $25,000 dollars is a serious chunk of money. For that sum, you could pick up a base Jeep Wrangler or a new Mazda Miata. The problem with a $25,000 Jeep or Miata is that you can’t use dirt roads as your personal rally stage, trimming roadside brush at 60 mph with the front wheel, then rock crawl, drift through wet grassy fields and catch five feet of air — over and over again. The Can-Am Maverick X3 X DS, on the other hand, will do all of that. Repeatedly. For an entire weekend and every weekend after that.
During the Mid-Atlantic Overland Festival, in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, the terrain was ripe for ripping and the X3 was in perfect company. Main Line Overland hosts the festival every year on about 220 acres of private land filled with rolling hills and dense forest, all connected by a few tight dirt roads. Not long after Can-Am dropped off the X3, I was strapped in, with my foot to the floor.
Ever since I got my first real taste of what a side-by-side can do, I’ve been chomping at the bit to get back in one. I quickly found that traipsing over the wide-open sandy expanse of the Valley of Fire is one thing while threading through trees searching for grip in thick mud is another; suddenly, 220 acres shrank under the Maverick’s 172 horsepower turbocharged triple-cylinder engine.
That’s a lot of power to put in something that only weighs 1,500 pounds. So for the Maverick X3 to be worth it, you can’t drive it timidly. If you’re looking for something to putt around off-road, buy a used Club Car and bolt on some dirt tires; if you want the full experience of the X3, you have to go through corners flat-out and sideways. That’s not the just adrenaline junkie in me talking, either. Switch from RWD to 4×4 and the Can Am drives more like a Jet-Ski, in that you have to be on the throttle to maintain physical control. If you’re fast approaching a turn and jump on the brakes, hoping to make it through, you’ll understeer wide; if you’re off the throttle and turn in, the front will push wide, too. It takes conviction to go fast in the X3 while simultaneously keeping it out of the trees, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t one of the more rewarding feelings you can get on four wheels.
There is one major detail I’m leaving out, though: The Maverick X3 is designed and set up from the factory to make the driver look like a hero. The X3’s three-level power steering system and 20 inches of Fox-tuned suspension travel at all four corners do tremendous work to keep the shinier, somewhat-less-dirty side facing up.
The Can Am X3 X DS is on the pricier end of the spectrum as far as recreational items go, but so is a boat. That’s the category of vehicle you have to put a side-by-side in: a luxury item designed solely to make you smile. Sure, a similarly priced Jeep or Miata will get you to grin every once in awhile, but you’ll also be in them when you’re miserable, stuck in traffic, commuting to work or probably going to the dentist. When you’re in the X3 flying through the air, scything through a grass field, displacing earth on an empty dirt trail — or even at your desk thinking about it — you’re never not smiling.