In Command: Can-Am Commander XT 1000R Test and Review

If freedom and capability are what you look for in an off-road vehicle, then Can-Am would like to show you something–the Commander! This all-new take on a respected nameplate is fresh for 2021 and brings with it some interesting features and highlights.

We at Off Road Xtreme recently got our hands on a Can-Am Commander XT 1000R in Oxford Blue for a review. This was our first time getting to drive around in a UTV that took both fun and function into account, offering us good times in the dirt, as well as utility to stow whatever gear, equipment, and supplies required for our mission.

We took the Commander out on a full-blown tour of SoCal's finest terrain – sand, rocks, and good ol' dirt!

Our plan was to take the Commander out into the wilderness of Southern California to see how the vehicle performed in different terrains. We’d also take the opportunity to load up the Commander and see if it really could haul our gear and essentials out to the middle of nowhere.

Editor’s Note: With so much to touch, feel, and drive on the Can-Am Commander, we felt it best to showcase two perspectives on the vehicle. With that in mind, what follows is a joint review from Magazine Editor Micah Anderson and Senior Associate Editor David Chick. Micah’s review will focus more on Commander’s usefulness, while David will cover its off-road performance.

Commander Off-Road: Invading The Wilderness

Can-Am Commander XT 1000R

UTVs take the off-road 4×4 experience and distill it down to the purest form. From this, you get a machine that handles well, accelerates sharply, and takes a beating without missing a beat. That’s the kind of experience I got while taking the Commander off-road in Southern California.

The Can-Am Commander was field tested on mountain trails and in the wide open desert.

With a full day dedicated to our shoot, Micah and I made sure to test the machine out on different terrains. I got a real sense of the Commander’s capabilities once we made our way to Johnson Valley OHV Recreation Area. Just a month prior, I was out shooting the King of the Hammers, and here I was again, capturing the fun of the desert, but behind the wheel instead of behind the lens.

The Commander's top speed achieved was 84 MPH wide open on a long stretch over dry lake bed.

Sure enough, the Commander was a UTV worthy of its Can-Am heritage. I was new to driving flat out and on the limit, so I kept it within my comfort range, but the Commander could easily offer more to an experienced driver.

The shock absorbers equipped on this XT model weren’t the best you could get (Fox units are found on the top-shelf XT-P model), but they easily absorbed the whoops and washboards I came across at speeds upward of 50 miles an hour. I was having the time of my life as I soared over the terrain.

Off-Road Desert Runner?

Can-Am Commander XT 1000R

In two-wheel-drive, the Commander was a lot of fun to drive. Not to mention, it felt a great deal more responsive in throttle and you could slide it around from the rear.

After a bit, I arrived at some dunes. These weren’t as robust as the ones found in Pismo or Glamis, but they had enough variation and breadth to give the Commander a run for its money.  Equipped from the factory with standard 28-inch XPS Trail King tires, in the loose sand the Commander did start to feel boggy. That is when I engaged the Commander’s Sport Mode, and it sent significant power to all four tires which helped me traverse through the open terrain.

At higher speeds, when all four wheels were engaged, the vehicle plowed through the sand instead of steering where I wanted. I am confident with proper sand tires, I could cut through and easily control the Commander. I spent most of the time in two-wheel-drive sport mode as that offered the most performance. It was a tradeoff I readily accepted. Beyond the increase in control and fun factor, I also noticed that the temperature gauge on the dashboard started going down, probably from less demand on the drivetrain.

Not content to simply try it out in dirt and sand, we thoroughly tested the Commander through a rock bed.

Rock-Crawling Capabilities?

Of course, Johnson Valley isn’t just a place to mob through dirt and sand. After some more exploring, I found a ravine that would be an ideal location to test out the Commander’s rock-crawling capabilities. After popping it into four-low and with the locker engaged, I made my way down the slope and into the rocky patch.

Rocks as big as pumpkins littered the ground. Thankfully, the Commander had plenty of ground clearance, plus skid plates lining the entire underside to protect against scrapes and bashes. It was a wholly different feeling from driving a Jeep or Toyota over rocks, as I was in a smaller vehicle. Less width and length made it easier for me to navigate over the stones, plus the locking differential made sure the rear tires were always working together. I could simply peer out over the door and get a quick read of where my driver’s side tires were positioned, and make any small adjustments I needed.

Using four-wheel-drive and a locking rear differential, I made quick work of this rock section in Johnson Valley. Skid plates underneath absorbed any harsh contact with the rocky ground.

One thing I sorely missed while driving through the rocks was a set of side mirrors. I know Can-Am offers these as an option from their website, but it would have been nice to have if I had to back up and make sure I wasn’t in immediate danger of hitting something.

All in all, I was impressed with the Commander. With its stout drivetrain setup, adequate suspension, and solid controllability, this machine could match the fun factor to its utility factor and really deliver on a UTV experience. – David Chick

Commander Utility: A UTV Eager To Serve

The Can-Am Commander XT may look like a standard SxS, but once you start walking around the vehicle, that perspective quickly changes. At first glance, I was surprised to see this particular model with windscreens fitted to the front & rear. For us desert dwellers, it is an uncommon feature. As one who enjoys wind in my face, this did not bother me, and I can see the advantages for applications in colder or wetter environments. Either way they appear easily removable and I understand Can-Am offers several windshield options, such as power wipers, vented, and half windshields too. 

The windscreen can easily be removed with the quick connect fasteners.

Exterior Features

When loading up our gear, I could not figure out some of the factory tie-down anchors but soon discovered Can-Am offers a proprietary attachment method called the LinQ System. After further exploration, this allows for dozens of cargo accessories to be added or swamped out. Everything from soft and hard storage, to coolers, tool kits and gun holders, the LinQ attachments hold it all.  The best part is no tie downs are required with the LinQ System.

Can-Am's LinQ System allows for loads of properly secured storage.

More exterior features on our Can-Am Commander included a front mounted winch hidden behind a full nose bull bar bumper, a full bodied skid plate, a roof mounted double row LED light Bar, and a rear cargo tray. I did realize that the Commander’s cargo bed featured a tilt & dump function but noted they offer a built-in bed extender also.

Our Commander came with a variety of optional upgrades.

Interior Components

Looking in, I could determine a well planned control center to command the Commander. Center of the dash, is a built-in tablet mount ready to accept standard personal electronics ideal for setting up navigation. There was a large glove box in front of the passenger side, with additional storage hidden behind the tablet mount. Ergonomically, the front doors open standard while the rear doors open suicide style for easy loading and unloading of passengers.

The Commander's cockpit was ergonomic and spacious.

From the inside, I noticed a multi-purpose “cheese board” accessory plate ready to accept any number of Can-Am options or for the end users to easily add their own choice of equipment. Throughout the day of testing, I felt the same as David desperately wanting any form of rear view mirrors. As someone who stands at 6 feet 4 inches, I must say the roof & roll cage provided plenty of head room even with my helmet on. Sitting side by side with my equally large passenger, we both felt there was adequate room to comfortably accommodate us both without feeling cramped or interfering with the driving duties. The steering wheel has a mechanical tilt function and all the seat belts operate just like a normal passenger vehicle would; get seated, pull over from your shoulder, and lock it into the female receiver found in the middle of the UTV. Both myself and David did close the door on the seat belts multiple times as if the belts was supposed to retract, but instead they just dangled and could not get out of their own way.

The rear seat provided plenty of room!

One pleasant surprise was how the spacious backseat was with plenty of leg room. With the rear passengers sitting more upright then in the front seat, leg room can come out a premium on other SxS vehicles. In the Can-AM Commander XT 4-door, a full size adult has no worries, the front seats are on adjustable sliders for any extra accommodations. There are also plenty of grab handles for those moments of concern.

Technical Function and Utility Prowess

The Commander’s control center: Left of the steering wheel are two switches that operate the LED light bar, and the winch. The digital display tucked in behind the steering wheel presents fuel levels on the left, MPH indicator center, and engine temperature on the right. Much like a modern car display, you can determine what gear the vehicle is set to and there is a menu for you to toggle through to set up various trips, mileage, clock, and other parameters. The Can-Am Commander has all the warning lights clearly marked with familiar looking icons. On the right of the steering wheel, there is a push button start/stop that will only work when the Can-AM digitally encoded security key is present. The menu control center also houses the sport mode “fun button” we previously spoke of earlier. Next is the 4-wheel-drive/ 2-wheel-drive switch and the rear differential locker after that. The digital dash will indicate when the vehicle engages into 4-wheel-drive and when the differential is locked.

The Commander's control center.

With 170 factory optional accessories it is easy to see the Commander’s potential. Can-Am designed this vehicle as a modular platform to be easily personalized and upfitted which can be done at the time of purchase or anytime afterwards. All-in-all it is refreshing to see so much foresight built-in for unlimited accessorizing. The Commander looks well made with quality fit and finish. There were no clicks and clacks of loose fitting panels or parts all day. After putting nearly 30 miles of rough trails and wide open desert, I can say the Can-Am functionally works awesome and took whatever we threw at it. I will say, I was not holding back and tested the machine to its limitations. Before loading it up on the trailer, I found our top speed of nearly 85 MPH as I throttled down flat out on a long flat stretch of dry lake bed.  It was a good day and the Can-AM Commander left us with good impressions!

Commander allows for max cargo payload and extra belts built-in.

About the author

Micah Anderson

Micah is a 20 year authority in the off-road industry with extensive experience founded on marketing, events, and racing. Professionally skilled in all things creative, Micah is passionate about faith, freedom, and anything powered by adventure.
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