The All-New Can-Am Maverick X3 Dominates Torturous Baja Trails

Testing the go-fast side-by-side through some of Mexico's most infamous off-road terrain.

Baja at speed is a collision of sensations: wind blasting your goggles, desert heat on your forearms, the violent staccato of the chassis answering scrub and arroyo, the all-permeating scream of an engine being goosed relentlessly by a right foot planted like an oak tree. All is speed and sun and dust and noise under the pale blue parabola of Mexican sky. It is glorious, and you understand immediately why it has become a yearly mecca for so many.

I'm not an off-road guy. This industry has given me some supervised experiences—climbing Land Rovers up rural Spanish bedrock, sliding a Jeep down a sodden New England ravine—but in the world of side-by-sides, rock-crawlers, and trophy trucks, I am an outsider. And yet I can say with confidence that the Can-Am's new Maverick X3, a longer, lower, wider, and faster version of its popular Maverick side-by-side, is a machine competing against itself. I know this because, in the watering holes along our two-day journey of almost 300 miles, I listened to the guys who really know what they're doing. Guys who spend their time winching and splashing through mud and who couldn't tell you the difference between a P1 GTR and a Nissan GT-R.

"Is it really as good as I think it is?" I would ask, cornering them after the various Can-Am reps were out of earshot and remembering the countless times, tap-dancing over the whoops or blasting at 80 mph through rutted, arid badlands, I tried and failed to upset the damn thing. The answer, invariably, was a nod and a wide smile.

Yes, they said. Yes, it's that good.

So consider this an official endorsement from someone who knows just a little, but enough to listen to those who know more: this is a proper off-road go-fast machine, built to stand up to whatever you can throw at it, and it is gobs of silly, goofy fun. There are three variants, from the base X3 to the mid-range X3 X DS to the top-of-the-line, turbocharged, 154-hp X3 X RS with 24 inches of suspension travel and FOX 3.0 Podium RC2 HPG adjustable shocks. I drove them all, beat the hell out of every one, and was never not having a blast.

These don't have the utility of the taller side-by-sides that have more cargo room and are meant to double-up with ranch duty—and that's the point. This is a trophy truck that costs less than a Camry. Get thee to Baja, get in touch with Go Baja Riding, who arranged our trip, and play Robby Gordon for a few days. Tell the desert I think of her often.