Polaris Vs. Can-Am: A Battle for the Ages

We look at what makes this rivalry tick and why it matters for you.

“Buy them cheap, bury them deep.”

“This wouldn’t’ve happened if you bought a RZR 1000.”

“What do you expect from a POOlaris? I’ve never had that problem with my Commander.”

Broken down

A RZR in it’s most natural state: broken down

Do you ever hear anybody say anything like this? We sure do. Every day. It seems like side by side fans all over the world are stuck in an eternal battle for vehicular supremacy.  If you’re a fan of UTVs then you’ve got to pick a side and jab at your buddies for picking the obviously inferior Polaris, Can-Am, Kawasaki, Arctic Cat, Yamaha or Honda. It doesn’t really matter what they have – you just know yours is better.

We’re not immune to it here at SuperATV either. If you walk around the office you’ll find plenty of Yamaha, Polaris, Arctic Cat, and Can-Am owners all of whom claim perfect handling, amazing speed, and zero breakdowns unlike so-and-so’s machine.

At the forefront of this beef are Polaris and Can-Am. All the other guys jump in the fight too, but you never hear more shade being thrown than the verbal beat downs between Polaris riders and Can-Am riders.

But where did this all come from? Are Polaris and Can-Am themselves egging on their customers?  Is it the inherent competition of the off-road race scene; the one-upmanship of the aftermarket upgrade scene? Or maybe it’s simply machismo making it out onto the trails.

Most importantly – who’s right?

Bad Blood

I was going to put a picture of a Can-Am here but I couldn’t find one. I guess people driving Can-Ams don’t want anybody to know. Here’s Bad Blood instead.

One thing’s for sure, if you read the comments section on anything Polaris or Can-Am related anywhere on the internet, you’re bound to get an eyeful of “POOlaris” and “Can’t-Am”.

Let’s take a look at these two companies, see where they started, where they interacted, and maybe we’ll find out who’s on top now.

70 years of competition

Bombardier Ski-DooPolaris and Can-Am share a common starting point. They both opened shop as snowmobile companies. Can-Am’s founder, J. Armand Bombardier, built the first propeller driven sled as a teenager in 1922 and built the world’s first track based snowmobile in 1937. He later founded Bombardier Inc. in 1942. Can-Am itself wouldn’t appear until the 1970s.

Polaris didn’t enter the game until 1954 when they created their first snowmobile. This snowmobile was small and designed for only 1 or 2 people. It was the first modern snowmobile.

From the start these guys were competing. Bombardier innovated with it’s standalone, wind-powered snowmobile and Polaris refined it with a smaller, sleeker, and more broadly appealing vehicle.

Polaris Sno Traveler

But let’s fast forward past the creation of the personal water craft, past their jumps into the motorcycle markets and Bombardier’s creation of Can-Am, past one of Polaris’ founders leaving and starting his own company (later to become Arctic Cat) and get to the good stuff of the last 20 years – the off-road stuff where the competition heats up and when you bought your first side by side.

Both companies got into the 4-wheeler market late after it was completely dominated by Honda and other Japanese manufacturers and neither company was first to the UTV market either.

Polaris released the Ranger in 1998 following the Kawasaki MULE’s lead. Although the Ranger was popular, Polaris didn’t really take control of the UTV market until it released the Ranger RZR 10 years later.

The Yamaha Rhino paved the way for the RZR. The Rhino took the increasingly popular utility vehicle and made it sportier. It was half work machine, half play machine and was hugely successful when it released in 2004.

The Ranger RZR released in 2008 and was laser focused on being the best recreational sport vehicle available. In that respect, it was a first for the industry and blew the Rhino away. Finally, a machine built for fun with no compromises.

While Polaris gets a point from me for bringing such a game changer to the industry, Can-Am gets another point right back with its release of the Commander 2 years later just in time for Polaris to release it’s 900 model RZR.

The Commander brought the first 1000cc engine to the burgeoning side by side industry. The Commander wasn’t as laser focused on fun as the RZR was, but Can-Am still earns a point from me for giving riders more opportunities to get wild with that 1000cc engine behind their throttle.

Neither company sat still though – each eyeing the others advancements and inspiring their rival’s R&D team.

They fought for horsepower for years. Polaris eventually released their RZR 1000 but then Can-Am responded with a Maverick Turbo. Naturally, Polaris followed up by releasing the RZR Turbo.

In 2016, both Can-Am and Polaris took pages out of each other’s books. Polaris released the General 1000 to compete directly with the Commander 1000 (those names are a bit too similar, don’t you think?) and Can-Am released the Defender to compete with the Ranger.

2018 Can-Am lineup

Last year, Can-Am unveiled their most striking UTV yet – the Maverick X3. It’s Can-Am’s best chance yet to gain major ground on Polaris and they’re doubling down on it this year with a slew of new X3 models coming out. The X3 is definitely a point in Can-Am’s favor.

But wait! Polaris is doing something completely different now. They’re not playing the HP game this year (although their turbo model is still within a few HP of the top X3 model), instead they’re revolutionizing suspension with the RZR Turbo DYNAMIX Edition.

Dynamix

We can’t say who’s going to win that fight until we get some seat time on each but it’s safe to say that both Can-Am and Polaris are swinging for the fences. Neither company is settling down soon and apparently they’re looking at one-upping each other in totally different ways.

Who’s the best?

So who wins? It looks like a dead heat at the moment. Individual owners might take umbrage with different aspects of each companies’ design philosophy which will inform their ride-ally of choice. Looking at the X3, one might see the overabundance of plastic bodywork as a negative aspect. Others might look past that and appreciate that the plastic provides lightweight yet alluring curves and angles.

Some might look at the RZR and still see a stubby, puerile buggy borrowing too heavily from older off-road vehicles and missing a sleek modern look. Others might think the RZR has the quintessential sport UTV look, and that to deviate from its style is to make something that doesn’t look like a UTV.

As you move away from the cosmetic, you have different handling and throttle feel to deal with. The Maverick X3 is powerful but bulky. The RZR Turbo is smaller, easier to handle, but not quite as powerful. And now Can-Am is making the X3 more powerful; Polaris is making the the Turbo handle even better.

And the winner is…

So, again, who wins? At the risk of sounding entirely too earnest, you do!

That’s right! Good ol’ capitalism at its best means you, the consumer, win every time. As these companies duke it out for your favor, their vehicles are getting better and better and cheaper. Both companies offer insanely powerful vehicles for under $20,000, and they’re diverging philosophies mean that no matter what kind of riding you’re interested in, there’s a top-of-the-line vehicle out there for you.

Not to mention companies like Yamaha have made a move into the sport UTV market with the YXZ. Honda finally released their Pioneer 1000, and Kawasaki is still killing it with the Teryx. And Arctic Cat may finally grace us with their Wildcat XX someday soon.

So feel good about having a POOlaris or a Can’t-Am, or a Yamaha, Arctic Cat, Honda, or Kawasaki. And feel free to stick it to the other guy for buying the piece of junk that he did. Just make sure he gives the criticism right back otherwise you’re just being mean.

The bigger the rivalry, the better vehicles. The better the vehicles, the more fun we all have and the bigger the hobby gets. So don’t forget to have fun no matter who’s seat your in.

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