Story and Photos | Marc-André Quessy
Polaris and Can-Am are the kings of the hill in high performance ATVs, and they have been there for years. With the addition of the 1000 cc engine displacement for the Scrambler and the Renegade it was only a question of time before I’d get these two rounded up for a head to head. Both of these beasts are the meanest and baddest ATVs you can get your hands on in 2016. So I got on the horn and called some of my favourite dealers to get demo units for this article. Thanks go to Arnaud from Contant.ca, a large BRP dealership in Mirabel, Quebec and to my buddy Mike Barbour from MotoGatineau.com Polaris in Gatineau/Ottawa, who took our test bike right from the showroom floor. We got the ATVs loaded on the trailer and off to the superb trails of the Club Quad VTT Outaouais where the club’s president Marco Boulay was waiting for us eager to participate in this shootout. Marco got some of the trails temporarily closed for safety while we were shooting. Thanks again Marco!
At a glance you can immediately see that the two contenders are quite different in appearance and stance. The Scrambler seems lower to the ground like a big cat waiting to pounce on its prey while the Renegade looks taller especially at the handlebars. I admit that I’m usually fond of the way Can-Ams look but the Scrambler keeps drawing my attention. The front view is very nicely done while the more angular panel on the side view gives it a more muscular modern appearance. I am not at all a fan of the new neon flashy colours popping up everywhere these days. (Remember the nineties! Been there done that). But the neon green accents in this case are quite pleasing to me. Oh, well.
You cannot mistake the Renegade looks; it’s pure Can-Am and even if the style is starting to grow a little old it’s still good looking especially in the Xxc white, red and black. The thing looks like a Bulldog ready to bite. Its 12-inch bead lock wheels make it sit lower than the Scrambler in reality. The Scrambler only looks lower and this is primarily because of the 14-inch wheels that play tricks with your eyes.
Both machines are equipped with 1000 cc engines but the cylinder layouts differ. The Polaris’s Prostar mill is a parallel twin and the Can-Am’s Rotax is a V-twin; both have overhead cams and sequential fuel injection. The different cylinder layout makes the power delivery very different on our two candidates.
The Scrambler XP 1000 and The Renegade 1000 Xxc both produce an amazing 89 horsepower but they do it in a different fashion. Let’s dig a little further on the subject: The Scrambler’s 952 cc parallel twin is more powerful at low and mid rpms than the Can-Am’s 976 cc V-twin. As soon as the Rotax hits the 5000 rpm range the whole 89 hp cavalry just takes off and will leave the Scrambler - while not far behind - still eating its dust. The sound generated by the Scrambler’s twin exhaust is just awesome for my mechanic’s ears and everyone agreed, just perfect! It’s not obnoxiously loud but a low throaty burble at low rpm’s that’s similar to a small block V8 (think 80’s Camaro) through beautiful polished stainless steel exhausts. It’s intoxicatingly pleasant to listen to. The Renegade’s exhaust note is muffled by that huge ugly exhaust can and you can’t even hear it beside the Scrambler at idle. Can you say silent performer? More sound please Can-Am! As long as it’s within legal limits!
Both engines offered perfect throttle response under all conditions and the fuel consumption is similar … like gargantuan when you ride them hard, so a spare fuel container carrier is one of the first things I’d consider installing on the machine after the purchase. You’ll thank me later!
Only the more aggressive acceleration of the Can-Am offers a clear definite advantage over the softer more linear Polaris but the Scrambler’s engine is the only one in the industry able to compete with the Can-Am’s 1000 cc Rotax. But on pure performance the Can-Am wins this round.
This is where we can actually feel a significant difference between our two competitors. Both use a direct driven CVT mated to a gearbox with the same features and a park mode. P R N H L is present on both machines, but I hate the awkward shifter on the Scrambler. What were they thinking? The unfinished raw aluminum looks so ugly on this superb-looking machine. Similar to the Renegade the gearbox is a heavy-duty unit and the gears are sometimes hard to select on both. This annoyance is “normal” for the type of gearbox used, but still, I hate having to swing the machine front to back to select a gear. Our test Scrambler is right off the showroom floor with barely 3 km showing while the Renegade has a few hundred on the clock, so we cannot fault the Scrambler’s notchy gear selection until break-in period is over.
The CVT calibrations are very aggressive on the Can-Am and in line with its racing pedigree. This is another reason why it overtakes the Scrambler after a couple of hundred feet from a stand still. The more linear setting on the Scrambler lets the engine work to its best potential.
The drivetrain is again very similar. Both candidates offer two-wheel drive with selectable all- wheel drive through a switch on the handlebars, but no fully locked 4x4. The Polaris AWD system activates the front differential according to wheel slippage and the Renegade works through a viscous driven clutch system to engage all four wheels called Visco-Lok QE rapid engagement system. Different technologies, same result which makes the incredible precise steering even better while putting power to the ground. AWD engagement is silky smooth on both machines.
The Renegade’s Achilles heel compared to the Scrambler is the noise level coming from the drivetrain, especially the rear differential. Our tester is a prime example of this fairly common complaint on Can-Ams. The constant whining from 40 kph is very annoying and totally unacceptable for such a high-end ATV. It sounds even worse when you compare this to the Scrambler’s almost silent drivetrain. Swapping from the Can-Am to the Scrambler on the fly makes the rider notice this issue immediately. All our invited guests pointed this out after the ride.
Both ATVs are equipped with electronic power steering. The Renegade’s three mode dynamic DPS is excellent and is regarded as the best in the business. The rider can choose between low, medium and high. The assistance will adjust itself according to vehicle speed. Calibration is much stiffer on the Renegade Xxc package which is optimized for high performance riding/racing. Two of our guests wished for more assist from the Renegade’s DPS. From my personal taste the max setting was perfect for trail riding while the low setting should be used only for high speed riding and is going to give the rider a nice workout.
The Scrambler’s non-adjustable power assisted steering has been revised for 2016 with 30% more power according to Polaris, and it shows compared to the Renegade. It’s a little over assisted to my taste at high speed where front end feel fades, but it really isn’t as bad as it sounds. Slow maneuvers are a precise one-handed affair. It’s no frills honest power steering that just plain works. These are high-end muscle ATVs and not touring rigs. No matter, all our testers still preferred the Scrambler’s DPS system. This is the first time where Polaris has had an advantage over the competition in this category in all my test rides but it’s well earned. This round goes to the Polaris without a doubt.
This is the area where the Scrambler is at a clear disadvantage. The Podium X shocks are totally off for this type of muscle ATV. The handling is firm enough for a spirited jaunt on a closed course but anything more than that will overwhelm the suspension. The Renegade will totally destroy any advantage the Scrambler might pick up on the straights. It’s just too bad because the Polaris wants to play hard but the softer suspension just won’t let it. Its 338 kg weight is a little porky compared to the Cam-Am’s 314 kg. When things get serious every kilogram counts and 24 kg is a huge difference between the two machines. On the trails it’s another story; the Scrambler’s suspension is much more composed compared to the Renegade’s always-on-the-edge suspension.
The Renegade is a scalpel and the Scrambler a razor sharp hunting knife and this is where the Renegade reigns supreme: all-out sports ATV. The excellent Podium RC2 shocks combined with the tight suspension geometry make this thing handle like it’s on rails. Steering inputs are precise with zero and I mean zero body roll and the rider always knows what the front end is doing which is not always the case with the Scrambler’s slightly overpowered power steering.
Look at it like this: It’s like a Mustang (Scrambler) and a Porsche RS3 (Renegade), both in stock form, going at it on a racetrack. They are nose to nose on the straights, but as soon as a curve comes around the Porsche will outrun the Mustang every time. A better choice in shocks and stiffer springs would have given the Scrambler a better chance to keep up with the Renegade Xxc. Point Can-Am.
WHEELS AND TIRES
Polaris chose to use 14 inch aluminum wheels and 26 inch Carlisle AT 489 II bias ply tires and they are absolutely awful! Their only saving grace is that they are 14 inch, making the sidewall shorter and thus stiffer. They are way too soft for hardpack with barely enough grip to take advantage of that awe- some engine. This is the problem that makes the front end so disconnected. Why, oh why do manufacturers make a superb machine and then ruin the fun with tires more suited for my wheelbarrow than a sporty ATV? Spoon on a set of Maxxis Bighorns 2.0 on this bike and this head to head would be much more fun for the guy riding the Polaris, I assure you. There is no possible excuse for this and Polaris is not the only manufacturer that does this!
It’s better, but not much, with the Renegade’s 12-inch ITP Holeshots mounted on aluminum beadlock wheels. Our regular test rider Raymond loves these tires that have been sold practically since the Stone Age, but you have to give the Holeshots credit because they are perfectly matched to the Renegade’s suspension. This makes the Renegade Xxc the best handling sport 4x4 ATV in the business. I don’t like the Holeshots myself but I’m very picky when it comes to tires. Advantage Can-Am.
The Renegade is known for its excellent brakes so this should be a no contest right? NOOOO! I don’t know what they did at Polaris but these are the best brakes I have ever tested on a Polaris ATV by a longshot!
Renegade: Did I say the Renegade’s brakes are excellent? Pedal and lever feel are excellent and require almost no effort to properly apply the brakes in all situations. This is such a well-balanced system. Simply the best linked brake system available today.
Scrambler: At press time I was still not sure if the Scrambler’s brake system was linked (should have checked on the bike while I had it). All I know is they work exceptionally well to stop this heavy ATV on a dime every time. Engagement is quick, predictable and easy to modulate. Simply said: These are the best brakes I have ever tested on a Polaris ATV by a longshot!
Photo finish! TIE!
Can-Am: You can recognize a Can-Am from 500 metres in a blink because they are so popular. The bodywork makes it look aggressive with the tucked-in projector headlamps. Panels fit properly and they are known to be able to take some serious abuse without cracking. The look is, well, let’s say Can-Am-ish and build quality is good. I just love the Xxc colours, the white, red and black will always be in style for this type of machine. The Renegade line is seriously due for a complete makeover since BRP has not updated it since 2012. Oh well, it works.
Polaris: This ATV is just beautiful to look at! The Titanium matte lime colour scheme is well rendered. It’s a sinister look that means business with excellent stock headlights. Read this again please: excellent stock headlights! Yes, it’s possible! You can actually see where you’re going at night - kind of excellent. Get it? And they look good too! Kudos Polaris! I don’t like neon colours like I said before and this is why: That nice lime-green flashy bumper is going to show every scuff, rub and scratch faster than you can say ouch! Nope definitely not a fan at all. Fit and finish is almost perfect! Oh my! I’m starting to grow a soft spot for the Scrambler. This one goes to the Scrambler.
Ergonomics are very close on both ATVs, everything is in the right place for all our riders, controls are easy to find, use and are of good quality. Seating position is almost identical on both machines. I like the way I’m seated slightly tilted to the front without the excess that manufacturers seem to favour nowa- days. The only noticeable difference is that the rider sits on the Renegade and in the Scrambler.
Comfort depends mostly on individual preference. The Renegade’s seat is very firm and narrow and lets the rider move around freely for weight transfers to stabilize the ATV when turning sharply. The Scrambler’s seat is large and much more comfortable. It was preferred amongst our test riders that are used to more touring oriented machines. Let’s not forget that we are testing high performance sports ATVs. I preferred the Scrambler’s saddle, Raymond preferred the Renegade’s and our testers the Scrambler.
It would be easy to hand over the win to the Can-Am because of the stellar engine power and the superior suspension. If this test would have been based strictly on a racing environment then, yes, the Renegade Xxc would win hands down in that department. It’s basically a race machine and that’s how it feels all the time!
Now, let’s consider that 99% of these ATVs will never see a racetrack and there’s even fewer chances that they will be used on one during their lifetimes. Things start to make sense for the Scrambler. No excuses here folks, just facts. The Renegade Xxc is an absolute blast to ride but it wants to be ridden hard all the time. It’s built to race in Xxc trim and will not suffer fools. I’m serious, this bike is very, very fast. The drawback for us regular folks is that when ridden at a leisurely pace the Renegade Xxc will rattle your bones in the harshest way possible with the race suspension plus the hardest seat known in ATV land. If you’re a fan of the Renegade line from Can-Am you would be better suited with the base model for trail riding which is much more compliant.
But hey! Back to this head to head!
And the Winner is…
The Polaris Scrambler XP 1000 is the ATV that has impressed me the most in 2016. Its excellent engine that sings such a melodious V8 inspired basso, gets my testosterone going. The softer suspension is spot on for spirited trail riding and is exactly to my liking. The best about it is that all settings were left in mid-setting baseline and factory set preload. That is a sign that Polaris carefully chose the shock valving and that the softness compared to the Renegade Xxc is intentional. It just rides like I want an ATV to ride: not too soft, not too stiff with a powerband the size of the Grand Canyon. I’m going to nickname it: The Gentleman’s Muscle ATV. Yup, that sounds right to me.
I’d gladly pay the $1500 difference to get the Scrambler XP 1000 but the Renegade 1000 base model is even cheaper… Naaahhhh I’d still go for the Scrambler it’s just too good to pass up!
Don’t simply take my word for it, go to your Can-Am and Polaris dealer and try them on for size! Both are an absolute blast! •
Be sure to get all the latest ATV & Off Road news in your hands by subscribing today. If you missed an issue on the stands, or would like a copy of the issue this article was featured in, back issues are also available. Go Riding Magazine gift subscriptions are also available.