What's up with Can-Am's New Smart-Lok Differential?

UPDATE: If you want to upgrade your Visco-Lok differential to a true, on-demand locking front diff, SuperATV now offers a Pin Locker Differential Upgrade. It gives you the ability to lock your front diff at the push of a button and installs easily into your existing Visco-Lok housing.

Can-Am unveiled their new Smart-Lok differential a few days ago. It's meant to give you better traction control while also making the vehicle easier to control. That should mean better cornering, and better control of your vehicle in general across a variety of terrain. But what's going on here and what makes it better than their previous differential?

The primary difference between the Smart-Lok differential and Can-Am's previous differential, the Visco-Lok differential, is the way in which it engages. With the Visco-Lok differential, the wheel has to slip for the differential lock to engage. The spinning axle engages a hydraulic pump in the differential which, in turn, engages the clutch pack and locks the differential. The slipping wheel must make several rotations for the differential to lock. This can take several seconds depending on your speed.

With Can-Am's new Smart-Lok differential, the clutch pack is engaged by an electronic actuator. That means it can engage instantly regardless of speed. It knows when to engage based on a set of sensors throughout the machine as well as the selected ride setting. It knows if you're cornering hard when you start losing traction so it will only partially engage to keep you from losing control—cornering  is a no-go with a fully locked front diff. If you have it set to ROCK mode, it should engage fully and instantaneously with only minor slips at low speed. There's also a toggle to engage the diff lock regardless of the terrain. Basically it knows when you a little slippage is good and when it's not.

Smart lok differential

With these features it should give you better traction and better control. Quicker engagement and smarter engagement should make your ride a lot easier. It's similar to what you see in modern AWD automobiles today.

It's interesting to see Can-Am and Polaris thinking on the same wavelength for their 2018 machines. In case you forgot, Polaris said they were done with the horsepower game and were focusing on a smarter machine with their 2018 RZR Turbo Dynamix (can we please all say "Dyna-mix" instead of "Dy-nam-ix"? "Dyna-mix" sounds way cooler). Dynamix brings a smarter shock to the table by taking hundreds of readings a second and adjusting shock stiffness on the fly.

And now Can-Am has a true 4WD limited slip differential like Polaris. Will the extra nuance of terrain settings make it stand above the Polaris front diff? I sure hope so. The more these guys force each other to make big moves the better.

Either way both Smart-Lok and Dynamix are really good ideas and will hopefully make riding better no matter which side of the competition you land on.

We'll see how these two different approaches to building a "smarter" machine pan out when we finally get behind the wheel soon. Depending on your chosen poison, you'll just want to make sure not break a shock or crack a diff. Replacement parts are going to get even more expensive.