Sport quads have largely been based on motocross technology with big, hard-running, four-stroke singles, standard motorcycle gearboxes, chain drive and solid rear axles - as in Yamaha's YFZ450 and the Bombardier (now Can-Am) DS650.

Working quads, however, come out with all manner of weird semi-automatic or constantly variable transmissions intended to make them as simple as possible to drive while the operator gets on with the day's work.

Some even have all-wheel drive and lockable differentials and the more powerful examples will go just about anywhere you can walk.

It was only a matter of time before someone applied all that technology to a sports chassis and built what could well be described as an SUV quad.

It's the Can-Am Renegade 800.

Let's start with the muscles: the Renegade has the same 798cc, Austrian-made, Rotax 4-Tec V-twin as the heavy-duty Outlander utility quad that's capable of a claimed 46kW and 73Nm - and that, Can-Am says, makes it the most powerful production quad on the market.

It drives the rear wheels (or all four at the flick of a switch on the right handlebar) via a constantly variable belt transmission, high and low range, shaft drive and an electronic, lockable front differential - and if you think that sounds more like a Range Rover than a sports quad, you're right.

Which is also why it costs R98 000.

A gear lever on the right of the body above the front wheel offers neutral, reverse, forward high range and forward low range - and believe me, the only time you'll ever need low range is for a rocky and very steep ascent.

The front suspension uses double A-arms (forged aluminium above, tubular steel below) with pre-load-adjustable, high-pressure, nitrogen-charged shock absorbers - a standard sports-quad set-up.

At the rear, however, you'll find Can-Am's "torsional trailing independent" suspension, also with gas shocks, which has 75 percent fewer moving parts than other independent rear suspension systems and no sideways scrubbing motion to kick the back end out of line over a bad bump.

It has a 1295mm wheelbase, only 51mm longer than that of the DS650 racer and weighs 270kg, 20kg lighter than the Outlander.

Cosseting your bum

What looks at first like skimpy sports-style furniture is, however, surprisingly roomy and, like all Can-Am products, the seat is wide and deeply padded.

It's big by sports-quad standards but the handlebars are adjustable for reach, with a scale in a window on the clamp for precision setting - a first in my experience.

There's a neat LCD instrument pod above it to display speed, revs, distance, gear position, fuel level, two or all-wheel drive, vehicle hours and engine hours - makes you wonder if there isn't such a thing as too much information.

But, once on the move, you can ignore most of that - put it in high range, lightly caress the unexpectedly quick-acting thumb throttle and hang on.

Hard to catch

The Renegade accelerates hard enough on a firm surface to get the steering decidedly wiggly and goes up to 120km/h inside 100m with more to come. This thing is going to be hard to catch on long, open sections, even if its size tells against it in the tight stuff.

In two-wheel drive mode you can throw it sideways just by giving it a bit too much throttle - and it's a measure of the Renegade's power level that I only got the throttle wide open once in our three hours of riding.

Most of that was in the soft sand of the Atlantis dunes, north of Cape Town, where the steering was uncomfortably vague in two-wheel drive and the quad had a tendency to dig in on a steep slope.

But all-wheel drive transformed it: the steering tightened up - without becoming heavy - and the big Renegade simply flattened the steepest dunes, even without low range.

There is very little on four wheels that's going to be able to stay with it in these - or most other - conditions. On longer, more open, courses it's going to run away from its competitors.

Tight turns

We spent some time barrelling down narrow trails through the bush, standing up all the way - as much to see where we were going as for extra control - and the cleated footpegs with their upswept outer sections really came into their own.

I was able to throw the Renegade into tight turns, nicely balanced and with enough weight on the outer peg to ensure decent traction even in soft sand.

Which, of course, is exactly the opposite of how you do it on a motorcycle - where you concentrate on keeping your weight on the inside peg. Don't let anyone try to fool you into believing a quad is like a bike with four wheels - it isn't!

The Renegade really does occupy a niche of its own; it's way heavier and more sophisticated than standard sports machines but it's definitely not a utility quad thanks to its top-drawer suspension components, very limited storage and only a small rear cargo rack.

But it does have muscles on its muscles, all-wheel drive and 305mm of ground clearance - just like an SUV.

  • Test quad from Waterworld, Cape Town.

    Price: R98 000.