2016 Can-Am Defender Review- A Clever Workhorse Hot
Can-Am not only likes to play any given segment of the ATV and side-by-side market, but also wants to dominate those segments. Can-Am chooses carefully what segment it wants to dominate next, and now it has set its sights on the UTV-Rec segment, with the introduction of the 2016 Can-Am Defender. Though not the sexiest side of the side-by-side market, it is the largest chunk of the side-by-side market, and the Defender is poised to bring the expected level of Can-Am “goodness” to this segment as well. With powerful engine choices, a large size, and loaded with work-type features, Can-Am has made it clear that it wants the Defender to be a dominant UTV choice for those buying a work vehicle. I was invited to climb aboard this new Defender to get some quality time behind the wheel, and to determine how the Defender stacks up against the other UTVs in the market.
The Mossy Oak camo pattern makes the Defender a hunter's choice.
Our testing facility is a mecca of work, play, and hunting called the Harpole’s Heartland Lodge. Not only is it a trail riding and hunting destination in its own right, but it is a working ranch with all the work associated with a ranch, which includes hay bales, working animals, and lots of fence lines. That means much, much work goes on here! Now that sounds like the perfect place to test the work and play capabilities of a work-play UTV, don’t you think? If the Defender is going to place itself up against the industry’s leading UTVs, then it needs to excel at these work tasks. The fact is, Can-Am has brought its “A” game to the Defender so that it does indeed excel.
The Defender comes complete with that "ready to work" look and the goods to back it up.
Taking It In
Laying my eyes upon the Defender flooded my mind with a couple of thoughts. The first was it looks a lot like a Ranger, and the second was it is undoubtedly a Can-Am. The grille and hood combination is big and bold, which fits this side-by-side because it is a designated work machine. The Defender looks good, and, like a one-ton truck, I want my work side-by-side to look as though it is serious about getting the job done. Going over the interior, there is no doubt it is a Can-Am with the fit and finish, rocker switches, plastic patterns, and attention to detail. The XT model had the classic analog/digital instrument cluster found in other Can-Am side-by-side models like the Commander and Maverick. It is nice to know a UTV can have a cab with more of a sport feel rather than just utilitarian feel. The Defender has a large cargo bed with rugged tie-downs and side strapping points. In the XT model, it also has color panels that match the color of the body for that upscale look.
The Defender comes ready to work with a choice of 50 or 72 horsepower Rotax engine.
Work And More Work
Real work requires real grunt, and the Defender comes with your choice of two engines: the Rotax HD10 with 72-horsepower and the Rotax HD8 with 50 horsepower. Both engines are v-twins, and you can find versions of them in other model lines. The takeaway is that both engines have been optimized for low-end torque. I actually drove models that had each of the two available engines, and I found the HD10 to have a cargo bed load of power. The HD8 had significant power as well, and far more than I expected. Can-Am has named the transmission in these UTVs the Pro-Torq transmission with a Quick Response System (QRS for short) providing ideal engagement for work related tasks and trail riding to boot. Though all the acronyms are exhausting, I thought the CVT engagement was very good. It engaged smoothly, so Can-Am worked at it and it showed. The low gear is geared particularly…uh…. low, to provide maximum torque to get loads moving. I felt there was enough power on tap in High gear to get up and go without any fuss. Can-Am talks about engine braking for slow deceleration, but it seemed to work only in low gear…and for me it worked only sometimes. When it did work, it seemed to keep things well under control on the declines. Can-Am indicated we had prototype models, and the engine braking would definitely work consistently before going into production. It would also work in high range as well. I believe they will get things right by the time production begins.
The cargo bed can haul 1000 lbs. and has recessed areas for 5-gallon buckets and wood dividers.
The cargo bed can haul 1000 lbs, and the Defender can tow 2000 lbs. The cargo bed can dump its load, but it also shows some of “Can-Am clever” all over it. There are recessed areas in the bed for 5-gallon buckets and cup holders. You can use wood boards in the recessed slots in the side of the cargo bed to separate the bed into sections. There is also the heavy duty tailgate that can hold 250 lbs of working man or corn sacks without breaking a sweat. There are also so many tie-down points there is no end to what you can secure. The “clever” comes in with the bed accessories available for the Defender. There is a headache rack available along with extended sides for the cargo bed that can be put on or taken off in a few seconds, which greatly extend the carrying capacity of the machine. There is even an automatic dumping accessory so you just push a button and watch the work happen. That is the kind of unloading I like.
The dual-a-arm suspension with 10 inches of travel at each wheel makes for a comfortable ride. The Defender
drives much more nimbly than it size says it should.
Working Comfort- Playing Prowess
The ride on the Defender is particularly good for such a large machine. The suspension is dual-arms front and rear with 10 inches of travel at each wheel, and the Defender has preload-adjustable shocks along with a rear sway bar. The ride on the roads and areas around the buildings that lend themselves to a work environment proved to be a comfortable ride on the Defender. The Defender’s ride and handling was tighter and more on the sport side than what I was expecting. The Defender is a large vehicle, but it drives and rides far more nimbly than what you expect when you look at it. What really took me by surprise was how it performed on tighter wooded trails. It was maneuverable, thanks to its excellent and natural-feeling EPS, and very capable, thanks to its 11 inches of ground clearance and its 4WD system. I took it over “hill and dale” and then some, and it was a “player” on the trail and even in the mud. It can double as a work and adventure vehicle after 5:00. Speaking of 4WD system, the Defender has a segment-exclusive feature with its 4 mode 4WD system. You can select 2x4 or 4x4 BOTH with an open or locked rear diff. An open rear diff allows you to tiptoe on sensitive ground or make tighter turns, but allowing an open diff with 4 wheel drive is special.
The drive system allows for rear diff lock in both 2x4 and 4x4 mode, and is selectable by a rocker
switch on the dash.
The cab is what sets the Defender apart in a field full of capable UTVs. Of course the entire cab has the Can-Am signature level of thoughtful detail, and fit and finish we have come to expect, but there is so much more. The seat configuration is one of its unique and clever features. Essentially there are three seats for three adults, but the middle seat back can fold down as an armrest with cupholders for your favorite beverages. Even better, the passenger seat bottoms can fold up individually for more space to carry stuff. So you can sit in the driver’s seat and then have all the floor space to carry your tools, dog, or kitchen sink. The seats are contoured and offer a comfortable place to sit from job or hunting blind “A to B”.
Both the passenger seats can be folded up or down to allow space to carry two passengers or a bunch of
stuff along for the ride in the cab.
The second standout feature is how much storage is available in the cab. There is storage under the entire dashboard, in the dashboard, on top of the dashboard, and even an optional removable toolbox that doubles as a glovebox on steroids. There is even optional storage under the outside passenger seat. So, there is a TON of storage available, and, on a work vehicle, there is never too much storage! The dashboard is lower than many other competitive units, and that makes for good visibility on the trail in front of you. Both passengers have a grab bar build into the dash for that comforting feeling of staying put when things get crazy, which shouldn’t happen all that much in a utility-rec side-by-side, but it is nice to have it there. Getting in and out of the Defender is easy, and despite the fact I hate cargo nets, Can-Am has managed to make a cargo net that is not only out of the way when getting in and out, but is also easy to open and close. That is quite an accomplishment. The steering wheel is not only adjustable, but also set out in such a way that you are not having to reach very far to grip it. I like the gear shift lever on the dashboard, which is long enough to make shifting easy. I will say that when shifting, it is hard to go from one gear because the gear doesn’t want to seat properly. That seems to be my experience with most Can-Am transmissions, so the way to deal with it is to move the shifter to neutral and then back to the gear you want. The cab of the Defender is a place you can find solace and comfort on the job, with adventure and excitement on the hunt or on the trail.
The entire cab has the signature Can-Am finish with an extra level of detail and simple touches giving you a feeling
of class. From the storage to the removable glove box that doubles as a tool box, the Defender is cleverly
Another Clever Item
The Defender has some options for you working folks to assist you with those who work for you. You can get “keys” that limit the power, top speed, or both on your Defender. So if you have workers that “need” to be limited in the power department, then you can use that key for the times they will be driving. Of course you will have a key to unlock the full potential for when you climb behind the wheel.
The Defender has a lot to offer from both the work and play requirements of its owner.
My time driving the Defender left me to understand that Can-Am has built a very competitive unit to break into the utility-recreation side-by-side market. The Defender is all Can-Am in that it sports all the Can-Am signatures throughout the vehicle. The unit as a whole has “Can-Am clever” in many places, but especially the cab. The cab is the plushest in the industry. The Defender has a comfortable ride, and handles particularly well for machine of its size and purpose. I am a huge fan of the seat configuration with the ability to fold up the seat bottoms for more storage space. I love the amount of storage available in the cab. Of course I would go for the XT model with the instrument cluster sporting the more eye candy look, and the 27” Big Horn tires with 14 inch wheels. I think Can-Am will have no trouble selling a bunch of the Defender models, and begin to gain marketshare in this side-by-side segment. Be sure to take a look at the Defender if you are looking to buy a working side-by-side with the ability to play when not on the clock.
HD8- 50 hp, Rotax® 799.9 cc, V-twin, liquid cooled
HD10- 72 hp, Rotax® 976 cc, V-twin, liquid cooled
FUEL DELIVERY SYSTEM
Intelligent Throttle Control (iTC™) with Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI)
PRO-TORQ Transmission with Quick Response System (QRS), high airflow ventilation and Electronic Drive Belt Protection Extra-L / H / N / R / P
True 4 modes traction system: 2x4 open rear dif., 2x4 locked rear dif., 4x4 open rear dif., 4x4 locked rear dif. Visco-Lok QE auto-locking front dif.
Electronic Hill Descent Control
Dynamic Power Steering (DPS)
Double A-arm / 10 in. (25.4 cm) travel
Twin tube gas charged shocks
TTA-HD with external sway bar / 10 in. (25.4 cm) travel
Twin tube gas charged shocks
Dual 220 mm ventilated disc brakes with hydraulic twin-piston calipers
Dual 220 mm ventilated disc brakes with hydraulic single-piston calipers
Base & DPS Maxxis M923J† 25 x 8 x 12 in.
XT & XT Cab Maxxis Bighorn 2.0† 27 x 9 x 14 in.
Base & DPS Maxxis M923J† 25 x 10 x 12 in.
XT & XT Cab Maxxis Bighorn 2.0† 27 x 11 x 14 in.
Base & DPS 12 in. Cast Aluminum
XT & XT Cab 14 in. Black Cast Aluminum
ESTIMATED DRY WEIGHT*
L X W X H (IN)
120 x 62 x 76 in.
11 in. (28 cm)
CARGO BOX DIMENSIONS
38 x 54.5 x 12 in.
CARGO BOX CAPACITY
1,000 lb / California only: 600 lb
Total: 10.4 gal (39.5 L)
Underdash: 6 gal (22.8 L)
Central dash and gauge: 1.8 gal (6.9 L)
Removable toolbox: 1.7 gal (6.3 L)
Central armrest and holders: 0.9 gal (3.5 L)
3 years limited warranty