2016 Can-Am Defender Review
By: Eli Madero // UTVUnderground.com
When we hear of a new SxS model being released from a manufacturer, the internet seems to blow up with questions like “How much horsepower does it have?” or “How much suspension travel does it have?” I won’t lie and say that I’m not guilty of that myself, but facts prove that the sport SxS market gets the most hype but only accounts for a small portion of total sales. If you don’t believe me, just look at how many models have been released by Polaris, Kawasaki and Yamaha. The Polaris RANGER, Honda Pioneer, Kawasaki Mule, Yamaha Viking and others all have multiple engine sizes and model packages that have been put together to accommodate the utility/recreation consumers, while Can-Am has been idling on the sidelines without a vehicle in the mix.
Since their unveiling of the sport/recreation-built Commander in 2010, performance-minded Maverick in 2013, they’ve continuously made improvements and advancements in these markets to fight for dominance, and they’ve finally stepped into the utility/recreation market with the all-new Defender for 2016. It’s clear with the features and overall design, that Can-Am set out to knock Polaris’ RANGER lineup from the top of the pedestal in the utilitarian market and, with what they’ve unleashed, the Defender is a very formidable contender. With four different package options and two different but powerful engines, the price points vary for those on a budget to those who want the ultimate in luxury.
The base bare-bones Defender HD8 model comes with a powerful 799.9cc Rotax V-twin, fuel-injected and liquid cooled engine that puts out 50hp. Power is delivered to to the ground through the all new Pro-Torque transmission with Quick Response System (QRS) that features high airflow ventilation and an Electronic Drive Belt Protection system. This base transmission comes equipped with their standard selectable 2wd/4wd drive train with Visco-Lok auto-locking front differential. The terrain is soaked up via Double A-Arm front suspension and twin tube gas shocks up front while the rear sports Can-Am’s TTA-HD suspension with external sway bar and twin tube gas charged shocks as well. Stopping is handled by 220 mm vented disc brakes with hydraulic twin-piston calipers up front while the rear features the same 220mm discs but only single-piston calipers in the back. This package comes in at just $10,999, which is a thousand dollars more than the RANGER 570 making it competitively priced.
I had the opportunity to test every unit Can-Am offered at the Heartland Lodge in Nebo, IL. This location is not only a resort getaway, but it features two huge ATV/UTV riding areas in addition to some world-class hunting and plenty of ranch style activity for me to put the Defender to the test. My unit of choice was the Defender XT HD10 since it sat in the middle of price range of available models. This unit has all of the same great features like the base model Defender, such as Versa-Pro Bench seat but with reinforced XT seat skin and adjustable drivers seat, 6-gallon removable storage box under the passenger seat, removable water resistant glove/tool box, gigantic cargo box with sturdy tailgate and adjustable tilt steering. The extras that this model comes with are things like Can-Am’s Dynamic Power Steering (DPS), 14”-cast aluminum wheels with 27” Maxxis Bighorn 2.0 tires and hard roof. The XT models also come standard with a factory installed 4,500 lb winch that can be used to get you out of a sticky situation or lift heavy game into a tree for field dressing.
At first glance I wasn’t a fan of the Defender’s looks, but they grow on you and are definitely functional. The snub nose of this unit allows for a better view of the trail in front of you, but they also styled their roll bar to be farther away from the cab area. This allows for better overall vision for both driver and passenger. After strapping in and securing the net style side restraint, a quick turn of a key brought the 976cc HD10 engine to life with a low rumble and little vibration in the cab. The column-mounted shifter was easy to grab and put into any gear with one hand, which people who do a lot of work with plows and other implements will appreciate. I instantly took to the numerous trails of the property and found that the Defender wasn’t your average everyday utility-built UTV. The suspension was very comfortable going over the bumps, and it also made the Defender equally stable through the corners and on off-camber portions of the trail.
One of the most impressive things I found on the Defender was the amount of torque this unit had in addition to the overall power of the HD10 engine. Honestly this unit has no idea that it wasn’t built for the performance-minded owner. With an empty bed, this thing is a rocket ship that sucks you into the molded bench seat when you mash the throttle to the floor. This abundance of power also translates to extreme torque when you need to transport heavy loads. Stopping the Defender was decent, but I did feel that the braking feel could have been slightly more proportioned. When stopping I needed to get on the brakes early for easier stopping but if I put a little too much pressure to the pedal, it seemed quick to lock. This may be due to compensating for load even when empty, but overall it wasn’t bad.
When stopping for one of many trail breaks or photo opportunities, I could really appreciate the thought that went into the small features that this unit has to offer. The waterproof 6-gallon storage that pulls out from beneath the passenger side of the bench seat is a great idea for those that like to take a 4-legged friend along for a ride, since it gives them a larger area to sit or lay down, or even more area to put bulky items you might want in the cab. The removable water resistant glove box is a great idea as well. You can use it as a tackle box if you like to take your UTV fishing, and if you purchase a few extra boxes, you can have it loaded for whatever task you might have at hand and pull it from the garage when you’re ready to head into the field. The large cargo bed has plenty of anchor points and also features recessions at the front of the bed that will help hold 5-gallon pails that are commonly used by ranchers, farmers and construction workers.
As I took back to the trails of the ATV park, I came across some technical terrain that went through a creek and had plenty of slippery rock to present a challenge. I flipped the switch to put the Defender in 4WD and made my way through the rough stuff. The only problem I had was coming out of the rocky creek and up the embankment, when the wheels started breaking loose. I took the extra measure of traction control by locking the rear differential and, with ease, the Maxxis Bighorn 2.0 tires found the necessary traction and climbed the embankment like a mountain goat. For being such a skeptic, the Defender continued to impress me in ways that I never thought it would.
Upon returning to the lodge, I went over the unit with a fine toothed comb to see if there was anything that I wouldn’t like and that proved to be a challenge. The front hood provided easy access to the fuse block, radiator and overflow bottle. Just behind the driver’s seat under the bed, there is easy access to the drive belt and once the bed is raised, accessing the cartridge style oil filter and fill port is a breeze. The ROPS certified cage is ready for any of the modular BRP accessories from a full front windshield to a complete cab enclosure. The cargo bed is also ready to accept a wide array of accessories compatible with BRP’s Linq system.
So I don’t sound totally biased for this machine, there were a few things that I felt could use some improvement. For starters, the Defender could use quicker steering. It felt as though you really had to work the steering wheel to turn, where other brands require much less movement. The DPS handles plenty of the effort so the gear ratio of the steering rack doesn’t have to be so forgiving. My second gripe with the Defender lies in the under-dash storage area. This offers plenty of room to store tools, maps or anything else you want to put in the convenient compartment, but when you start up any kind of incline, it seems that all of that could come flying out in an instant. This could be remedied with an aftermarket net restraint, but in stock form you need to watch what you place there. My last and biggest gripe has to do with the Electronic Belt Protection system. When in high range at low speed, I started to go up a fairly steep incline and without any notice, it felt as if the machine completely lost power through either fuel or ignition cutout. The belt indicator warning came up on the LCD screen and once I put it in low range, the Defender climbed without any further problems. While it may be a safeguard to prevent belt wear, when it kicks in, it can make for an uneasy feeling.
In summary I feel that Can-Am has a winner on its hands in the Defender. With models at competitive price points, multiple engine packages and a slew of practical features, this UTV can hang and potentially best the top selling recreational/utility machines on the market. It will easily meet the demands of farmers, ranchers or anyone else who needs their vehicle to be a reliable workhorse, but it will also provide them with endless fun with the capability of going almost anywhere you want.