The side-by-side market is getting pretty crowded these days, with manufacturers looking for new ways to scrape out a share. For outdoors men and women, the utility/recreation area is prime real estate. These are the machines that are designed for work first and some play. We want something that can put in food plots, haul stands and do chores around the property, and then have a good time scouting and maybe doing a little exploring during the off season. Can Am worked hard to develop a machine that fits into this area, and with the 2016 Defender, they knocked it out of the park.
At the core of the Defender platform are two engine choices. The HD10 offers a 72-horsepower 1,000-class V-twin Rotax engine. The HD8 is a 50-horsepower Rotax V-twin in the 800-class area. Each engine has been calibrated for working, meaning they produce more low-end torque and usable power for doing the tasks hunters and ranchers do, versus being the rip-snorting speed demon power plants the Rotax mills are known for being. What that means is, the new Defenders produce gobs of usable low-end torque, and do so at lower RPMs. This means you don’t have the rev the guts out of the engine to get the machine to plow a food plot, haul a trailer, or more.
Getting that power to the ground is the new PRO-TORQ transmission, which combines technologies like Can Am’s Quick Response System that provides precise engagement of the transmission. This means that there isn’t that noticeable lag in response from the time you give it gas, until the machine moves. There are also larger CVT ratios with a work-specific low gear. The low gear has a ton of grunt to it. On some competitors, you’d need low range to equal the lower gearing of the Defender when it is in high range.
Low range on the Defender transmission is simply amazing. To date, this is the best low range system on any UTV tested, and that says a lot. While tackling some steep and rutted terrain, the Defender in low range just crawled without a bunch of wheel spin. Engine braking in low range is also phenomenal. Going down some of the steep hills without touching a brake can take some getting used to, but the level of control is very nice.
The Defender has a true 1,500lbs payload capacity with a large cargo bed that has a dump feature. The bed features divider slots to add segmented cargo distribution. There are also recesses built in for 5-gallon buckets. One other nice feature of the cargo box is the fit. It doesn’t squeak and rattle like some boxes are known to do. There’s also a 2-inch receiver hitch and a 2,000lbs towing capacity.
The cab has a nice bench seat that has room for three (two big guys). The edges of the seats are rounded off, making getting in and out easier – a nice touch for those of us who get in and out a lot while working, etc. The seats are made with reinforced nylon vinyl on the XT versions, although the standard seat covers are pretty nice too.
The dash is well thought out. All of the controls are placed in a manner to make them easier to work when you’re thinking about the job as much as you are about the ride. The steering wheel tilts and is comfortable. I know it seems a little weird to say that a steering wheel is comfortable and that being a big deal, but if you’re behind it all day, it gets to be one rather quickly.
The front of the Defender feels short. That comes from the position of the A-Pillars, the front part of the roll-over protection. Can Am placed them further forward than most, which opens the cab up more as well as creates the feeling of a shorter front end. What that does is gives the driver a better feeling of control when traversing rougher terrain. That feeling is real, not just imagined though. The approach and departure angles on the Defender are very good. There were numerous times when we felt like we were going to rub the bumpers on the ground because of a steep climb or drop off. That didn’t happen.
The little things
The Defender is packed with some little features and well-thought-out designs that had a bunch of journalists sitting around playing with stuff like little kids. Passenger and middle seats flip up, making a perfect spot for your retriever or farm dog to ride. There is a removable tool box built into the dash, as well as a 6-gallon sealed, removable storage box under the seat. The bed hinge detaches to give you complete access to the engine at the rear of the machine. The CVT cover is easily accessible and can be removed with 12 bolts. And lest we not forget the 10.6 gallon fuel tank. I could go on.
The Defender comes in several models. The standard HD8 and HD10 models start at $10,999 and the DPS models, which adds Can Am’s Dynamic Power Steering to both, start at $12,799. Next up are the XT package for both the HD8 and HD10, which adds aluminum wheels, different tires, a winch, additional storage, thicker seat covers and a few other features to the DPS package. The XTs start at $15,599 The XT Cab package takes the HD10 XT and adds a full cab, with a glass windshield front and rear, full doors with power windows, wiper blades and a cab heater installed and can be had starting at $23,699.
Color options range from a pea green and a bright Can Am yellow, to a deep metallic red and silver. Of course, the hunters will flock to the Mossy Oak Break Up Country finish, which looks pretty sweet. Can Am also developed some really nice and well-thought out accessories.
Starting out the engine gives a nice V-Twin growl that is also very subtle. It’s not noisy, like in a sport side-by-side. Throttle response is sharp. The suspension, 10 inches of travel in the front and 11 in the rear, works very well. It is stiff enough in the action to handle loads, but not too stiff. When the terrain gets tricky, the standard settings are a little soft. Not a big deal seeing as the rest of the time, the suspension works so well.
Twelve-inches of ground clearance means you’re not going to get hung up easily. At 62-inches wide, the Defender may be too wide for some trails, but it’s on par with most other vehicles in the class. I drove it through some really tight stuff and had no issues, even in a few out-of-bounds areas on our trail rides on southern Illinois’ Harpole’s Heartland Lodge. The lodge, an amazing place by the way, has a mix of deep woods and hills. This is big buck country, after all. If you’re looking for a great place to ride, or need a getaway, check them out. And don’t get me started on the hunting options…
The four-wheel drive system is pretty neat too. You can select two or four-wheel drive, and you can lock and unlock the rear differential. This gives you several different combinations. With everything locked in, the Defender will attack some mud with gusto. It was a lot of fun too. The Defender might be a workhorse at heart, but Can AM remembered that all work and no play… Well, you get it. It’s a lot of fun to drive.
The bottom line is – Can Am has done their homework. The Defender is an extremely well-thought out machine that fits the Utility/Recreation category perfectly. For hunters and land managers, the Defender is one of the better options you’ll find on the market. One thing is certain – Can Am is going to sell a ton of Defenders. It’s that good!