We’ve never been disappointed by a Can-Am. Whether it’s a top-of-the line Defender, Outlander ATV, or a sporty Maverick Side x Side, they’re the definition of off-road excellence. Recently we were able to test the new Can-Am Defenders and Mavericks at Georgia’s Iron Mountain Resort.
PLENTY OF DEFENDERS TO PICK FROM
Can-Am’s Defender models broke new ground in a field that until then had been the domain of Deere’s Gator, Kubota, and the Polaris Ranger. At its core the Defender is a hard-working machine but innovative features, immense power, and the ability to deliver a sporty ride set it apart from other models in the class. It’s got all the tools for work, but also a fun-loving side!
There are 20 different Defender base packages to start with, and every one of those is highly customizable, creating a practically infinite number of different models, but they share many core features. Highlights of the Defender lineup are:
- A whopping 20 different base packages with major differences such as single bench seating, 6 passenger crew-cab configurations, 6-wheel units, flat bed units, and three different engine choices
- Season and region-specific models such as the Louisiana swamp loving X-MR, or a full cab designed for extreme Northern winters.
- Three Rotax engine choices with the 52 hp HD7, the 65 hp HD9, or the 976cc, 82 hp HD10.
- Easy to operate, reliable CVT transmissions with a dash mounted shift lever.
- Quick, nimble handling and excellent trail stability thanks to a low center of gravity and well-balanced chassis.
- Clean, stylish cab areas designed for comfort, with extra leg room, easy entry, and handy features.
- Prices for buyers at every level, beginning at $11,699
DEFENDER DETAILS – UNDER THE SKIN
At the base of every Defender is a high strength steel chassis built for carrying a heavy load. Like most Side x Sides and ATVs, the Defender features dual-arms at the front, with hydraulic disc brakes at each wheel, and a similar A-arm style suspension system at the rear. Supple, adjustable shocks at each corner help control the vehicle and deliver a smooth ride.
Hard working machines need plenty of torque for towing, hauling, and tasks like plowing snow. The Defenders three engine choices deliver exactly that. Both the HD9 and HD10 engines feature Can-Am’s PRO-TORQ CVT and QRS engagement system. This ensures instant response to throttle input. The Defender is equipped with an equally capable CVT transmission. One of the features we appreciate most is a high flow ventilation system for keeping the belt cool, and a handy electronic belt warning system to alert the driver when they should be in LOW gear. From a simple dash switch you can select 2x4 locked or unlocked differential, 4x4 open differential for added traction, or when things really get bad, a fully locked 4x4 differential. There is even help for descending steep grades with Electronic Hill Descent control.
All Defender engines are under the rear bed which helps contain engine noise, but also makes routine maintenance much simpler. We can’t thank the engineering team enough for easy access to oil dip sticks, oil filters, and high-volume canister style air filters. Under the hood are the fuses, accessory electrical connections, and the brake fluid reservoir. Other critical parts such as the battery, bushings, and even the light bulbs have been strategically positioned for ease of maintenance as well.
OFF-ROAD REFINEMENT INSIDE and OUT
As much as we like the chassis and engine of the Defender, Can-Am really shows their mastery of vehicle design with overall body styling and interior cab spaces. Both are excellent! Body styling presents a robust, solid look, and all panels fit nicely. At every opportunity Can-Am built in handy features. The cargo bed sidewalls are molded to include slots for dividers, and the tailgate includes four cup recesses, and a ruler. Bucket holders are molded into the sturdy rear cargo box, and wheel well liners both protect underbody components while directing hot air from the radiator to the side rather than through the cab. At the front, headlights are tucked into the bodywork, while steel bumpers protect vital suspension components and the bodywork above.
Inside the cab is a nicely sculpted dash with easy to reach, intuitive controls. Switches for lights and accessories are to either side of the tilting wheel, and a digital display allows for toggling between all relevant trip and vehicle info. We really appreciate how the seats can be folded up, and they’ve got plenty of leg room beneath. Between the seats is a folding center arm rest. The Defender has plenty of cab storage and one of the cleverest features in the off-road world. The dash glove box can be removed and doubles as a tool box! Fold the handle up and you can carry it with you. We love it! For models with full cabs, you won’t be disappointed. The Can-Am cab interiors rival that of your truck and it almost makes us feel a little guilty about climbing inside with muddy hunting gear. Almost. One area we are particularly impressed with is the doors. They’re sturdy, they fit well, and they feel substantial. The inside door panel is padded, and some models even feature power windows!
TO THE WOODS or WORK – DEFENDER TRAIL TIME
Every Can-Am Defender is a hard-working machine. After all, this unit can haul a full-sized round bale, a set of tractor wheels, or enough gear for a two-week bivouac with the National Guard, all with equal ease. In fact, the Defender Pro has a covered storage area so large we actually crawled through it, emerging on the opposite side. Whether you’ve got a weekend chore around the yard or 50 miles of fence to fix, the Defender can get it done. Since we didn’t have any cows to corral or cinder blocks to haul, we were ready to explore the Defenders sporty side on the slippery, red clay hills of Georgia.
The first thing we noticed about every Defender model is how comfortable they are. They’re easy to get in or out of, and once settled into the perfectly sculpted seat everything feels natural. The pedals are at a good angle, and the steering column easily pivots to your perfect position. The base model we tried features side nets which close with a safety clip, but we do miss the seat belt style latch Can-Am had used in the past. Many models in the Defender family get a sturdy set of doors that work perfectly, but we understand this is simply a manufacturing budgetary decision based on each models intended price point. We fired up the engine and headed for the trails.
The Defender engines provide a healthy sounding exhaust note, but since it is under the bed and behind the cab, there is nothing obnoxious about the sound and it’s easy to have a conversation with your passenger. We like how the dash mounted gear shift lever clicks into gear with positive engagement. True to Can-Am’s penchant for performance in everything they build, the Defender responds to throttle input quickly, but without any jerky feeling. Thanks to a very smooth clutch the Defender picks up speed quickly, and when letting off the throttle there is no abrupt downshifting.
We’re especially fond of the power steering on the Defender. It’s one of those features that is so good you don’t even think about it. It’s the perfect combination of feel and feedback from the trail, with just the right amount of steering assist. We also like the sight lines over the Defender hood, which slopes downward giving you a better view of the trail ahead. That comes at a price though, as an open hood area also means less splash protection. If you choose a base model Defender, get an accessory windshield. It’s well worth it.
A LITTLE ADJUSTMENT GOES A LONG WAY
Before we begin any test ride we first check tire pressure and shock settings. The Defender shocks offer 5 preset options. Ours was set to the softest setting, while the tires are usually pumped to the upper recommended limits during dealer setup. Both make a huge difference in ride quality, not only on the Defender, but any off-road vehicle. We found the factory shock setting responded well to most trail obstacles, but it was also possible to bottom them. The harder tires, however, will transmit more of the small bumps back through the suspension and steering and will be at a disadvantage for traction. Since it had rained heavily both before and during our ride, we preferred a change. We dropped tire pressure 4 pounds, while clicking the suspension adjustment up to the middle setting. This effectively stiffened the suspension for a little less body roll and less tendency to bottom, while the tires could now absorb small bumps, and definitely get better traction on the slippery red clay. It’s a simple adjustment that makes a noticeable difference.
Hard working features and a powerful engine doesn’t necessarily have to mean a rough, jerky ride. Can-Am engineers proved that with their Defender. The engine produces incredible torque for pulling heavy loads, or in our case, climbing some very large hills, and you’ll never run out of power. Just as importantly, when descending a large, slippery slope, the Defenders engine braking was able to control the descent in High gear, but was most noticeable in Low. When peering down a steep, greasy hill with a tight turn at the bottom and a deep gorge just off the edge you need a chassis that will hold its line. Missing the turn would have been worrying to your next of kin. Thankfully, the Defender chassis is nimble enough to maneuver tight trails and off-camber slopes with confidence. The chassis feels firm with no perceivable flex and we didn’t notice any squeaks or suspension noises. The Defender can handle twisty, tight trails, but in the open it’s ready to run!
WHICH MODEL FITS YOU?
With 20 different Defenders ranging from the supremely capable yet budget minded 3-passenger base model which lists for $11,699, to the top of the line, 6-passenger enclosed cab of the luxurious Defender Max Lonestar at $33,199, there most certainly is a Defender model for you. For hauling extreme loads there is even the 6-wheeled Defender 6x6 models, and every Defender is highly customizable thanks to a long list of accessory options. If you can’t find a Defender that works for you, we want to know where you’re riding!
Every time we try a Defender we’re impressed. Although they’re extremely capable work machines, the Defender is also incredibly close to a trail loving crossover model. One wide open section of trails will quickly tell you that. Its Innovative features, thoughtful design, and excellent build quality can’t be beat. Once again, we’ve never been disappointed by a Can-Am.