Work. Work is the thing that we generally have to do to keep the lights on at the house and shoes on the kid's feets. What is that old idiom? 10 percent of the time I do what I want and the rest I do what I have to. BRP has been making grin-inducing machines for the better part of the last century and all this one, so they know something about making the most out of that valuable 10 percent. They took a look at the working part of your life for 2016. Enter the Can Am Defender.
The Defender is the new utility based UTV. The Can Am team hosted the press fleet at the gorgeous Harpole's Heartland Lodge
in Nebo, IL. Harpole's could not have been a better place to show off this machine and to stuff us full of delicious food and tasty drinks. The place is gorgeous.
The utility market is pretty much owned by a few players: Polaris, John Deere, Kubota. Why would Can Am want to wade into the deep waters of the utility market? Well, contrary to my belief, there is a lot of market left out there as many industries and properties are still using trucks where a UTV would better serve. Who better to provide tough, capable, and clever solutions to these folks than Can Am?
What you care about
The Defender is offered with two different engine options and 5 trim levels. That sounds like a lot of information to take in, but think about it this way: Decide on the 800 (HD8) or the 1000 (HD10) engine and then how much stuff do you want and need. For those looking for the basic work machine, you are looking at the base Defender, and you can get it in any color so long as it is green. Once you start thinking about progressive power steering, you are looking at the Defender DPS. This opens up your color palette to yellow, green, or Mossy Oak.
Now on to the fancier models. Once you start wanting driving modes, a factory-standard winch, taller Bighorn 2.0 27's, slick gauges, enclosed under-seat storage, roof, skid plate (plastic), and pretty paint, on your plastics, you are looking at the Defender XT. Add a cab, and you guessed it, the Defender XT Cab.
If I were buying this machine, as I said, I would look at the engine choice first. The HD8 is an 800cc Rotax engine pushing out 50 units of horsepower, and a square 50 pound feet of torque. If those numbers don't tickle you where it counts, then take a look at the HD10. This is a 976cc Rotax engine that is pushing out 72 horse and 61 pounds. All of these numbers are several percentage points higher than the almost comparable engines from the other guys. This decision needs to come from what you are actually going to be doing with this machine. Only you can answer that.
So what do all of those trims really mean? The Defender is a well thought out bit of machinery. Starting from a clean sheet of paper while looking directly at the machines that have done very well in the market is a great way to build. Countless hours of focus-grouping and spending work days with actual users on their properties helped the boys and girls at Can Am cut to the heart of what users really want in a machine. They want a machine that is going to be dependable as the day is long and a machine that just... works.
To this end, the Defender focussed heavily on ease of maintenance, toughness, and working smarter, not harder. They were able to create a machine that is maintenance free for a year equivalent to 1,865 miles or 200 hours. The engine compartment is located under the dump bed and is divided into a hot side and cold side. This allows owners to access the intake side of the engine from the passenger side without having to reach past hot exhaust parts. This cleverness, and attention to detail is carried throughout the machine.
The Defender uses an all-new high-strength, low-alloy frame as it's base. They put this frame through the paces with rigorous winter and summer testing to ensure that the machine would be able to meet the high Can Am standards.
Living with this thing
I said that it was clever earlier and this materializes in the thought put into actually living and working with the Defender. Several things stuck out to me seeing the Defender live and in person. First of which is the flip up 40/20/40 bench seat. It is not because I needed to use them, but rather thinking about my friends who have utility machines. They all have dogs that sit in the floor of the cab. There isn't a whole lot of room for a full sized dog in those foot wells, so inevitably the dog ends up on the vinyl with their claws. Flip those two seats up and there is plenty of room. Couple that with the under-seat lift-out waterproof container, some ice, and a few cans of... drink, you are ready for an evening patrol of the fence line.
Speaking of that under-seat container, the dash features another neat latched container. The "glove box" can be lifted out of the dash and taken with via a flip-up handle. I wish it was a little deeper, but it will handle some light tackle, or carry a few boxes of shells with ease. I put my hat in there while riding and a traditional mesh back cap barely fits without deformation, but it fits and the rubber gasket kept the fine Illinois dust off of it.
In the dump bed, the days spent on the farms and ranches paid off. As many of us know, the traditional carry device for stuff and things is the standard 5-gallon bucket. To this end, there are several 5-gallon bucket-sized indentions in the floor of the bed. These are meant to keep those buckets near the front of the bed and not wandering around while enroute. Along the walls of the bed are slots designed for pieces of wood (1x3) to be cut and slid down into the bed to act as dividers, and each corner has a steel tie down. The bed dumps with one hand and has a latch on either side, so, God willing, the passenger will feel obliged to get out and handle that for the driver.
Driving the Defender
The 70 Utility / 30 recreation split is a little misleading I feel. Recreation is a bit of a misnomer in my head. I could be completely off base as I am, what I would consider a "Sport Driver." I like to go fast. I did not want to go fast in this machine. I don't think it was meant to de driven fast either. In chatting with the folks at Can Am, they kept using the specific word "recreation." After driving it, I realize why they were using that word in place of "sport." This is not a lot of sport in this machine aside from the power that the HD10 puts out.
Recreation is defined by this machine much in the same way that the IRS would define it. "Were you using it explicitly in the function of your property? No? That is considered 'recreation.'" Let me explain. This machine will get you out to the deer blind. It will get you over to the pond on a July afternoon so you can do some fishing, and it will get you out to those places at a max speed greater than 25 mph. If there is a washed out trail between you and that destination, the Defender will make it (sometimes it takes some crafty driving).
On the trails, I never got stuck, but I certainly found a few places that I had to think about my line. I found some ruts that helped me really appreciate the skids on the underbody. I drove this thing in a manner that it was not meant for and it came out the other end on all 4 tires and without any damage, so I will chalk that up as a win.
Out on the trail, it does feel every bit of the 60" width. The a-pillar is pushed out to the corner creating a better sight line for the driver. On the tighter trails on the property, which admittedly were cut by ATV's, the Defender felt wide, but that is to be expected. After tinkering with the driving modes, of which there are 12 combinations on the XT model, I was able to find the best combination for the tight trails. This was 2WD with the rear diff unlocked. On the wider trails, this didn't matter much and I just needed to worry about the need for 4WD or 2WD. And I might add that driving rapidly on wide trails feels much better in 4WD.
Driving the Defender as it is supposed to be driven, it is really a great machine. It does all of the things that a utility machine should do and it does them quite well. Under load, the engine has enough torque to pull about 2,000 pounds and we slapped 20, 50-lb sacks of corn in the bed of the cabbed XD10, the Defender was able to handle the weight, and still manage it's 26-foot turning radius with ease. We obviously had to adjust the preload on the suspension to the top setting (of which I feel should have been in the middle of the range of preload).
The shifter is positioned in such a way that, with the tilt steering wheel in the full-up position, it is easy to shift and steer with the right hand while manipulating the winch control for a plow, handily positioned to the left of the steering wheel with the left hand. Again, clever.
Tinkering with it
We all know that you have to make a damned good machine in order to survive in the market these days. Consumers place higher and higher demands on their equipment and we are getting spoiled. That is a good thing though.
If I were to pick at this machine, it would be that the Defender might be a little too clever when it comes to all of the driving modes. The Diff Lock button was a little confusing as there are two lights and when the picture is illuminated, the diff is locked, but when the light under the words "Rear Diff Lock" is illuminated, it is unlocked. I might be aging, but I can only imagine how frustrating it would be to older folks if I found it hard to understand. Keep in mind that I was in this machine for a grand total of 10-12 hours, so after a week, even a simpleton would know what was what. With that said, it would likely take me two weeks.
With all of these modes, I feel like it should be more simple. There is a Work mode that offers all of the power, but adds throttle smoothing. There is a Normal mode that has all of the power with no throttle smoothing. Then there is an ECO mode that cuts fuel, and thus power. Why? Just give me the ECO mode, and the Work mode and call that Normal. I wouldn't know the difference anyway. I think that the buyer of a Defender wouldn't either.
The Defender is probably more utility than recreation, and when I say that I mean, more than the 70% that was quoted. I realize that Can Am is marketing to customers that want a machine that can do it all, but you don't have to tell that customer that they can do it all. That customer is going to do it anyway. Then again, what is "recreation" really defined as?
As I said earlier, I wish the cargo boxes were a little deeper, but I love the fact that they are lift-and-go. Depth would help the under-dash storage as well. I would gladly sacrifice a 1/4" in the size of the opening for a little bit of a lip that keeps my things inside the compartment.
At the end of the day
The Defender works. Plain and simple. There are some really great, and well thought out features on the Defender. A lot of time went into the design of these systems and it shows. As a freshman effort from Can Am in the utility market, this is a very solid "A." This machine will check off a ton of boxes for those that are looking for a workhorse around the property, but still like to sneak off to check their game cameras every now and again.
Starting at $10,999, The Defender is a little more spendy than some of the major competitors, but the Can Am fit, finish, and attention to detail is certainly worth some serious consideration when it comes time to sign on the dotted line.