Slowly fording 18 inches of water covering a cut cornfield deep in the heart of Illinois in a side-by-side is a world away from rock crawling a nasty trail high in the Sierras. So, too is two duck hunters and their retriever easing along a muddy irrigation canal road at 8 mph and a duo of wanna-be off-road racers running 80mph across the open desert.
The two scenarios seem to have nothing in common – until you look at the name behind the side-by-sides – Can-Am. The opposites in uses show just how diverse Can-Am’s side-by-side offerings have become over the last six months.
Late last year the ATV arm of Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) unveiled their sand-scorching Maverick X3 SxS, a near race-ready sport maching capable of exceeding 85mph with a suspension many desert racers and dune runners would love to have under their off-road play toys.
Now Can-Am has added the Defender line of side-by-sides to their growing stable of ATVs. The Defender is targeted toward those outdoorsmen and off-roaders who need a machine that can pay for itself doing the heavy work around a jobsite, ranch, or farm, while being the go-to recreational rig when the workday is done.
Dual-Purpose DesignThe dual-purpose Defender is available in some 30 different configurations and colors, with a starting price of $10,999 for the bare-bones base model HD8 and topping out at $23,899 for the Mossy Oak Hunting Edition XT Cab HD10. In that mix of machines are both three-passenger and six-passenger models, all with tilt beds and multi-mode 2WD/4WD powertrains, nearly a foot of ground clearance, and ten inches of suspension travel.
Engine offerings are liquid-cooled, EFI Rotax V-Twins utilizing drive-by-wire throttle technology. The smaller engine, designated the HD8, is an 800cc model making 50hp. The HD10 engine, which powers the 2017 Mossy Oak Hunting Edition, and Defenders with electonic power steering, displaces 976 cc and makes 72 hp. (The Maveric X3 makes a whopping 154 hp!)
Although the top speed of the Defenders is about half that of the sporty Maverick X3, these new additions to the growing Can-Am side-by-side stable still provide more than enough muscle to make off-road forays quite enjoyable, and enough muscle to handle just about any work-related task they face.
Speaking of work, three-passenger Defenders can tow 2,000 pounds, carry 1,500 pounds of payload, and tote a ½-ton in the spacious bed (California model’s beds are rated for 600 pounds). The long-wheelbase, six-passenger MAX XT, gains an additional 250 pounds of payload capacity.
BEHIND THE WHEELWe recently had the opportunity to check out several new models of the Denfender line, both three- and six-passsnger, and equipped with the HD10 powerplant. One was a Mossy Oak Hunting Edition Defender XT clad in full Mossy Oak Break-Up Camo and loaded with standard features such as a heavyd duty steel front bumper with a 4,500-pound-cpaity Superwinch, tiwn Kolpin gun scabbards mounted to a heavy duty headache rack, and a full plastic roof and half-windshield. It’s the outdoorsman’s dream package, ready to take on the elements and challenging terrain.
Another was the Mossy Oak edition, but in the six-passneger MAX XT with a full windshield. A third was a Defender XT tricked out with LED roof lights, a cab with full windshield, winch, and heavy-duty bumpers and side nerf bars.
All three models exhibit a lot of low- to mid-range puling power and quick throttle response, as we found during our off-road forays and navigating over acres of flooded corn fileds. All have a quite demeanor and realtively soft ride compared to some competitors’ machines.
The electric-locking rear differentials activate instantly with the push of a dash-mounted rocker switch, providing a significant boost in traction in demanding conidions, and the Visco-Lok automatic-locking front differentials kick in quickly and smoothly when the XTs are in 4x4 mode without any noticeable affect in the feel of the power steering.
The suspension in all three is pleasantly soft, absorbing bumps, dips, ruts, and impacts with obstacles like rocks and roots so the driver and passngers aren’t constantly being jounced around. At the same time, the soft suspension makes cornering, especially if the trail is the least bit off-camber, a little tedious if the vehicle is carrying much speed.
We found the electronic steering to be very quick and precise and the Defenders turn sharper than their competitors. That makes a big difference on the trail and around work or jobsites. So does the overall quietness of the new Defenders. They are whisper quiet.
Another nuance we liked is the ability to choose one of three driving modes (Eco, Work and Normal), which changes the agressiveness of throttle tip-in. There’s also a special igniton key that greatly limits the Defender’s top speed (“valet mode” in car terms) so workers and younger drivers can’t get overly aggressive in how they use the machine.
BY DESIGNAs for the 4,500-pound-capacity winch and other bolt-on accessories we got to use, Can-Am has done a very commendable job choosing really strong products that fit well and bolt up tight. The bumpers, nerf bars, headache rack, light bars, and even the headache rack are rock-solid and really well designed.
Seating comfort is so-so. The bench-style seats are flat and firm, and there’s little in side bolstering for lateral support because Can-Am has designed them to seat three-across. Three adults on the seat is uncomfortably tight; two adults and a child in the middle is doable. By far the most comfortable arrangement for either of the models is two adults with the center console dropped down for an armrest.
The only real dissappointments among the Defenders we drove during a three-day duck hunting/off-road trip out of Heartland Lodge in Nebo, Illinois, is the shift selector. While the Maverick X3’s is mounted in the center console and provides very firm, precise gear selection, the Defender’s is mounted on the dash and it’s a let down.
The vertical gate is cumbersome, and the shift lever feels rubbery, giving the driver a sense of cheapness that doesn’t do justice to an otherwise well-built machine. It’s also tough to see what gear the lever is in when it’s dark as there’s no illumination behind the shift gate.
Despite our little nits picked, Can-Am has definitely stepped up their game in the 2017 side-by-side arena. The Defender XT and MAX XT, whether in full camo or in the more traditional solid colors, gives UTV buyers a lot to think about. It’s a very competitive world and both of these new offerrings will stand up well against their rivals in both price and performance.
Fast FactsMake/Model: 2017 Can-Am Defender Mossy Oak Hunting Edition
MSRP Price Range: $19,699
Engine: 72hp EFI 976cc Rotax V-Twin
Overall Length: 125.6”
Ground Clearance: 11”
Shocks: Twin-tube gas
Drivetrain: Pro-Torq QRS; belt-driven; 2WD/4WD
Dry Weight: 1,658 lbs. (est)
Fuel Capacity: 10.5 gals.
Towing capacity: 2,000 lbs.
Payload: 1,500 lbs.
Tires: 27” Maxxis Big Horn
Special Features: Mossy Oak Break-Up Camo; 4,500 lb. Superwinch; hard top; half-windshield; tilt-steering; headache rack; dual gun scabbards; full-length skid plate; portable LED spotlight; tilt bed; water-proof underseat storage box; electronic hill-descent control; locking rear diff, viscous locking front diff