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Reviewing Can-Am’s newest Defender models

We put the capabilities of the Defender Max and Pro HD10s to the test

Nearly every prairie farm has at least one ATV or UTV kicking around the farmyard. And the odds are that machine or pair of them gets used more than any other piece of equipment in the farm fleet. Can-Am, a division of Quebec-based BRP (Bombardier Recreational Products), has recognized that a growing chunk of the market for these vehicles comes from farmers and other users who use them to get some work done. In fact, BRP says demand for “full-size” models is the fastest-growing segment of the UTV market. Larger models are best suited for work, rather than play.

The most recent model introductions in the Can-Am 2020 model year UTV line, the Defender Pro HD10 and Defender Max 6X6 HD10, are aimed squarely at that market segment. And they take the “full-size” definition to heart. These are the largest, most capable models yet offered by the brand. And they’re designed for work.

The Defender Pro and Defender Max have six-foot cargo boxes with removable sides.
photo: Scott Garvey

In September Grainews went to Texas to spend a couple of days field-testing the full line of 2020 model year Defenders. The rough terrain and heat of West Texas made an ideal proving ground to put some big demands on them.

Defender Pro HD10

First, we took on the Defender Pro HD10.

What really makes this machine different from any of last year’s models is it has a six-foot cargo bed on a 115.5-inch wheelbase. Fold the tailgate down and the deck becomes nearly seven feet long. That makes it much more useful than the three-foot bed, which was the only size available on previous HD10 Defenders.

The Defender Pro gets a longer wheelbase than previous models.
photo: Scott Garvey

The box sides can be pulled off to create a flat deck by just removing a pair of bolts on each side. The sides, themselves, are still fairly low, a critique we’ve made of Defenders on earlier tests, but they come with integrated slots that fit a 2 x 3 to build them higher if needed.

Total payload capacity on the Pro hits 1,700 pounds (771 kilograms) and it has a 2,500-pound (1,134 kilogram) tow rating. When it comes to where to put that cargo, a new under-bed, watertight storage area across the full chassis width allows for loading things like chainsaws or other larger tools from either side.

To see just how capable the Pro is at handling those weight ratings, we maxed out the box capacity with 1,000 pounds of cargo and ran it over some pretty rugged off-road trails at the famous Y.O. Ranch near San Antonio. The trails involved steep grades, rough, rocky terrain and paved roads surfaces, pretty much every condition they would encounter on a Canadian farm and then some.

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With 13 inches of ground clearance, the Pro was able to climb over large rock outcroppings even with the load. And it was easily possible to keep up with other unloaded Defenders over the same trail at the same speed when travelling in a group, with no obvious lack of power. The 82 horsepower 976 cc V-Twin Rotax engine had plenty of torque, even at relatively low revs. The Defender didn’t run away on downhill grades either, with the engine braking doing a reasonable job of holding it back even with the load, and braking was pretty good as well. All in all, the Defender Pro handled the rated load with ease.

Defender Max 6X6 HD10

If traction as well as load and towing capacity are what you need, Can-Am has taken the same basic chassis and put it on three axles to offer six-wheel drive in the Defender Max. Officially, the capacities don’t jump a great deal on the published spec sheets, but that’s because the BRP is sticking to a government-mandated vehicle standard, which limits those things. Official ratings aside, marketing staff told us both the Max and Pro are capable of much more than the published data claims. After the test was over, we were willing to buy into that claim.

The 6×6 Defender Max has impressive traction with three axles.
photo: Scott Garvey

The Max gets the same six-foot box and 1,000-box load rating, but the second axle lands where the under-box storage compartment would be on the Pro, so the Max doesn’t get that feature.

Towing capacity is 3,000 pounds for the Max; we put 1,000 pounds behind it and ran it over the trails. That had virtually no impact on its performance. The Max ran up and down the hills so easily we had to look behind to remind ourselves the trailer was actually there. So we didn’t find any shortage of power on this model either.

There is a noticeable difference between driving the six-wheel drive Max and the Pro, though. The suspension feels much stiffer on the Max. When turning in loose ground, the four rear drive wheels want to push the machine in a straight line, causing a bit of front tire sliding as they grab for traction to pull the front end around. The affect of that isn’t really a problem, but the driver will notice it, especially when compared to the feel of the more responsive turning characteristics of the two-axle Pro model.

The winner is?

Despite that, the 6×6 is still pretty nimble, with a respectable turning radius. When we debated whether the Max or Pro made the best fit for a farm fleet, it really came down to this: what you need to do?

For most farmers, the Pro would likely the machine of choice between the two. It’s agile with a respectable payload and tow rating. In extremely challenging conditions, however, is where the 6×6 Max shines. It will almost certainly get you where you need to go.


Defender cab goes quiet

Last winter the Grainews field test team spent a couple of weeks with a model year 2019 Defender HD10 that included an all-weather cab. One of the few criticisms all the drivers made was the high level of engine noise inside it. The cab was fitted with a mounting spot for a radio, but putting one in would have been almost useless. It was difficult to just carry on a conversation in the cab let alone listen to tunes. This year Can-Am proved to us they have dealt with that downside.

During our Texas field trials, Can-Am brought along a couple of model year 2020 cabbed Defender Limited models. Project engineer David Belzille talked us through the modifications made to the machine to turn down the volume, which include a new exhaust system and improved sound deadening material built into the cab walls.

The noise level and HVAC system inside the Defender all-weather cab is significantly better than in previous model years.
photo: Scott Garvey

The improved exhaust features have been included across all the Defender models for 2020, so we were pleasantly surprised at the low noise levels on all the machines we tested. Having the engine farther back in the chassis on the Pro and Max versions also helps keep the noise level down at the operator’s ear.

Driving a 2020 cabbed model showed a night-and-day difference compared to the 2019 edition. The noise level in the cabs is now pretty comfortable. With the addition of air conditioning, an improved HVAC system now takes a page from the automotive sector with its set-it and forget-it control feature. Just pick the temperature you want, and the system will automatically heat or cool the cab to maintain it.

About the author

Contributor

Scott Garvey

Scott Garvey is a freelance writer and video producer. He is also the former machinery editor at Grainews.

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