2016 Can-Am Defender HD8 XT DPS Review + Video

Rick Sosebee
by Rick Sosebee
Can-Am's Utility UTV impresses

It is finally here! A completely new frame-up build from Can-Am for those hard working families that love to get a few chores done before hitting the trail. For model year 2016 Can-Am has brought in the Defender as its true Utility working machine with a touch of recreation.

2015 Utility UTV of the Year

2015 Utility UTV of the Year

We had a chance to spend some time in the driver’s seat of the 2016 Can-Am Defender HD8 XT with the popular Dynamic Power Steering. About two hours north of St. Louis Missouri in Nebo, Illinois is a great riding facility and hunting property known as Harpole’s Heartland Lodge. This facility caters to not only the hunter in you, but has trails suited for recreational riders. This is also a great place to give the new Can-Am Defender a go to see if the hype matches the ride.

The Can-Am Defender has a rugged outer appearance that opens up into a world of great innovation for the multi-use consumer. Starting with the simple task of getting in and out of the vehicle, Can-Am felt it was important to taper the forward corner egress of the seating in a way that wouldn’t drag on your legs while entering the cab and would also help prevent premature wear on the seat covering. This attention to detail runs deep in the cab of this rig.

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2016 Can-Am Defender HD8 Adjustable Seat

The driver’s seat in the Defender is adjustable, so finding a comfortable driving positing is easily done.

Three people can sit on the Defender’s 40/20/40 bench-type seat. Once nestled in the driver’s seat, the steering wheel can be tilted to fit most all drivers as well. As we sat down and discovered every functional switch or moving handle that would control our ride, we quickly realized there was no unnecessary add-ons to clutter the dash. Our HD8 XT with DPS was equipped with a very large digital over analog gauge cluster that provided all of the important info anyone might need on the trail. The Speedo and RPM segments were typical analog readouts, while everything else was digitally delivered.

2016 Can-Am Defender HD8 Gauges

A combination digital/analog gauge cluster shows all the pertinent information. You can see the gate-style shifter on the right.

We quickly turned our attention to storage available inside the cab. Can-Am engineers took the traditional glove box and turned it into a very handy removable and water-resistant toolbox. This feature grabbed our attention right off the bat. Standing on the passenger side of the Defender you simply lift the handle and it pops right out.

2016 Can-Am Defender HD8 Glove Box

One of the most innovation features on the new Can-Am Defender is the glove box, which can be removed and used as a tool box.

Under the passenger side seat there is yet another removable waterproof box. With the center seat and passenger seat lifted into their upright positions there is room for the trusty hunting dog or bags of seed that you might want to stay dry during transport. This is the attention to detail we mentioned earlier.

2016 Can-Am Defender HD8 Seat Storage

Both passenger seats flip up, allowing for extra space in the cab. The right passenger seat also comes with a removable waterproof storage box.

To engage the transmission for a drive the shifting lever is mounted on the right side of the steering wheel and well within reach of the driver. A gate-style shifting pattern is easy to read and for that extra assurance of what drive mode you might be in just take a quick look at the digital gauge. Gear choices run from a true Park gear at the top of the shifting platform down through to Reverse, Neutral, High and then Low gear at the very bottom of the selector. Of course, the 2WD/4WD selector switch was mounted right in the dash nearest the driver and an additional switch for the rear differential was just next door. This nifty little rear diff switch allowed us to lock or unlock the rear wheels from themselves in order to be more Turf friendly. One last rocker switch in the panel is the Work Mode/Normal mode/ECO mode switch. This gives us a little control over the amount of engine output according to our current use and fuel conservation concerns.

As for power, we knew that the dependable Rotax V-Twin would be the only choice for Can-Am. This already proven platform provides massive amounts of torque and a claimed 50 hp and 50 lb-ft of torque in the HD8 (a 72 hp 976cc V-Twin is available in the HD10). The HD8 is equipped with the 799cc engine coupled to the new belt-driven Pro-Torq transmission. This liquid cooled and fuel injected firebox has brought many accolades to the Can-Am family of off-road vehicles and should be a reliable powerplant for many years in this hard work capable machine.

2016 Can-Am Defender HD8 Action Climb

A 799cc Rotax V-Twin powered the Defender HD8, producing an impressive amount of torque.

Should you ever need to service the engine or CVT transmission, the space allowed to do so is massive. The engine is located right under the cargo bed and does not intrude on space inside the cab. A hydraulic shock assists in lifting the box and can be unhooked and the cargo bed will drop back out of the way, allowing incredible access for service. This will be a plus for those of us who like to do simple service items ourselves. The engine and trans are located more on the driver’s side of the framework, while a massive fuel cell that holds almost 11 gallons of gas is on the right side. According to Can-Am’s engineers, this layout keeps things that are typically hot away from items that need to stay cool.

When it comes to performance, the Defender not only fits in tight spaces or trails, but turns on a dime. During many of our trail rides we found ourselves turning around to revisit certain locations and the Defender does get itself about faced relatively easily.

2016 Can-Am Defender HD8 Action Front

So I am sure you have figured out by now that the Defender is growing on us. As we roamed the hills (yes, there are hills in Illinois), it was apparent that this rig would become a favorite for many. The amount of features packed into these new Utility-style Side-by-Side machines is incredible, but one feature we will forever be attached to is the power steering. Although Can-Am has a Tri-Mode power steering in its Side-by-Side lineup, this new Defender does not yet come with separate modes of assist. The calculated amount of assist is built in and seems to work well for most all conditions. As we traversed the hills that were rutted and some covered in roots or rocks, the DPS really helped in maintaining control. We did encounter many types of obstacles in the woods and fields at Heartland Lodge and even some deep and rather soupy mud that did not seem to worry the HD8 in the least. The Maxxis Bighorn tires on 14-inch wheels added to our already 11 inches of ground clearance to get us through the muck.

2016 Can-Am Defender HD8 Beauty

After shaking the mud off we ventured to a designated test area to put our Defender to its Hauling/Towing test. Can-Am says the bed of this workhorse will haul 1000 lbs. As a good product tester would or should do, we decided to confirm that with the use of many bags of corn totaling 1000 lbs exactly. The loaded rear suspension was a little harsh at first, but adding in a few clicks on the five-way preload adjuster prevented bottoming and we were able to get some of the comfort back that was missing. The power to pull wasn’t even an issue with this Rotax V-Twin. Steering was a little lighter, but the Defender remained in control.

2016 Can-Am Defender HD8 Towing

The Defender can hold up to 1,000 pounds in its cargo bed and tow an additional 2,000 pounds.

After unloading our rig we hitched to a trailer of hay bales and tractor weights for a quick run around. The total estimated weight was 500 lbs, but the Defender is calculated to tow up to 2000 lbs via its two-inch receiver hitch. Again, this machine handles the task with ease and seemed to have much more to give should it be requested.

Overall we were really impressed with Can-Am’s first true working Utility Side-by-Side. The Defender travels well over rough trails and is comfortable in the cab. It seems as if it will work well for many applications and it’s something we have expected from Can-Am for years.

2016 Can-Am Defender HD8 Dump Bed

Can-Am promised us a new machine (or at least a variant) every six months for the next four years, so hold on tight. This could get interesting!

Rick Sosebee
Rick Sosebee

Whether he is in Mexico covering the Baja 1000, building ATVs for local racers, or out enjoying the trails, Rick’s passion shows in his stories. Learning to wrench his own machines from his grandfather, Rick also has an undying appreciation for the mechanics of off-road vehicles. Do not let the dirt and mud fool you, though, as Rick also has a deep love for street cars.

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