2020 Can-Am Defender PRO Review
Engine: 976cc Twin
When you think of your favorite Utility UTV on the market, what features do you look for the most? Maybe it’s a cargo bed that can haul the most payload? Maybe it’s the highest maximum towing capacities so you can tow the heaviest trailer around? Or, maybe your favorite features doesn’t have to do with hauling at all – maybe you want a powerful engine, a comfortable interior, or possibly the ability to truly “make it your own” with purpose-built accessories. The new 2020 Can-Am Defender PRO is trying to tick as many of those boxes as possible.
Can-Am is challenging our traditional thoughts of what makes a Utility UTV truly utilitarian. It is doing this by pushing the boundaries in the Utility UTV market with all-new vehicles in their 2020 UTV lineup. And, with the release of these new vehicles, Can-Am is pushing the boundaries in a market that has largely been based off of similar features for more than a decade. Gone are the days where a 3-foot long bed is the norm. Gone are the days where just a few more gallons of storage is “all you get” in a work vehicle. And, gone are the days when you have to settle for less than you wanted in terms of overall capability and comfort. Can-Am is really onto something here with its boundary-pushing Defender PRO. And, by the looks of it, this all-new model is just the start of what is to come.
It might sound like everything is all warm and cozy with the new PRO model. While 99% of this new machine is positive, there are some drawbacks for those using this vehicle as a truly dual purpose UTV. But, I’ll get to those in a minute…
As you may have noticed, the Can-Am Defender PRO has an elongated wheelbase and a wider overall chassis. The width now measures a full 64”, while the wheelbase stretches out to be 115.5” in length. That, indeed, is the same wheelbase as the Defender MAX lineup. These two vehicles share the same chassis, but instead of a six-passenger layout like the MAX, the PRO has a three-passenger layout with that elongated six-foot cargo bed. Just like the MAX chassis, the PRO has the powertrain components in the rear of the vehicle.
In an ingenious move to utilize the newfound space under the six-foot bed (in the spot where the rear seats would go in the MAX), the Can-Am Defender PRO has a massive storage compartment that holds more than 80 gallons of anything-you-want-to-put-in-there stuff (83.6 gallons to be exact…). It’s a pass-through cavity that spans the entire width of the vehicle. One door on each side allows for easy access. Due to the fact that the driveshaft and other components run down the center of the vehicle, there is a hump in the middle of the storage area, but it shouldn’t keep you from hauling too many items in there.
The pass-through storage on the Defender PRO is smart way to take advantage of usable space.
Back to the bed… the cargo bed measures out to be 72” x 54.5” x 10”. This is a massive area to hold tires, fence posts, hay, tools, supplies, and everything else you can stick in there. But, another smart feature that will make this vehicle a favorite among ranchers is the removable bed sides. Yes, with the removal of just two bolts on each side and a quick unlatching of the tongue and groove attachment system, the Can-Am Defender PRO’s bedsides can be removed completely, effectively giving the user a flat bed just like you would have on a ranch truck. The system is extremely useful for around the farm, and I think many ranchers will find this bed to be the most useful in the industry. You can mix and match the sides, too – leave one on for use a holder, or take them both off, along with the tailgate, to make it easier to load and unload large items. If you choose to leave the bedsides on the vehicle, then you’ll have easy access to LinQ accessory attachments that are built in from the Can-Am factory. Plus, the sides are slotted so you can put dividers in the bed should your work require lots of organization.
Being able to take off the sizes of the cargo bed and making it a flat bed is another smart bit of engineering.
For those of you asking, the bed is made of plastic, but it is an extremely thick plastic that, from the looks of it, should be durable in all facets of working with it. This material also reduces the chance of the bed developing rattles over time. While the Can-Am Defender PRO we drove wasn’t rattle-free, it wasn’t as if the rattles were coming from every connection of the vehicle like we have observed in other Utility UTVs on the market. Can-Am did a good job of putting the mounts and connection points in places that mitigate the rattles, while also providing stability whether the bed is raised or lowered. Helping you raise the bed is a larger gas shock in the back. I didn’t try to lift the fully loaded bed due to restrictions, but it looks as if the larger gas shock is up to the task. I can tell you that the tailgate is made with two very durable latches on each side. While this new latch system is slightly more complicated than Can-Am’s traditional single-latch tailgate opener, the dual latches secure the more durable tailgate well.
Underneath the rear haunches of the Can-Am Defender PRO we find a reworked engine that delivers more power (82 horsepower and 69 lb-ft of torque) through a re-calibrated CVT system, which is tuned to deliver the increase in power more efficiently. The low-L gear is also suitably low for towing and crawling up steep grades. In other words, even with a belt drive system, we were confidently able to tackle steep grades without any worries about how much we were hauling or towing. Personally, I was surprised with how the latest iTC (intelligent Throttle Control, which is a fancy way of saying that this vehicle has three modes for different throttle inputs – ECO, Non-ECO, and Work) is tuned with some significant changes for this year. ECO mode gets less available throttle, down from about 90% of total output to around 75%.
With 82 horsepower and 69 lb-ft of torque, the Defender PRO has plenty of power for just about any task.
By accident, I was in Work mode for a significant amount of time during our testing day, but I didn’t realize it whatsoever. This is probably the iTC mode that I would leave it in most of the time, anyways, especially if you put an emphasis on towing and hauling materials. The only caveat to this system is there is no longer a dedicated switch to change between the iTC modes – it is now a hidden button on the new digital dash. I’m not a fan of this hidden feature because you have to remember how to change the modes every time instead of just flicking a switch. However, it does open up one more accessory switch spot. To each his own, I suppose.
Being that the engine is all the way in the back of the vehicle, this Can-Am Defender PRO is extremely quiet. The engine also has a new exhaust system that quiets it down even further. From the cab, the PRO is impressively quiet and easy to live with all day.
The rear engine position means the driver and passengers are not bothered by as much noise as on some other UTV models.
If you have sat in a Defender cab in the past, the 2020 PRO model will be familiar, for the most part. The gauge cluster is new and much easier to read. All of the pertinent information is included in the cluster. The gated gear selector is really easy to use, and I appreciated how a driver could make quick gear selections if needed. The passenger side glove box, which doubles as a removable toolbox, is still really handy, and there is SO much storage underneath the dash that I don’t know how you could ever run out of room to put gloves, glasses, spray cans, tools, tape measures, pencils, and whatever else you can imagine. If the thought of having 2 additional people with you in a Defender frightens you, then the middle and passenger seats both fold up to reveal a versatile work space on the floor of the cab. You can stack buckets here, you can put tools here, or, as we saw in multiple test units, Can-Am has a handy accessory storage bin that easily attaches to the seat bar for secure storage, whether the seat is up or down. This bin can also be taken with you should you need to use it as a tool box. Again, it’s handy features like these that set the Defender lineup apart.
If the interior storage wasn’t enough, then you can always take advantage of the Can-Am Defender PRO’s 83-gallon, built-in, pass-through storage box we discussed earlier. The only thing they Can-Am missed the mark on was the sealing of this compartment. If it just made the door seal in a groove around the opening of the box, the stuff on the inside would be better protected from the elements. Instead of being sealed completely – the rubber gaskets on the opening doors provide a loose seal – water crossings and very harsh weather should be on your radar if you have items that can get ruined in the storage compartment.
A couple of other noteworthy features are: a locking and unlocking rear differential. With its “turf mode”, the Can-Am Defender PRO is the ideal for working on sensitive ground. The 6×6 model does not feature an unlocking set of rear differentials, rendering it basically unusable on sensitive ground. However, the PRO features Can-Am’s long-in-the-tooth Visco-Lok QE automatic locking front differential, which I don’t think locks fast enough to give you the traction you need on the trail, in muddy conditions on the farm, or anything with soft ground. It’s true that for a majority of the time that the PRO will be used, this front differential will work just fine. But when you get into sticky situations on the ranch after a lot of rain, or if you take it to a rocky path on the trails, this front differential could prove to be an issue. Again, most people won’t need a fully locking front differential for the farm, but it sure would round out this PRO nicely to have a more capable front differential. I noticed the lack of traction in a rocky section on our test course where the PRO just wouldn’t grab enough in the front to get itself up and over a tall set of rocks. I do realize that the PRO isn’t designed to be a great trail machine because of its long wheelbase, but it still could get around pretty well. And, it would be even better with an upgraded front differential.
A fully locking differential would be a welcome addition for dealing with muddy or rocky conditions.
At the end of the day, would we spend the extra money for the Can-Am Defender PRO XT package? If you have the money, this package is worth it for the “just in case something happens” moments in life. The added security of having a 4500 -pound front winch will pay dividends in your ranching experience when the rains come, along with a full HMWPE skid plate underneath. The XT also comes with a reinforced bench seat with adjustable driver’s seat, brake holding mechanism (essentially a parking brake), and the aforementioned winch and XT front bumper. Luckily, for anyone who doesn’t care about the add-ons, the base “DPS” package still has all of the necessities, including the digital display, iTC modes, power steering, and a whole lot more.
Overall, the all-new Can-Am Defender PRO is going to prove itself to be one of, if not THE most useful Utility UTVs on the market today. It features a host of new innovations that should put it on the forefront of any UTV buyer’s shopping list. We have seen this phenomenal capability of the Defender PRO first hand, and it impresses the driver (and passengers) right from the moment you hop in and turn the key. Plus, with retail prices of $17,899 MSRP for the DPS model and $20,099 MSRP for the Defender PRO XT edition, they are right in line, price-wise, with where they should be in the marketplace.
More by Casey Cordeiro