UTVs have staked out an evolving niche in the market. At a fraction of the price of a pickup, homeowners are buying them for yard work and farm chores, as much as these off-road capable golf carts on steroids are being used by utilities to repair power lines in hard to reach places and tapped by ranchers to make the rounds. Amongst UTVs, the Can-Am Defender stands out for its no-compromises work/play split personality. It hauled firewood like a boss and tackled rugged trails with the same gusto. It took me places a pickup won’t ever reach and was as much fun as it was utilitarian.
I tested the 2021 Can-Am Defender Limited for 2-months in fall and winter in Vermont, and for 2-days on a game ranch near Austin, Texas in sweltering summer heat. Here is what I discover first hand about this impressive machine.
Like a Pickup in Miniature
The Can-Am Defender Limited’s luxurious cab has a 3-person, leather-trim bench seat that flips up to reveal a removable passenger-side storage box and spare cup holders. The console has cup holders and a space to set glasses or keys where they wouldn’t slide. The cab is heated and air-conditioned, with easy to read gauges on a dashboard digital display.
A windshield wiper kept the front window clear of rain, snow, and pine needles, and full doors with power windows kept branches out, and cool or warm air in as the season dictated. A 4,500 lb winch was controlled from the dashboard. So were two to 4WD, a rear differential lock, and lights. My test unit was optioned with additional lights mounted on the roof.
The Defender’s bed held a half-pickup-sized load and was appropriately rugged. I added a headache rack and sidewalls to the unit halfway through my testing, which, for hauling firewood, doubled the capacity. Levers on each side of the bed let me dump the bed contents with minimal effort, which was a major back saver. When I load my pickup with wood, I have to manually unload it.
Able & Agile, Even With a Load
The Can-Am Defender was able to get to zones I won’t ever be able to drive my truck into because the trees are too tight, the ground is too soft, or the slope is too steep. It was nimble and responsive, with a surprisingly tight turning radius. Previously, I carried wood a piece at a time to a landing my truck can reach. Now, I drive wood from where I felled the tree to where I stack it under my back deck.
On punchy, slippery rollers, I engaged the rear differential lock and climbed out of any miniature valley or abrupt dip I encountered. The vehicle’s low center of gravity and relatively narrow width made it ideal for accessing places my pickup couldn’t, and for driving materials to build trails on parts of my land that I’ve only ever accessed by foot.
The Defender had both speed and power thanks to the is class-leading HD10 engine, which has 82 hp and 69 lb.-ft. of torque. Can-Am says the Defender can hit 62 mph. My top speed was 53 MPH on a paved road, though I mostly used it on logging roads behind my house, in a friend’s sugar bush, and on recreational ATV trails. I was less concerned with speed than traction and handling. Heavy-duty 27-inch Maxxis Bighorn 2.0 tires had me covered.
Can-Am Defender: Ready For Fun When Work is Done
When I wasn’t moving firewood, I used the Defender for trail riding, driving to my favorite remote swimming hole, and escaping into the woods further than I could get on my own power. At 65-inches wide, it’s got more girth than an ATV or trail specific rig. But that didn’t stop me from full-day tours on Vermont’s VASA network, which at times included slippery river bed traverses, precipitous climbs and rolls, and miles of off-camber fun on every type of dirt surface imaginable. This is not the machine to take to Moab for extreme rock crawling. But it can get rowdy, and still haul firewood, rocks, leaves and brush back home.
The only time I cried uncle and turned the Defender around was on a steep and slippery climb up a mountain in a narrow rut of a trail with greasy diagonal roots. The consequences were too high if something went wrong, and it was a track where a harness would have been appropriate, not the basic seat belt I was wearing.
Several times when I was trail riding, I used the winch to get me past an obstacle. Including on a whale of a rock, and in a steep corner with a thick and slick diagonal root. When the tires hit a challenge straight on, they just kept rolling. Diagonal obstacles were harder to navigate. And even though the Defender can be spec’d with a more powerful engine, engine power wasn’t ever an issue.
With the Class III 2-inch hitch, which is rated to 2,500 lbs, I put a bike rack on the Defender and drove friends to the top of a run. The hitch also let me mount kayak racks and fishing rod holders on the roof, using Thule’s Goalpost paired with their fishing and kayak-specific racks.
Snowcat Mode: 2021 Can-Am Defender With Tracks
When the snow started falling, I had the local Can-Am dealer swap wheels for tracks. Tracks made the Defender longer and wider than it is with wheels. With tracks on, the Defender measures 140-inches long and 74.5-inches wide.
Tracks turned the Defender into a winter monster truck that could drive anywhere. Even with tracks on, the Defender had the same ability to turn in ridiculously tight spaces, and the same predictable handling. It maneuvered through narrow dips, over snow-covered logs, and climbed slippery slopes.
Only once did the tracked Can-Am Defender not just go where I pointed it. When I pointed it up an off-camber ice-encased rock slab, I slid sideways. But I was able to change my line slightly and keep on cruising.
Back To Work: Snow Plow Duty
When the dealer-installed the tracks, they also installed a Pushframe attachment system for a plow, which let me get it on and off in a flash. I just threaded the winch cable through a guide and clipped it to the plow. When I retracted the winch, the plow automatically clipped onto the Pushframe, a process that on my truck plow usually takes 30-minutes or more, and involves a lot of swearing.
The 66-inch plow is short (17-inches high from the bottom of the blade to the top), but it’s one of the most able UTV plows made. It raises and lowers with the winch control. The Pushframe attachment raises and lowers with more range and plows with a better snow-clearing angle than most other UTV plows. To angle the plow I used an external lever. There’s no button or lever to angle the plow inside the cab.
It’s been a low-snow winter, so I’ve only been able to test this plow with six or so inches of snow to remove. When it’s deep, it will be a great tool to move snow around as well as to clear my road and driveway. It comes off as fast as it goes on, with the stomp of a foot pedal.
2021 Can-Am Defender Review: Not Perfect, But Close
There are few negatives to the Can-Am Defender. The biggest was that I liked it so much I’ll probably end up buying one. It seemed like every time I had a project, it was the right tool for the job.
The full doors did sometimes trap the seatbelts when I shut them, but they also keep the cab impressively temperature regulated. The temperature settings use a single knob to choose heat or cooling, and the specific temperature. Temperature is near impossible to adjust while driving, however. When I wanted heat or air conditioning, I had to stop to fiddle with the knob until I could get the settings I wanted.
I did have issues with door and window seals. When I received the unit, it had a faulty window seal that was fixed by the dealer. In winter, the door seals stick to the door frame and peel off whenever there is a freeze-thaw cycle. So far, I’ve been able to push them back in the groove in the door that holds them each time.
Many Options to Choose From
The Can-Am Defender line offers an incredible number of choices for customization. The Can-Am website is a bit confusing and made it hard to determine which add-ons were compatible. But, if you work with your local dealer to hone in on what you want and need you’ll leave the showroom with a tool that makes work fun and efficient, and one that will give you excuses to think up far-flung weekend adventures.
The Can-Am Defender has a starting price of $10,399. The 2021 Can-Am Defender Limited starts at $25,499, which is before all the added accessories.
In summer mode our Defender Limited had $2,686.94 in optional upgrades, for a total of $28,185.94. In winter mode, with tracks and plow, we added another $5,008 to that price tag, for a grand total of $33,193.94.
Yep, you could buy a basic new truck for the price of one of these, or a nice used truck. Although, that truck couldn’t do many of the things this machine can do and for sure couldn’t get to as many places, especially in the winter.
2021 Can-Am Defender Limited Specs:
- HD10: Rotax® 976 cc V-twin 82 hp – 69 lb-ft, the highest torque in the UTV category
- HVAC Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning
- 4,500-lb winch with roller fairlead
- XT front bumper
- HMWPE full skid plate
- Full hard roof with liner and interior dome light
- Full black doors with electric opening windows
- 3-position full glass tilt up windshield with wiper/washer kit
- Rear glass
- 7.6 in. digital display with keypad
- Signature LED
- PRO-TORQ Transmission with Quick Response System (QRS)
- high airflow ventilation and Electronic Drive Belt Protection
- Front: Arched double A-arm with sway bar
- Rear: Arched TTA with external sway bar
- VERSA-PRO bolster reinforced bench seat
- 12 in. (30.5 cm) ground clearance
- 27 in. Maxxis Bighorn 2.0 tires
- 14 in. (35.6 cm) cast-aluminum wheel
Optional Upgrades (Seen On Our Test Model):
- Apache 360 LT Track System- $4,699
- 66” wide plow- $309
- Light Rack – $164.99
- BED WALL EXTENDERS – $1369.99
- Adventure Roof Rack – $534.99
- LinQ Front Rack – $394.99
- 3.5″” (9 cm) LED Driving Lights (2 x 14W) – $214.99
- Linq Adaptor (for adventure roof rack) – $26.99
- Delux Headache Rack – $374.99