Can-Am and Polaris have the most innovative lines in the utility UTV segment. So, we took Can-Am’s 2020 HD8 XT and the all-new Polaris 1000 Premium and put them in a “work first, play later” Defender vs Ranger match-up to see which is best. They are both going after that rancher, hunter or farmer looking for a versatile ride that’s not only good for work but also great on the weekends. Price is a huge factor for the manufacturers and interested buyers as well. The lower-cost segment is the largest and most important.  

Defender vs Ranger
Both machines have full-coverage skid plates and comparable ground clearance of around 12 inches. A winch is standard on the Defender, and the Ranger is wired for one. Mounting is quick and simple.

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Defender vs Ranger pricing is close. Polaris gave its new budget Ranger 1000 an affordable price tag starting at $12,999. We tested the $14,999 Premium model, which has EPS and a few cockpit upgrades. The Can-Am Defender XT we tested is slightly more at $15,899; however, you do get a roof, winch and Can-Am’s feature-filled cockpit. The Defender 800 starts at $12,199.

Defender vs Ranger
Can-Am gave the Defender more cargo pockets and options than we have seen on any utility machine. From the closable pockets near the driver to the removable boxes in front and under the passenger seat, you won’t be disappointed looking for a place to put things.
Defender vs Ranger
The new Ranger has a great, deep glove box and a ton of cubbies within the dash area. The passenger seat doesn’t swing up out of the way like on the higher-priced Ranger XP 1000 and on the Defender.

Defender vs Ranger power is nearly dead even. Polaris built an all-new, SOHC, twin-cylinder engine to help bring down the price of its new Ranger. With 61 horsepower, it is no slouch and works great for typical chores and trail riding. Can-Am uses its proven 800cc V-twin in the Defender 800. It puts out 50 horsepower. Power-wise, it’s a dead heat between the two machines. On the trails, they rip along at a good clip, both topping out around 55 mph, and they both get there in the same amount of time. For slow-going and work duties, the Defender has a smoother power output that is much better for tight places, tricky situations or starting and stopping often. Both machines top out at about 25 mph in low.

Defender vs Ranger
These huge removable boxes from the Defender have handles so you can conveniently take them with you away from the machine.
Defender vs Ranger
Load capabilities are comparable at 1000 pounds each. We found the beds take the exact same effort to lift with the same load.

Defender vs Ranger suspension systems are very similar. They use A-arms on all four corners with spring preload-adjustable shocks. Wheel-travel numbers are 10 inches on the Polaris and the same under the Can-Am. In most situations, they feel the same in this department. Neither one worked better than the other, and they both did a good job in medium bumps, whether loaded down or running empty.

Defender vs Ranger
Engine braking on the Ranger is stronger, except for the fact that it doesn’t effect the front wheels, so it makes the rear tires slide. In the Defender, you feel traction on all four tires, but the engine braking doesn’t hold the machine back as much as on the Ranger.
This Defender comes equipped with a heavy-duty winch. If that’s on your wish list, you’re in luck. The Ranger has an engineered frame that helps install the Polaris winch easily.

The first thing that stood out was that the seat foam is better in the Defender. The Ranger wasn’t bad, but we did bottom out quicker riding in the Ranger. On the other hand, we liked the seat belts in the Ranger better. Their flexible upper mounts gave just a little to make it more comfortable when riding down bumpy trails or slamming on the brakes.

Again, in the Defender, we liked the fold-down center console/cup holder armrest tray. It was a nice separation from the other passenger when riding double or to use alone. Both machines have plenty of cup holders to go around: six on the Defender and four on the Ranger. We end up using cup holders for a lot more than just drinks. Aerosol cans like WD-40 fit well, and we’ve thrown a small Bluetooth speaker in one of them from time to time.

Two-inch hitch receivers are standard these days. Both machines claim 12 inches of ground clearance, but be aware you lose a couple of inches when loaded or just accelerating.


Both machines have a great dash and a glove box that will hold tools, parts, etc; however, the Defender goes above and beyond with two removable compartments so you can quickly take certain items with you. One is the passenger-side glove box and the other is a large bread-box-sized container that sits under the passenger seat. Both have grab handles for easy removal, carrying and reinstallation. Furthermore, the Defender has two other closable compartments near the driver for smaller items you need to make sure don’t jiggle out. The Defender easily wins this very important category for this segment.

Out back, the dump beds are a little more comparable. When full, the Can-Am’s bed lifts slightly more easily and the tailgate is slightly stronger, which is important for the guys who have to climb in and out of the bed. They both have 1000-pound ratings and can be driven when the beds are fully lifted without the tailgate rubbing the tires. Each company has its own line of accessories that snap or lock into place, so customizing is possible.

Polaris makes the engine and filter very accessible under the Ranger’s dump bed.
The engine compartment of Can-Am’s V-twin also houses the radiator reservoir, so all fluids and filters can be checked in one spot. The battery is under the passenger seat.

The great thing about machines like these is that you can use them all week long on the job site or around the farm and still enjoy them on a weekend trail ride. Hunters like how quiet they are and how much cargo they hold. You can take them trail riding up to that secret fishing hole or scout for next season. Both will get the job done any day and entertain you all weekend; however, in this contest, it wasn’t hard to see the Can-Am Defender HD8 will do it better.

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See UTV Action’s complete guide to 2020 recreation utility UTVs here:

See the whole Polaris Ranger lineup here:

See the whole Can-Am Defender lineup here:


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