UTV TEST: Can-Am Defender XT HD8

For a while there, pure-sport UTVs were hogging all the cool technology and interior refinements. Can-Am’s recently released Defender recreation utility UTVs treat drivers who need vehicles that perform on the job and on the trail to a new kind of machine. We tested one of the most well-outfitted Defenders, the XT HD8, to see what it can do.

WHAT’S A DEFENDER?
Defenders are Can-Am’s most utility focused UTVs, but they have engine performance and suspension more like sport-utility machines. They are available with 800cc or 1000cc gas engines, seat three, have dump beds that can carry 1000 pounds, and they can tow 2000 pounds. Defenders come in three trim levels—base, DPS (Dynamic Power Steering) and XT, which comes with power steering, painted bodywork, a roof, 4500pound winch, deluxe instrumentation and 14-inch aluminum wheels with 27-inch tires. XT cab models have all the XT features, plus full cabs with tiltup windshields, wiper kits, doors with electric windows, sliding rear windows and heater kits. Can-Am recently added six passenger Defender Max models to the line.

HOW DOES COST COMPARE?
Our test machine, the Defender XT HD8, is $15,599. The Polaris Ranger XP 900 EPS goes for $15,299. Kawasaki’s Mule Pro-FX EPS LE is $14,199. The Honda Pioneer 1000 EPS is $15,199.

Tuned for torque, the single-overhead-cam, eight-valve, 799.9cc V-twin produces 50 horsepower and 50 foot-pounds of torque.
Tuned for torque, the single-overhead-cam, eight-valve, 799.9cc V-twin produces 50 horsepower and 50 foot-pounds of torque.

WHAT POWERS IT?
A 799.9cc, single-overhead-cam, eight-valve V-twin with 50 horsepower. It’s tuned for torque, so it reaches its impressive 50-foot-pound torque peak at what would be midrange revs for a sport UTV.

IS THE TRANSMISSION DIFFERENT?
It’s a fully automatic, belt-type continuously variable transmission, like most UTVs use, but it’s different in several important ways. The Defender’s transmission and final drive are housed in a single case, so there’s no drive shaft from the transmission to the rear gear case. Extra-low-range gearing, high-flow cooling and a belt protection system ready the transmission for hard use. Engine braking slows the Defender on downhills.

DEFENDER1_DSC_1615

WHAT KIND OF 4WD SYSTEM DOES IT HAVE?
Like most UTVs, the Defender has selectable 2WD/4WD. The front differential locks automatically as needed in 4WD. There’s also a lockable rear differential. Unlocking the rear differential allows tighter turns and prevents damage to turf.

HOW FAST IS IT?
Fast enough that you’ll have to remind yourself you’re driving a utility-focused UTV. UTVs built for serious work were never known for performance, but Can-Am’s Defenders are out to change that. The HD8 is satisfyingly quick, and it can reach 55 mph if you have the room.

HOW IS THE POWER ON THE TRAIL?
The HD8 has the kind of grunt that always makes it feel like it has steep, challenging trails well in hand, even when you’re carrying considerable loads. Smooth, controllable power delivery makes difficult terrain easy to negotiate. Hunters and ranch operators who have nothing but rugged trails and roads between them and where they need to be will find that the Defender can get them where they have to go and back with confidence.

Double-A-arm front suspension with spring preload-adjustable highpressure gas shocks has 10 inches of travel.
Double-A-arm front suspension with spring preload-adjustable high pressure gas shocks has 10 inches of travel.

HOW IS THE SUSPENSION?
It takes the work out of being in a work vehicle. Comfort and the ability to cover ground quickly weren’t high priorities with traditional utility-focused UTVs. The Defender is different, and the suspension plays a big part. The double-A-arm front suspension and trailing-arm rear suspension, each with 10 inches of travel, offer serious bump-absorbing ability. Spring preload adjustable high-pressure gas shocks add control and provide a plush, refined ride. The Defender’s suspension lets you use its healthy engine to make good time, even on rugged terrain. The vehicle stays predictable when it is pushed hard, and ride comfort is impressive at low and high speeds.

The rear suspension has 10 inches of travel. A sway bar limits body roll.
The rear suspension has 10 inches of travel. A sway bar limits body roll.

HOW DOES IT HANDLE?
It’s pretty sporty for a utility UTV, and that’s a good thing. The Defender’s sure cornering and stability at speed help it feel composed and in control when it’s well loaded or in tricky terrain. Normally, a fair amount of body roll comes with long-travel suspension, but the HD8’s suspension and rear sway bar keep it in check.

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Can-Am’s variable-rate power steering keeps steering effort light at low speeds and reduces assist at higher speeds to retain steering feel. The system also damps the jolts that bumps try to send through the steering, which improves comfort and stability.

The Defender’s power and handling are more sport utility than pure utility, but this vehicle has serious work credentials.
The Defender’s power and handling are more sport utility than pure utility, but this vehicle has serious work credentials.

HOW IS IT IN MUD AND WATER?
Wet, sloppy conditions won’t stop the Defender. With 11 inches of ground clearance, a strong torquey engine and an excellent 4WD system, creeks and mud can’t slow the HD8’s progress much. The bodywork provides good enough splash protection that you don’t have to reduce speed for some crossings at all. If driver error gets the Can-Am or another machine stuck, the XT HD8’s winch can get the expedition moving again.

Challenging trails are no problem in the XT HD8, and the Can-Am has massive carrying capacity.
Challenging trails are
no problem in the XT
HD8, and the Can-Am
has massive carrying
capacity.

HOW IS IT FOR HILLS?
The HD8 has no fear of heights. The Can-Am has plenty of climbing power and a 4WD system that gets it to the ground. Downhills can be sketchy on some machines, but the Defender’s strong brakes and predictable engine braking keep things well controlled.

The bench seat holds three, and the passenger seat flips up to allow access to a big storage bin.
The bench seat holds three, and the passenger seat flips up to allow access to a big storage bin.

HOW ARE THE DETAILS?
This machine will spoil you. When you step up to a high-end vehicle like the XT HD8, you expect a lot, but the Can-Am has so many good features, it’s hard not to be surprised. Like many high-end rigs, it comes with power steering, painted bodywork, aluminum wheels and a roof. Then there’s the 4500-pound winch and deluxe instrumentation. Look around a little more and you’ll find the removable toolbox-like storage box in the dash, and the flip-up passenger seat with a large under-seat storage compartment. Are there things we’d add? Yes, doors would be better than the nets, but you can add them or choose a full-cab model.

Deluxe, automotive-style instruments are part of the XT package
Deluxe, automotive-style instruments are part of the XT package

WHAT’S OUR FINAL ANSWER?
The Can-Am Defender XT HD8 has serious work credentials, with performance, comfort and features that are unexpected in work vehicles.

DEFENDER8_DSC_1545

SPECS
CAN-AM DEFENDER XT HD8
ENGINE/TRANSMISSION
Engine type …… Liquid-cooled, 8-valve, SOHC 4-stroke
V-twin
Displacement ………………………………………799.9cc
Bore x stroke ……………………………..91mm x 62mm
Compression ratio …………………………………. 10.5:1
Lubrication system ……………………………. Wet sump
Carburetion .iTC 46mm throttle body, 2 VDO injectors
Starting/back-up ……………..Electric push-button/none
Starting procedure ……….In any range, brake engaged
Air filter:
Type …………………………………. Paper mesh/screen
Transmission ……………………………Dual-range CVT
Drive system ……….. Selectable 2WD/4WD w/ locking
front and rear differential
Final drive: f/r ……………………………………Shaft/shaft
DIMENSIONS/CAPACITIES/WEIGHTS
Fuel capacity ………………………………………10.6 gal.
Wheelbase ……………………………………………….. 83”
Overall length/width/height ………………..120”/62”/78”
Ground clearance ……………………………………….. 11”
Dry weight ………………………………………….1550 lb.
Bed capacity ……………………………………….1000 lb.
Storage capacity ………………………………… 16.2 gal.
ROLLING CHASSIS
Suspension/wheel travel:
Front ………… Dual A-arms & preload-adj. shocks /10”
Rear …………… Trailing arms & preload adj. shocks w/
sway bar/10.0”
Brakes:
Front ……………. Twin-piston hydraulic 220mm discs
Rear …………… Single-piston hydraulic 220mm discs
Tires:
Front ……………………..27×9-14 Maxxis Bighorn 2.0
Rear …………………….27×11-14 Maxxis Bighorn 2.0
DETAILS
DC outlet ……………………. Auto-style waterproof plug
Lighting:
Front ……………………………….Four 35W headlights
Rear …………………………………. LED tail/brakelights
Instrumentation ……….Speedo/odo/tach/trip/hour/fuel/
gear position/diagnostics/clock
Colors ………..Pure Magnesium Metallic, Intense Red,
Mossy Oak Break-Up Country Camo
Minimum recommended operator age ………………. 16
Suggested retail price ………………………….. $15,599
Contact.Bombardier; (877) 4-MY-RIDE, www.brp.com

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