The rocky terrain and punishing sun of West Texas is much harsher than anything most of us would put a utility vehicle through, so it became the perfect location to prove just how tough the new-for-2020 Can-Am Defender PRO is. I spent hours with this machine, seeing how it performed on hilly and flat land, analyzing each of its strengths and trying to uncover any weaknesses. From under the hood to around the trails and every feature in between, this is AGDAILY’s Can-Am Defender PRO review.
A utility vehicle is usually designed with target markets in mind, whether they be sportsmen, large-property owners, off-road enthusiasts, or, in the case of the Can-Am Defender PRO, farmers and ranchers who need to maximize their muscle. The PRO is a new edition for model-year 2020 to the company’s Defender lineup, one that has long shown to be among the most durable and respected in the off-road market.
While it’s the nuances of this machine that make it particularly special, the first thing you’ll notice is the significantly longer bed compared with the typical Defender — at 6 feet long, it’s double the standard size. The PRO is built on the same frame as the six-passenger Defender Max, which means that it not only has strength and stability built into it, but the engine is also pushed far to the rear, significantly reducing the amount of noise that can be heard from inside the cab. Many of us know that the tractor industry has spent several years focusing on cab comfort, and it appears that Can-Am has taken that same concept to heart in how it built the PRO and other 2020 models (in many instances, you’ll hear BRP-owned Can-Am talking about NVR, or noise-vibration reduction, for its upcoming machines). That can be seen in other features, too, such as the thicker firewall, which doubles to stifle sound while also acting as a heat barrier.
While the cozy VERSA-PRO seats and larger, enhanced 4.5-inch Defender display screen spoke well about the cab-comfort features being offered in the PRO, what myself and any other farmer or rancher is going to appreciate the most is the side-by-side’s ruggedness and the ability it has to tackle a variety of terrain. The PRO has a 64-inch-wide suspension, and the tires have been upgraded a hair from previous years to 28-inch Maxxis Bighorn 2.0s. It has a 1,000-pound payload capacity — you can hardly feel it while driving fully loaded — and 2,500 pounds of towing capacity.
And, oh, the rocks! They didn’t stand a chance! Up and down I took this machine, surmounting large obstacles as well as finicky loose gravel. The aggressive tires gripped each dusty turn with ease, and with a ground clearance of 13 inches that came courtesy of updated suspension calibration and front and rear arched A-arms, I never found myself in instances where I would scrape the newly reinforced steel chassis. This is a very welcome improvement over previous Defenders, which stood at 10.5 inches of clearance and could leave you a bit nervous around some tougher trail obstacles.
As for power, the PRO has a Rotax 976cc V-twin engine that produces 82 horsepower and 69 lbs.-ft. of torque. The machine has a Visco-Lok QE auto-locking front differential as well as rear differential with turf mode, and its dynamic power steering made tackling each turn a breeze.
Yet, while ruggedness and strength are the reasons the Defender PRO will make life on your farm or ranch easier, the storage options and robust amenities are those wonderful cherries on top. The cargo box measures 72×54.5×10 inches and has removable sides to turn it into a full flatbed. It also includes slotted areas for your ubiquitous 5-gallon farm bucket, making sure that they won’t slide anywhere while you drive. But if you can’t fit everything in the bed, the PRO boasts a total of 100.5 gallons’ worth of storage space, including spots under the dash and passenger seat and a pass-through storage area under the cargo box, perfect for keeping anything and everything dry on a rainy day.
Of course, the cargo box and other parts of the PRO have everything you’d expect to work with the accessories that are part of Can-Am’s highly functional LinQ system. And the bed includes a hydraulic assist for emptying it and accessing the engine.
Couple that with hard- or soft-top options, a windshield or full-cab enclosures, a winch with front or rear bumpers, gun holders and gear mounts, or toolboxes and baskets, and there’s almost no end to how you can customize and upgrade the PRO.
This machine was about so much more than specs. While the numbers looked good on paper, more importantly, they also looked good in the field. The wide base between the front and rear axle made it noticeably easier to conquer obstacles and offered a smooth ride, reducing much of the forward/back swaying we get on each dip in the trail from shorter bases. And on a farm, the 6-foot bed wildly expands the possibilities of a side-by-side, from hauling feed, grain, lumber, hay bales, and more, it’ll take you where many trucks wouldn’t dare to go. It’s well-suited for large property-owners, farmers, and ranchers, and could easily become the best utility machine you’ve ever had.
All photos with this article feature AGDAILY Managing Editor Ryan Tipps driving the 2020 Can-Am Defender PRO on location at the YO Ranch Headquarters in West Texas.