2020 Can-Am Defender Pro Review
Story: Casey Cordeiro // Photos: Casey Cordeiro & Wayne Davis
When Can-Am engineers first brought up the idea to have a 6’ cargo bed on a vehicle, they decided that they needed to have multiple platforms come to market to justify the high cost of building this large cargo box on a mass scale. So, in addition to the Defender 6×6, which shares the same 6’ cargo box, the Defender PRO was born for the working crowd. It might not have 6 wheels attached to it, but the PRO model has many great features that will certainly make it a top seller in the crowded utility UTV market. After our first drive, we came away with many positive impressions of this vehicle. Let’s dive into the details on this machine.
First off, the PRO is built off of the Defender MAX chassis. With 115” wheelbase, we already knew that the MAX is one heck of a smooth ride over all terrains. Credit for this goes to the long wheelbase and the very well tuned suspension system. Instead of putting in a full back seat, the Defender engineers took out the rear seats, flattened the chassis off, and put a 6’ cargo box in the bed, effectively making this the ultimate 3-seat workhorse.
With the rear seats removed and the 6’ long cargo box now over the top of the chassis, there was a gap in between the rear-mounted powertrain system and the front seats, thus creating a vast cavity of open space. Instead of leaving a gaping hole, the PRO has an ingenious storage cavity that holds over 80 gallons of “stuff”. I don’t say “ingenious” very often, but this cargo area was a top-notch idea from the engineers. It is a pass-through storage system with plenty of room for tools like chainsaws, skill saws, shovels, full tool boxes, supplies, and SO much more. I have boundless ideas for this machine as far as storage solutions, and if you get your hands on one, then you, too, will be able to let your mind run wild when you think about custom storage solutions. I do wish this storage area had a bit better sealing around the doors – they don’t include fully waterproof seals around the outside, and I think that is a bit of a miss for Can-Am. Rain should be kept out for the most part with the stock rubber sealing, but the seal is a bit on the weak side. If they would have enabled the door seal to seat itself in a groove, that would have really kept the elements out. But, hopefully that part will improve in future generations. Overall, the best part is, this large cargo area is just the start of what makes the PRO a great machine…
Built with the HD10 motor and Can-Am’s QRS transmission, the PRO has 82 horsepower and 69 lb-ft of torque to work with. With an extra low L-gear, the QRS transmission is plenty capable of hauling its rated load capacity of 1000 lbs in the cargo bed, or 2500 lbs via the trailer-ready 2” receiver in the back. Loading up the cargo bed with almost 1000 lbs in it, the PRO handles the load well and has plenty of power from the engine. I really liked how the PRO took off from a stop in either high or low gear – the clutching was smooth and steady. With the bed loaded in the back, drivers will notice that the machine sways a bit in the corners, even with the sway bar in the rear. The sway bar is rubber mounted to the uprights, and I think having it hard mounted would decrease this tendency to have a bit of body roll. It’s not terrible, but it definitely could be better. And, with the long cargo bed, you’re inspired to haul as much as you can in this bed, so you want to have it as stable as possible.
One of the best innovations on this 6’ cargo bed are the removable bed sides. Yes, without any accessories, you can turn this 6’ bed into a flatbed! Just like your favorite flatbed truck, the Defender PRO can have a full flat bed that will allow you to load it from the sides with pallets, tractor tires, tools, and everything else you can imagine. This innovation is going to be a game changer, especially on this work oriented vehicle, and it works as described with just the two rear bolts removed and sliding the sides out. It’s easy, sturdy, and ready for action. The bed also tilts up. If you need to haul more, Can-Am offers heavy duty rear springs that should offer even more payload capacity. In practice, this bed served us very well, hauling around a full size ATV and a bed full of wood fence posts. Again, the PRO does sway a bit when under a heavy load in a turn, but it is controllable and would probably be better with a hard mounted sway bar. The long wheel base is exacerbated in these conditions, but overall we really like the functionality of this work vehicle.
Because the frame of the PRO is essentially the extended MAX chassis without the 6-seats, the engineers braced up the rear section to be able to handle the additional, elongated loads that were put on this chassis. The end result is a chassis that feels very stout under you when driving with no twisting or churning. This also improves the handling of the vehicle. With a differential that can be unlocked in the rear (contrary to the always-locked rear differentials in the 6×6), steering is quick and the radius is tight when having to make a full circle. Can-Am has done a great job with making sure that this vehicle is still nimble in tight spaces, even with the long chassis, and it shows when working around the ranch. If you own a golf course or have sensitive ground in your maintenance rounds, this is the machine for you with the combination of hauling/towing capability and the “Turf mode” in the rear differential. Plus, don’t forget about all of that center-mounted storage under the cargo bed.
As with all of the Can-Am Defender models these days, the interior is a great place to be for long periods of time. There are tons of innovative storage options, including a plethora of areas on the front dashboard to store items and keep them concealed. The passenger seats also flip up to reveal a very nice storage space for all sorts of items if you don’t plan on carrying any passengers. Can-Am’s containment nets are the easiest to use in the industry with a secure bottom attachment that doesn’t get in your way. Full half doors would be even better, but there is a reason they leave the nets on these vehicles – they are easy to use (and take off for the ranchers I’m sure). The bench seat on the PRO model is comfortable for all 3 passengers, and the 4” display inside gives you access to all of the machine’s vital information at a quick glance. Just like the 6×6, I wish the iTC modes had some kind of button indication labeled from the factory – I didn’t know how to find the different modes and surprised myself at the end of the day to find out that I was running in Work mode. The power was still great, but I could have tried Eco and Eco Off modes to cycle through the different engine power settings.
The Defender PRO has a base model and a PRO XT model, which comes with several upgrades, including a front bumper with a 4500 lb winch, specific styling, adjustable driver’s seat, a full HMWPE skid plate instead of just the center section skid on the base model, and more. If you need a winch or have mud around your property, it’s worth it to buy this upgraded package from the start. Everything is ready to go for you.
The PRO has upgraded 28” tires from the factory, and the bit bigger tire does help this machine in several ways. First, a bit more sidewall only enhances the ride quality. This has to be one of the smoothest Defenders on the market, if not the smoothest. It’s plush when driving around and then stiffens up adequately when loaded down. It’s almost too smooth when loaded down, and this could be another reason there is a bit of body roll with weight in the back. Second, compared to other MAX chassis’s in the Defender lineup, the 28’s give this PRO model an extra inch of ground clearance large obstacles (13” in total). Plus, as a reminder, if you opt for the XT package, you do get the full HMWPE skid plate instead of just the center section skid.
If you’re looking for a great all-around work vehicle, then this Defender PRO might be the ultimate on the market right now. As long as you are okay with the extended wheelbase and longer overall length, this will be a phenomenal vehicle for around the job site, ranch, etc… After logging miles in this PRO during a full day of testing, the ride quality, quick steering, engine power, and interior comfort are all things that stood out. However, if you want a full-on adventure machine with the long wheelbase and large cargo bed, you’re better bet is the Defender 6×6. The PRO’s chassis a bit too long for light-duty rock crawling, and the lack of a better front differential – one that locks up immediately when it senses slip – doesn’t bode well when you need traction at critical times. If you’re going to be running hard pack trails, then it’ll perform just fine. It’s when the going gets rough that the 6×6 really shines. The same can be said for the workplace where the PRO will win hearts everyday.
With an MSRP of $17,899 ($20,099 for the XT model), the all-new Defender PRO is expected to do really well in the marketplace. I can absolutely vouch for the fact that the machine is extremely capable, and the Can-Am engineers did a great job innovating in this very competitive market space.