REVIEW: Can-Am Defender 1000 ATV

By: Barry Ashenhurst

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Can-Am’s new Defender 1000 isn’t quite perfect, but it has the best side-by side cab in the business, the most power and the cushiest ride, says Barry Ashenhurst.

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The side-by-side market is bumper-to-bumper. It’s Pitt Street out there. Pandemonium. There are so many models we can’t keep up.

Most of these little trucks, it has to be said, are not as tough as their propaganda makes out. There are only five or six brands known to be hard workers on a fair dinkum farm. The rest are lightweight machines for ‘lifestyle farmers’. So be it.

But Can-Am is one of the brands known for strength and longevity. The makers have been around forever, are always updating the spec, and in the Defender 1000 have produced a machine with few weaknesses.

That’s what we reckon anyway. And since this feature emphasises the things we like about the Defender, first we’ll deal with two features we think could be improved. 

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Alright, here’s the first one: engine braking is not what we expect from a 1000cc V-twin. Can-Am says the Defender 1000 has the best engine braking in the industry. If it does, it’s only because all the other side-by-sides have such godawful engine braking. Granted, what we see as an unfortunate characteristic might be due to the machine’s dry weight of 641kg, but having years of experience with Rotax engines, we thought it would hold speed better on a hill than it did.

On short drops, no problem. But on steep descents, if you don’t use the wheel brakes, the steeper it gets, the faster she goes.

Secondly, we’d like to see a mechanical handbrake augmenting the park brake on this machine. With 450kg in the tray, and all this gorgonzola parked on a snotty hill, you might need all the parking power you can get. That’s the whinging out of the way.

The Can-Am Defender 1000 is an ATV with few weaknesses

Now, here are features we like about this machine, many of which, says Can-Am, were developed during testing in Australia and New Zealand.

First up, the Defender has the best side-by-side cabin in the business, and it’s not by a titch, it is by miles. Can-Am engineers have showed everyone how to do it.

We compiled a list of all the good things about this cab. We couldn’t do that for any other side-by-side because their cabs are lookalikes. This one’s different:

  • Seats are edge-chamfered to make getting in and out easier
  • There’s a drop-down centre-console/drink holder
  • There’s storage everywhere
  • The passenger-side glovebox has a removable insert with a handle that doubles as a small carry-all or toolbox. Brilliant!
  • There’s a storage shelf under the glovebox
  • The steering wheel is adjustable
  • Despite the obligatory long linkage, gear selector movement through the gate is smoother than we expected. These things are usually crash boxes
  • The snub-nose cab allows excellent forward visibility 
  • Both passenger seats flip up. This enables additional storage space for tools, the dog, whatever
  • Lifting the bonnet flap gives access to the fuse box, a small toolkit and the fluid reservoirs
  • Power-steering is a little slower than we expected but nonetheless perfectly weighted
  • Sound levels inside the cab are low (though that might change once a roof and windscreen are added)
The best cab in the business, with plenty of useful storage space, nice ergonomics, an adjustable steering wheel and room for the dog


You’d expect 1000cc to haul, and it does. Tests on a long dirt road yield a top speed of about 110km/h, with acceleration to match. This is a very quick jigger.

There are safety features, though:

  • If you fail to wear your seat belt, the electronics restrict speed to about four or five kilometres per hour
  • There are three power and torque keys
  • An orange ‘work’ key limits top speed to 40km/h, but doesn’t affect torque
  • A green ‘eco’ key reduces torque by 10 per cent and holds top speed to 70km/h
  • A ‘performance’ key gives you the whole cheese; no limit to top speed, torque or power
  • Commensurate with this machine’s performance are disc brakes all around, with braided steel lines.
  • It’s odd that Can-Am gave the machine 12-inch wheels, though. We think it’s to help lower the centre of gravity when it’s loaded with all that cheese, but small wheels don’t hook up as well on loose surfaces.
Flip-up seats make extra room. And Can-Am makes storage boxes to fit this space

What’s more, it may be the teensy tyres that make the steering feel kinda slow. That isn’t a problem or anything.

It just feels...different.

 It wouldn’t surprise us if the 800cc Defender due soon has 14-inch wheels, along with a lighter payload rating and better ground clearance. 

All Can-Am products handle well, and the big Defender is no exception. It has a firm ride, but copes with potholes and paddock whoops as only an ATV with well-sorted suspension can.

That suspension, by the way, is dual A-arms front and rear. The rear setup has a humungous torsion bar.

Lift up the tiny bonnet and there are the fluid reservoirs

The front could use a little more protection for the A-arms – in fact, out of the box, this machine needs a front bumper more than any other accessory.

We were pleased to see grease zerks on all suspension pivot points, a sensible feature all manufacturers should copy (but won’t, cos some of them are tight arses).

The Defender rides better than a Polaris Ranger – its nearest competitor – and steers nicely, despite the slow feel.

Can-Am loves the idea of three-stage power-steering and promotes it heavily, but for some reason they dropped it on the Defender 1000 in favour of single-stage steering. Given how well it works, they might as well drop it on Outlanders and Renegades. They don’t need it.

With the machine’s 12-inch wheels and 11-inch ground clearance, we thought off-road ability would suffer, but it didn’t.

The 12-inch wheels are a bit weird, but we like the twin-piston callipers up front and the braided brake lines. On a rugged property with plenty of rocks, you’ll need protection for those exposed A-arms

The big ATV failed to hang up anywhere on the steeply undulating property, and barged through Brisbane River shallows with no trouble at all, even in one-wheel-drive Turf mode (we were feeling frisky).

If you spend a lot of your time managing stock, the Defender won’t spook ‘em. Can-Am says the 1000cc machine is five decibels quieter than any other side-by-side.

I didn’t test that as I don’t drive around with a sound meter in my pocket, but I’m willing to accept the promise at face value.

The cattle we worked around took no notice of the Defender, despite the hair-raising performance of which the thing is capable.  

Digital readout reminds you to buckle up. And if you don’t, on-board electronics limit speed to four or five kilometres an hour

1000 OR 800CC?

With 53kW (72hp) on tap, you won’t have difficulty climbing hills. We don’t know what to make of the rated towing capacity of 907kg, though, or how they come up with that figure.

We wouldn’t want to tow that much with an ATV, even this one. 

At $23,000 they’re not exactly giving it away, but right now nothing else comes close.

The 800 defender has already been released in the US, but the man who supplies all Can-Am test equipment for Farms and Farm Machinery, Grant Martin at Gatton Power Sports, says the local distributor hasn’t yet finalised his Australian spec for the 800 version.

A snub-nose ensures good visibility over the front of the vehicle

Still, through the grapevine, as they say, we expect the 800  to have 14-inch wheels, and there will more than likely be an  XT version with a winch and a few more tart-up goodies to pique your interest.

A 1000cc side-by-side isn’t for everyone, we know that.

This one mightn’t have the engine braking that a lot of people enquire about before buying any ATV, but it does a high level of comfort, power, torque, driveability, and chunky good looks.

The rear setup with a massive torsion bar (arrowed) and grease zerks on all pivot points


  • Best cab in the ATV world
  • Excellent ride and performance
  • Heaps of clever storage space
  • Quiet and responsive



  • Comparatively poor engine braking
  • Lacks a mechanical handbrake
  • It’s $23,000


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