2020 Indian Challenger Limited | Road Test Review

2020 Indian Challenger Limited
The 2020 Indian Challenger is an all-new bagger platform featuring the liquid-cooled PowerPlus 108 V-twin. This is the top-of-the-line Challenger Limited. (Photos by Barry Hathaway)

Since its relaunch for 2014, Indian has struck a balance between honoring the past and looking to the future. Its first few models — the Chief Classic, Chief Vintage and Chieftain — had skirted fenders and an air-cooled V-twin with downward-firing exhausts that evoked nostalgia for Indians your father or grandfather used to ride. But when it brought back the Scout for 2015, it broke from cruiser tradition and gave it a high-revving, liquid-cooled V-twin. And last year Indian introduced the FTR 1200 street tracker with a high-performance engine and optional rider-assistance electronics.

2020 Indian Challenger Limited
The Indian Challenger is a bagger designed not only for style and performance but also touring. Its fairing and electric windscreen provide good wind protection, its seat and riding position are all-day comfortable and its luggage capacity is 18 gallons (68 liters).

Indian has also renewed its head-to-head competition with Harley-Davidson,
reigniting a fierce rivalry waged on racetracks, at factories and in
dealerships during the first half of the 20th century. Indian ended Harley’s
decades-long dominance of flat track with consecutive AFT Twins championships
in 2017-2019, and no doubt a sizable portion of Indian’s sales over the past
few years have come at Harley’s expense.

Indian PowerPlus 108 V-twin
Although the PowerPlus 108 V-twin is thoroughly modern with liquid cooling, single overhead camshafts and four hydraulically adjusted valves per cylinder, it takes its name from an engine Indian introduced in 1916. The name was also used by the Gilroy and Kings Mountain revivals of Indian.

Now Indian has introduced a new model for 2020 whose name
makes its intentions clear: Challenger. Its big, beating heart is the all-new
liquid-cooled PowerPlus 108, a 1,768cc (108ci) V-twin that makes a claimed 128
lb-ft of torque and 122 horsepower. Indian’s air-cooled Thunder Stroke 111/116
V-twin has powered all of its heavyweight baggers and tourers. Rather than
implement partial liquid cooling like Harley-Davidson did with its Twin-Cooled
Milwaukee-Eight V-twin and BMW did with its R-series boxer twin, Indian decided
to go all-in with liquid cooling for the PowerPlus. It didn’t have to go far
for inspiration. Indian’s middleweight Scouts are powered by a liquid-cooled,
60-degree V-twin with DOHC and 4 valves per cylinder, and the PowerPlus has the
same engine configuration and number of valves but uses a SOHC head.

2020 Indian Challenger Limited
The 2020 Indian Challenger Limited is available in Thunder Black Pearl, Deepwater Metallic and the Ruby Metallic shown on the bike we tested. All Challenger models get the protective plastic covers on the lower front of the top-loading saddlebags.

Indian says the PowerPlus “was developed with a big-piston, big-torque mindset with an end game of maximum power delivery across the entire curve.” When we put the Challenger on Jett Tuning’s dyno, its belt-driven rear wheel cranked out 113.3 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm and 107.6 horsepower at 5,600 rpm, with redline at 6,500 rpm (see chart below). That unseats the previous king of torque among V-twin tourers we’ve tested, the Yamaha Star Venture (110.9 lb-ft of torque, 75.9 horsepower), as well as the top-of-the-line Harley-Davidson CVO Limited (110.0 lb-ft of torque, 96.0 horsepower). The Challenger’s broad mountain of rear-wheel torque tops 100 lb-ft from 2,400 to 5,600 rpm, and its horsepower curve increases steadily from 2,000 rpm to its peak.

2020 Indian Challenger Limited Dyno Chart
2020 Indian Challenger Limited Dyno Chart (tested at Jett Tuning in Camarillo, California)

The PowerPlus 108 gets the job done with an oversquare bore
and stroke of 108.0 x 96.5mm, an 11.0:1 compression ratio and dual-bore 52mm
throttle bodies that take big gulps of fuel and air. It has a unit crankcase with
a semi-dry oil sump, overhead camshafts with hydraulic chain tensioners and
valves with hydraulic lash adjusters. Power is sent to the rear wheel through a
6-speed constant-mesh transmission with an overdrive top gear and a
cable-actuated wet assist clutch.

2020 Indian Challenger Limited
At 848 pounds the the Indian Challenger Limited is no lightweight, but its frame-mounted fairing, strong aluminum chassis, compliant suspension and decent cornering clearance help it hustle through corners with ease.

In the world of baggers and
tourers, there are two distinct camps: those with fork-mounted fairings, like
Indian’s Chieftain and Harley-Davidson’s Street Glide, and those with fixed or
frame-mounted fairings, like Indian’s Challenger and Harley-Davidson’s Road
Glide. By taking weight off the handlebar and fork, motorcycles with
frame-mounted fairings require less steering effort than those with fork-mounted
fairings. Our road test of the Challenger, which included hundreds of miles and
countless tight, technical corners along California’s Big Sur coast,
demonstrated just how agile and well balanced an 848-pound bagger can be.

2020 Indian Challenger Limited
The Challenger has a slim fender that shows much of the 19-inch front wheel, and perched on top is a LED-illuminated Indian warbonnet. The base-model Challenger gets all-black cast wheels; the Challenger Dark Horse and Challenger Limited get contrast-cut wheels with TPMS. The 320mm front rotors carry 4-piston Brembo monoblock radial calipers.

Hidden beneath the Challenger’s 6-gallon tank is a modular aluminum backbone frame similar to the one on the Chieftain (they share the same wheelbase and rake/trail figures), but rather than straight downtubes the Challenger’s flare out and are sculpted to wrap around the radiator like they are on the Scout’s frame. Indian’s stout aluminum chassis, which share a significant amount of DNA with the frames that contributed to the impressive handling of Victory’s big touring models, feel rock solid.

2020 Indian Challenger Limited
There’s no hiding the big radiator in front of the PowerPlus 108 V-twin, but Indian did a good job of sculpting the frame’s downtubes around it, just as it did on the Scout.

Pushing hard on Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, a 25-mile twisting goat path that climbs over the Santa Lucia Range and puts any motorcycle’s handling to the test, the Challenger never lost its cool. With a non-adjustable 43mm upside-down fork with 5.1 inches of travel, a preload-adjustable hydraulic Fox rear shock with 4.5 inches of travel and 31 degrees of cornering clearance, the footboards rarely touched down and the ride was responsive, taut and comfortable. The Challenger rolls on 19-/16-inch cast wheels shod with Metzeler Cruisetec tires, and a pair of big 320mm front rotors clamped by 4-piston Brembo monoblock radial provide ample stopping power, though they could use more initial bite. New for 2020 is what Indian calls Smart Lean Technology, which uses a Bosch IMU to enable cornering ABS and traction control (TC can be turned off but ABS cannot) as well as Drag Torque Control.

2020 Indian Challenger Limited seat
The supportive seat has a height of just 26.5 inches, yet the Challenger still provides 4.5 inches of rear suspension travel. A wrench in the toolkit makes it easy to adjust preload on the hydraulic Fox rear shock.

A big bagger like the Challenger
will spend most of its time cruising at a more modest pace on less taxing
roads, and it excels in such an environment. The PowerPlus 108 not only
delivers right-now torque for rapid acceleration, its liquid-cooled design also
means much less heat radiates into the cockpit, eliminating our biggest
complaint about the air-cooled Thunder Stroke. Even with liquid cooling, though,
the PowerPlus offers rear cylinder deactivation at stops to further reduce heat
from the exhaust header beneath the rider’s right thigh. Throttle-by-wire
enables electronic cruise control as well as three riding modes—Sport, Standard
and Rain—that adjust throttle response.

2020 Indian Challenger Limited
The liquid-cooled PowerPlus 108 eliminates most of the radiant heat that has been an ongoing complaint of ours about the air-cooled Thunder Stroke engine. Rear cylinder deactivation at idle is also available on the PowerPlus to reduce heat from the exhaust header under the rider’s right thigh.

As much as we appreciate the Challenger’s performance and handling, what delivers the mail in this segment is style, sound and comfort. The Challenger’s snout-forward, wide-mouth fairing was clearly inspired by the Road Glide’s sharknose fairing — both even have closable vents on either side of the headlight that bring fresh air into the cockpit — but the Indian sets itself apart with LED running lights/turn signals that bracket the headlight, an electrically adjustable windscreen with a 3-inch range and a dashboard that’s much closer to the rider. The Challenger offers good wind protection, a supportive seat with a high rear bolster, rubber-mounted footboards and enormous top-loading saddlebags with remote locking (total storage capacity, including two small fairing pockets, is 18 gallons, or 68 liters).

2020 Indian Challenger Limited
The Indian Challenger’s design was clearly inspired by its counterpart with a frame-mounted fairing, the Harley-Davidson Road Glide. Which is the better bagger?

There are three versions of the
Challenger. Standard equipment on the base model ($21,999), which is available in
Titanium Metallic only, includes ABS, keyless ignition with remote saddlebag
locks and the Ride Command infotainment system with a 7-inch customizable color
touchscreen and a 100-watt audio system. The Challenger Dark Horse ($27,499-$28,249),
which is available in several matte colors with blacked-out finishes, adds
Smart Lean Technology, navigation, a customizable route builder, connected weather
and traffic services and contrast-cut wheels with tire-pressure monitoring. The
Challenger Limited ($27,999-$28,749) we tested is available in several metallic
colors and adds color-matched fender closeouts and highway bars.

2020 Indian Challenger Limited
The cockpit of the 2020 Indian Challenger Limited includes a pair of analog gauges (speedo and tach) with inset digital displays and a 7-inch color touchscreen for the Ride Command infotainment system with 100-watt audio. Keyless ignition is standard, and the fob can be used to remotely lock/unlock the saddlebags. A small button under the right speaker unlocks the fuel cap.

Even though the larger air-cooled Thunder
Stroke 116 was also introduced for 2020, satisfying customer demands for more
torque while also edging out Harley’s Milwaukee-Eight 114 by a couple of cubic
inches, the PowerPlus 108 is the engine that will take Indian’s heavyweight
models into the future. It offers the performance, comfort and lower emissions
that only liquid cooling can provide, and in the Challenger it delivers impressive
grunt and smoothness without giving up the rumbling character that makes a
V-twin the most popular type of engine among American motorcyclists. That plus
muscular, modern style, an excellent chassis, a full range of available
technology, generous wind protection and luggage capacity and plenty of
long-haul comfort make the Challenger one heckuva bagger. We look forward to
seeing how it stacks up against the competition.

2020 Indian Challenger Limited
Cruising along a scenic stretch of California’s Highway 1 on the 2020 Indian Challenger Limited.

2020 Indian Challenger Limited Specs

Base Price: $27,999
Price as Tested: $28,749 (Ruby Metallic color)
Warranty: 1 yr., unltd. miles
Website: indianmotorcycle.com

Engine

Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse 60-degree V-twin
Displacement: 1,768cc (108ci)
Bore x Stroke: 108.0 x 96.5mm
Compression Ratio: 11.0:1
Valve Train: SOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: NA (self-adjusting)
Fuel Delivery: EFI, 52mm dual bore throttle body x 2
Lubrication System: Semi-wet sump, 5-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet assist clutch
Final Drive: Belt

Electrical

Ignition: Electronic
Charging Output: 803 watts max.
Battery: 12V 18AH

Chassis

Frame: Modular cast aluminum w/ engine as stressed member & cast aluminum swingarm
Wheelbase: 65.7 in.
Rake/Trail: 25 degrees/5.9 in.
Seat Height: 26.5 in.
Suspension, Front: 43mm USD fork, no adj., 5.1-in. travel
Rear: Single shock, remote adj. for spring preload, 4.5-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual 320mm floating discs w/ opposed 4-piston radial monoblock calipers & ABS
Rear: Single 298mm floating disc w/ 2-piston pin-slide caliper & ABS
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.50 x 19 in.
Rear: Cast, 5.00 x 16 in.
Tires, Front: 130/60-B19
Rear: 180/60-R16
Wet Weight: 848 lbs.
Load Capacity: 537 lbs.
GVWR: 1,385 lbs.

Performance

Fuel Capacity: 6 gals., last 1.0 gal. warning light on
MPG: 91 AKI min. (low/avg/high) 35.7/37.8/39.7
Estimated Range: 227 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 2,500

Source: RiderMagazine.com

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