2020 Indian Challenger Limited | Road Test Review

Indian's new bagger features the liquid-cooled PowerPlus 108 V-twin.

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.

Read our 2020 Indian Thunder Stroke Lineup Review

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.

Read our 2020 Indian Scout Lineup Review

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.

Check out Rider’s 2020 Guide to New Street Motorcycles

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

33 COMMENTS

  1. Indian is hitting all the right notes. Polaris is to be commended for such a successful revival of such an iconic American machine. And now, Polaris, once again: Please consider bringing back the much-missed Indian Four, in, of course, ultra-modern glory — i.e., a liquid-cooled, 16-valve, DOHC, longitudinal-mounted statement of technological glory. You can do it.

    • Yes! Yes Jack! I have been wanting someone with the Indian name to make the 4, forever! You’re right, Polaris has done a great job reviving the brand and a longitudinal 4 would be the icing on the cake. I know this is blasphemy but liquid cooling the Chief motor wouldn’t hurt my feelings either.

    • The modern version of the iconic Indian 402 inline 4 cylinder is the one I have waited for since 2013, cmon Indian you can build the 402 again, and put valance fenders front and rear, I can’t wait for that day!

    • Absolutely right Jack. As a scout owner, I could not go out and buy an air cooled chief. This powerplus engine is a whole different story. But the most beautiful motorcycle engine ever made, the Indian-4 will complete all motorcycle dreams. The way Indian has been introducing new motorcycles, they will be introducing a all new liquid cooled Indian-4 by next year.

  2. With Honda limiting their wings to a Cushmen like 112 MPH this bike seems poised to spank them. What is it’s top speed, 1/4 time and 0-60 time?

  3. 2 questions, Is it offered with lower skirting to block the rain off your legs?
    What about a rear trunk?
    When my wife and I travel, we need all the room we can get.

    • For now, the Challenger does not come with fairing lowers or a top trunk, but we wouldn’t be surprised if those are offered as accessories or on a full touring model in the near future.

    • I purchased Desert Dawgs from Leader Motorcycle in St. Francis MN. They work great for rain and cold weather. There isn’t a place in the reply area for a photo. They are quick on and off and fold up to fit in your saddlebags when you don’t need them. I think I paid around $130 for them…great quality and they have pockets on the backside of each of them for extra storage.

    • Indian has a standard 1 year warranty, with extended warranties available for purchase. I bought a 2018 Roadmaster in December of 2018 and bought an additional 5 years of warranty (6 years total), so it is available, just costs more.

  4. Looks like just another Harley to me..the shape of the saddlebags are everything you could want in style in 1960…
    Chase Harley; don’t imitate them….

  5. What I… and many others are waiting for ?
    A Challenger engine in a iconic Indian Roadmaster package…..
    My money is waiting…… 👍
    PS… Still waiting on that hydraulic operated clutch also….. 🙄🙄🙄🙄

  6. Road Glide inspired? That’s pretty generous. And a 1 year warranty is not very confident. A water cooled V Twin is not new, the big improvement I see is a longer travel suspension and aluminum frame. That is upping the competition right there.

  7. Great looking bike but I agree it needs a trunk/backrest for the wife before I would consider it. Especially being a “Limited” you would think it would have all the bells and whistles! My Road Glide Ultra has all these things and rear speakers too so if I were to replace that bike it would have to have lower fairings and the trunk at least for the touring we do.

  8. I’m sorry, but to my eye, it is just not aesthetically appealing. Much about the technology is appealing but the appearance is appallingly cluttered and too derivative of the Road Glide styling. The Honda GW is more attractive except for the speed limitations. My aging Victory Vision [no box version] will have to serve another season.

  9. SI took a test ride Saturday not sure what to expect. After about 30 minutes in the saddle I was so impressed that I traded in my 2019 Roadmaster Elite on the spot! I should take possession next week and I cannot wait!

  10. What happened to the days when touring bikes came with 3 year unlimited mile warranties?

    HD is not sleeping well that’s for sure.

  11. I’m 67 and very “old school”, In fact wrote a lot of letters about a – POD- trailer I did not receive back in 82-83. Ride more than most, I think, but by no means near the top of the list. Keep my bikes for a while ( since 73 have taken four over 100K each – 3 Harleys ( 77, 83, 89) and a Triumph (96). on a Vic now ( 14 CC 8 Ball w/stuff added)its got 30K. Worried about – OUR- Industry. We seem to be wondering why new riders are not being attracted. All we seem to get offered ( non riders, new riders, and old riders) are more expensive machines. Everything always cost more as time goes on. But the amount of NOT NECESSARY GADGETS is getting ludicrous. It does not seem to me that leaving “stuff” of and making a basic model can not cost more! We are even doing it in apparel. All I added was lighting so I could be seen and see, a Tour trunk for cargo, and threw away the “STUPID” mirror with the warning in them because of the unreal images they reveal. I’m a Dresser rider, must have a trunk available, not always on the bike though. I do NOT get taller or shorter as I ride, so the correct size wind screen is it. Do not need an “info center” especially GPS ! Live in New York State, if I fail to read the posted signs on all our highways and get to a body of water called the Mississippi I will know I have missed Pennsylvania! I can always talk with the people I meet at stops and ask. Maybe if I am polite them might smile and think about owning a bike of their own. Who needs a radio that can be heard over an exhaust system 1/4 mile away, just so the operator can hear it 3 feet away? Would like ABS but will not pay an extra 3,000 – 5,000 for it and get stuck with other “stuff”. I do not need a sunshade in my helmet, I have and know how to use Sun Glasses, I can even look up and see if the sun is out. Which by the way is why most of us ” old Farts” started riding in the first place. Love the looks and the new power plant on the Challenger, BUT BASE MODEL ONLY TAN????? All of these manufacture had better get together and fix the simple problems, start advertising the new basic machines and show what is capable for those that want it. Us long time riders are slowly going away, you NEED new people. Get them on SOMETHING so that can feel what it’s all about and make it easy to GET STUFF if they want it. Motorcycle at least to me is not about gadgets but the RIDE. Get back to OUR roots, but offer the extras! Jerry Horn Waterford NY

    • I’m 67 years old and ride a Silver/Black Victory Vision with 93,000 miles on her.
      We’ve been in 49 states and 8 Canadian Provinces
      I adjust my electronically controlled windscreen several times a day when long distance riding.
      You don’t need ABS until you need it.
      I needed it when going around a blind corner and coming upon a bear and her cubs in the middle of the street.
      I’ve ridden this new Indian just last week and it is a very responsive and maneuverable motorcycle.
      But it just doesn’t compare to my Vision for weather protection and styling.

  12. Sweet! I want one! Not a real heavy bike either for a fairing bagger. My Kawasaki Nomad dry weight is only 26 pounds lighter.

  13. I just purchased a 2020 Jack Daniels Limited Edition Springfield Dark Horse and like my 2016 Dark Horse and my 2014 Chieftain it comes with a 2 year warranty NOt a 1 year warranty. Indian actually gave me a 3 year extended warranty on the 2014 bike as well. Not sure where you are getting a one year warranty. Since HD offers a 2 year warranty as well I would think Indian would match that.

  14. I can understand what Mr. Horn is saying. For example, all the new dashboard electronics, with their multitudinous screens offering information that seems, well, dubious. It reminds me of, for one thing, modern cash registers. A simple check-out at a Subway takes about two minutes longer now, whereas with the old cash registers, one was “rung up” and out of the store in no time.

    Likewise, the “old” motorcycle dash technology told me what I *needed* to know at a glance: my revs-per-minute and road speed. And the tach and speedo looked just fine.

    So, I get it.

    But you cannot turn back “progress.” We only need to see the progress really become that: progress.

    At any rate, I still like what Polaris is doing. With Indian Motorcycle, it is helping launch American motorcycling into the twenty-first century.

    And, Kevin, you are not being iconoclastic in wishing for a liquid-cooled version of the Thunder Stroke 116. After all, look at what the Milwaukee brand is doing with its largest twins. The larger the engine, the greater the heat. Somehow, I have a feeling Indian will come around on that.

  15. Polaris made the Victory Vision and couldn’t have done a better job.
    Mine has 93,000 miles on her traveling through 49 states and 8 Canadian provinces.
    I’ve test rode this new Indian and it feel light and highly maneuverable.
    But nothing compares to my Victory Vision when it comes to long distance touring.

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