2018 Harley-Davidson Deluxe Review - First Ride

Evans Brasfield
by Evans Brasfield

Pretty and a performer, too!

By now, most motorcyclists have learned of the big changes in the Harley-Davidson Softail line, how it has swallowed its Dyna siblings, added the Milwaukee-Eight engine, and been reborn as a modern interpretation of a cruiser. However, perhaps no other manufacturer is more aware of the weight of a marque’s history than Harley. Which explains why the designers at the Motor Company expended so much effort in getting the classic models like the 2018 Harley-Davidson Deluxe right. They knew that if they were able to modernize the more classically styled models, they could take some liberties with the bikes where they wanted to push the envelope. The Deluxe provides a prime example of an updated Softail that carries over the lines of the previous generation while still becoming a thoroughly modern cruiser.

2018 Harley-Davidson Deluxe

Editor Score: 81.75%
Engine 16.0/20
Suspension/Handling 11.75/15
Transmission/Clutch 7.5/10
Brakes 8.0/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 8.5/10
Appearance/Quality 9.5/10
Desirability 8.5/10
Value 8.0/10
Overall Score81.75/100

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From a distance, one would be hard-pressed to differentiate the 2017 and 2018 Deluxe models when looking at the profiles. The points that would ultimately give away the 2018 are the solo-saddle, the lessened space around the engine, and the ever-so-slightly smaller-looking headlight. Get up close to the Deluxe, and you’ll see tons of differences. The most obvious change is the move to LED lighting all around – with the turn signals that are exceptionally modern-looking on the light bar. The overall effect is that of a modernized classic.

The Deluxe’s light bar is a thoroughly modern interpretation of the version featured on the previous generation.

The 2018 Deluxe receives a heart transplant in the form of the Milwaukee-Eight engine of the 107 cubic-inch variety. In its transition from the Harley touring line, the M-E gained a second counterbalancer and a wet sump. The second counterbalancer allows for the engine to be solidly-mounted to the Softail frame for a more tightly packed engine bay and a stiffer chassis. The wet sump facilitates the 2017’s under seat oil tank removal, which achieves the dual goals of relocating a heat source away from the rider and centralizing the mass of the engine.

From the moment the torque-assist clutch is released, the Milwaukee-Eight engine outshines the Twin Cam. Acceleration is brisk and is a claimed 10-percent faster from 0-60mph – a figure I don’t doubt. In my two chances to ride the Deluxe (one in Wisconsin and one in California), I’ve been impressed with how well the dual balancers quell vibration. While the M-E loves being trolled along riding the torque curve, the engine feels equally at home with a higher-rpm, more sporting approach, too. However, at higher rpm, some vibration makes itself known but is not objectionable. At all rpm, in all situations, the EFI tuning remains super slick with nary a hiccup. The transmission shifts smoothly though shifting into first gear from neutral elicits the Big Twin Clunk. When it comes to sound, though, it’s hard to ignore one of the biggest benefits of having an engine that is mechanically quieter than the one it replaces. The Milwaukee-Eight’s exhaust is much throatier than the Twin Cam’s while still meeting EPA limits. That’s a change that can be appreciated each time the throttle is twisted.

The Milwaukee-Eight 107 engine gains a second counterbalancer and a wet sump. The faux oil tank hides the shock and electronics.

Harley clearly wanted the media to notice the improved ground clearance of the Deluxe – and all of the Softail line – since the vast majority of the roads we traveled over the two days of the Softail introduction were serpentine playgrounds for motorcyclists. The first time I rode the Deluxe, I’d ridden the 2017 model immediately beforehand. From the first corner on Blackhawk Raceway, I was pleasantly surprised at how much more ground clearance the 2018 Deluxe had. My time on the winding California backroads only increased my appreciation for what Harley-Davidson had done with the Deluxe in the conversion to the new frame.

In the tighter sections of corners, the additional ground clearance was nice, but it was the higher-speed sweepers where I could really experience the increased torsional stiffness. The Deluxe exhibited none of the hinge-in-the-middle sensation of cruiser chassis flex. The dual-bending valve fork combined with the single shock under the seat to give a controlled ride over pavement ripples. Larger suspension hits were attenuated much better – even in those couple of times that the rear suspension bottomed. Although I never touched the preload, its hydraulic adjuster is easily accessible under the seat for riders who are lighter or heavier than the standard preload was set for.

Steering the Deluxe was fairly easy, thanks to the wide handlebar’s leverage. However, the 30° rake means that the steering leans significantly more towards the stability side of the performance spectrum. Still, the Deluxe could be taken from floorboard-to-floorboard in a series of turns if the rider desired.

If it weren’t for the headlight and the solo saddle, you couldn’t tell this is a 2018 Deluxe – until you cranked on the throttle or found a twisty road.

The Deluxe places the rider in the classic cruiser riding position. The feet are forward but not stretched out. The back is straight, neither leaning forward or back. The arms have a comfortable bend in them for cruising the boulevard or traveling on the highway. The sculpted seat stands just 26.8 inches from the pavement – just 0.4 in. higher than last year – yet the engineers were able to squeeze out 28° of lean each way compared to 26.7° left and 25.8° right. The riding position is indistinguishable from the 2017 model despite the chassis changes.

So, what Harley has done was create a motorcycle that is functionally better than its predecessor in both power delivery and handling while keeping the rider’s interface with the bike in the realm of the previous generation. This is good news since the ideal buyer for the Deluxe is a rider who usually embraces change reluctantly. The styling updates are a slightly bigger risk, though. While the profile of the bike remains unaltered, the detail work has received some modernization. As with all of the 2018 Softails, the headlight has a signature LED ring that sets this generation apart from the previous one. Also, the modern styling of the light bar and its integrated turn signals is a step that some traditionalists may not like.

If you were interested in the Deluxe in the past, you owe it to yourself to take a look at the 2018 Harley-Davidson Deluxe. It sports all the bling of the previous generation for those who like things shiny. That’s good. Riding the Deluxe, though, is a revelation. If you took a test ride of the Twin Cam version, you’re going to be stunned at how a bike that looks so similar, with such a familiar riding position, could feel so different when you open the throttle or bend it into a corner. Now is a good time to be a Harley buyer.

The Deluxe starts at a MSRP of $17,999 with color options at $18,399 and two-tone for $18,499.

2018 Harley-Davidson Deluxe

+ Highs

  • More responsive engine
  • Surprisingly good cornering clearance
  • Same classic riding position

– Sighs

  • Pillion is an accessory item
  • The rear suspension could still use some more travel
  • Change isn’t easy for the Harley faithful

2018 Harley-Davidson Deluxe

MSRP$17,999, $18,399 (color option), $18,499 (two-tone)
Engine TypeMilwaukee-Eight® 107 45° V-Twin
Bore and Stroke100 mm x 114.3 mm
Fuel SystemElectronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Compression Ratio10.0:1
Valve Train4 valves per cylinder, pushrods
Transmission6-Speed Cruise Drive
Final DriveBelt
Front SuspensionConventional fork
Rear SuspensionMono-shock, hydraulic preload adjuster
Front BrakeDual 4-piston calpers, floating discs
Rear Brake2-piston caliper, floating disc
Front TireMT90B16 72H
Rear TireMU85B16 77H
Rake/Trail30° / 5.7 in.
Wheelbase64.2 in.
Seat Height26.8 in.
Curb Weight697 lb. (claimed)
Fuel Capacity5 gal.
Available ColorsVivid Black, Twisted Cherry, Electric Blue, Silver Fortune/Sumatra Brown, Wicked Red/Twisted Cherry
Evans Brasfield
Evans Brasfield

Like most of the best happenings in his life, Evans stumbled into his motojournalism career. While on his way to a planned life in academia, he applied for a job at a motorcycle magazine, thinking he’d get the opportunity to write some freelance articles. Instead, he was offered a full-time job in which he discovered he could actually get paid to ride other people’s motorcycles – and he’s never looked back. Over the 25 years he’s been in the motorcycle industry, Evans has written two books, 101 Sportbike Performance Projects and How to Modify Your Metric Cruiser, and has ridden just about every production motorcycle manufactured. Evans has a deep love of motorcycles and believes they are a force for good in the world.

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