2017 Indian Chieftains Elite and Limited

Editor Score: 86.5%
Engine 17.0/20
Suspension/Handling 13.0/15
Transmission/Clutch 8.0/10
Brakes 8.25/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 9.0/10
Appearance/Quality 9.5/10
Desirability 9.25/10
Value 8.0/10
Overall Score86.5/100

Indian continues to bring the battle to Milwaukee with a pair of new baggers: the 2017 Chieftain Elite and Chieftain Limited – baggers being such a big deal they’ve spawned their own magazines and websites, and why not? They’re a great balance of form and function, combining the ability to cruise the dirty boulevard in style, then hightail it out of town without having to leave all one’s worldly goods behind. We could call them “American Sport Tourers,” really.

2016 Indian Chieftain Dark Horse First Ride Review

What’s new with these two Indians isn’t a lot functionally, but in a world where form is just as important, these two mark a significant departure. If you can’t put your finger on exactly why at first glance, here it is: These are the first modern-era full-sized Indians to do away with the company’s signature valanced front fender.

Removing it encouraged the engineers to come up with a spicy new 19-inch contrast-cut front wheel packing a pair of 300mm floating brake rotors squeezed by four-piston calipers bearing the Indian brand. Beyond that, a color matched headlight bezel and streamlined leather saddle complete a subtly sleeker, more aggressive look (which looks quite a bit more like Harley-Davidson’s best-selling Street Glide).

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Does the carpet match the drapes? Yes. What? These two Chieftains carry on with the same 111 Thunder Stroke V-Twin as before, rated at 119 lb-ft of torque by Indian and measured by our Dynojet rear-wheel dyno at 105 lb-ft at 2800 rpm, and 76.1 horsepower at 4500 rpm in last year’s Baggers Brawl. In that sweeping Western epic, we threw a Chieftain in against an H-D Street Glide and a couple others; the results were a tie for first between the Indian and the H-D.

2017 Indian Chieftain Elite front wheel

The Chieftain Limited is the Thunder Black member of the new duo. In addition to the new wheels, it gets a contrast-stitched leather seat and a short power windscreen – also a pair of speakers in the fairing driven by a 100-watt amp that puts out ridiculously good audio even at 80 per with earplugs in. I have no idea how that works, but it does. Also a seven-inch color TFT display for its customizable Ride Command system, which includes GPS, Bluetooth, etc., and works even with a gloved finger. The Limited raises the Chieftain price tag to $24,499.

2017 Indian Chieftain Limited black

The Limited is the shiny black one.

Those for whom enough never is, however, will want to swagger all the way up to Indian’s new top-of-the-line bagger, the Chieftain Elite. Carrying a price tag of $31,499, you get the idea that with this one, Indian wants a slice of Harley’s rich CVO pie. In addition to another pair of speakers in the saddlebags driven by their own 100-watt amp, this one gets a “Fireglow Red Candy with Marble Accents” paint job, which is applied by hand at Indian’s Spearfish, South Dakota, works. The first coat is gold, over 25 man-hours go into each bike, and none of the 350 Elites produced will be exactly alike, says Indian.

2017 Indian Chieftain Elite red

Liberal elitist aboard Chieftain Elite.

The chrome, the paint, the fit and finish on this thing is absolutely first-rate, the stereo goes to 11, and of course there’s every creature comfort including cruise control, remote bag locks, keyless fob ignition, tire pressure monitoring… the Elite’s elitism is driven mercilessly home via a host of premium standard accessories including billet aluminum driver and passenger floorboards, a flared, tinted windscreen, custom pinstriping as far as the eye can see…

2017 Indian Chieftain Elite entertainment volume up to 11

No, it really does go to 11 – and the Elite’s four-channel system is still remarkably clear and crispy even then. There’s even an equalizer. Use the handlebar controls or a gloved finger to do your bidding.

Nothing seems to have changed in the chassis/running gear department compared to the Chieftain we most recently tested in the above-linked Baggers Brawl: Suspension remains the same 46mm fork with 4.7 inches travel, mated to a rear single air-assist shock with 4.5 inches of wheel travel, all on a 65.7-inch wheelbase. Even the rear tire remains a Dunlop Elite 3 Multi-Compound 180/60R16. If the new 19 x 3.5-inch front wheel with its 130/60B19 tire affects the Indian’s really good handling, we’d need to ride further than my day-long spin around San Diego to find out: We never hit any 100-mph sweepers or tight twisties.

2017 Indian Chieftain Elite controls

Comfortwise, they are right there with the best baggers, better really, thanks to twice as much rear suspension travel as some of Indian’s, ahem, most popular competitors. The other untested elephant in the room is engine heat. Some 111 Indians we’ve ridden put out a lot of it. On this cool and sometimes rainy day, that was no problem at all. If Indian’s done anything to address that issue, nobody from Indian bragged it up at this press launch – and my bad for forgetting to ask. We will get to the bottom of it ASAP.

There it is. “The goal was to evolve the award-winning Chieftain platform with new models that elevated the overall style of this bike significantly, while still staying true to the signature design qualities that Indian Motorcycle is known for,” said Reid Wilson, Director of Marketing for Indian Motorcycle.

A good place to sit, and just 26 inches from the ground, says Indian.

A good place to sit, and just 26 inches from the ground, says Indian.

I think these bikes accomplish that, but of course beauty is in the eye of the beer holder. I’m definitely down with baggers, but even more down with some of the other places Reid Wilson said Indian would be going on the evening these two were introduced to the press in San Diego.

MO Interview: Reid Wilson, Director Of Marketing For Indian Motorcycle

Change is good. A lot of critics felt the Thunder Stroke engine and some of the bikes were a bit over stylized as they reached back to make the historical connection. Ditching the valanced fender on these two and bolting on those modern wheels really does turn the look of the whole motorcycle around. Here’s to even more Indians to come.

Check out my Pathfinder LED headlight and driving lights, my quad stereo, my police escort…

Check out my Pathfinder LED headlight and driving lights, my quad stereo, my police escort…

2017 Indian Chieftain Elite and Chieftain Limited
+ Highs

  • Great looks, if you like the way they look
  • Super comfy trawlers, great suspension
  • All the modern conveniences
– Sighs

  • The bottom line has moved upward
  • Clumsier at slow speeds than H-Ds
  • Engine heat can be a problem…

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