America’s big-profit full-size pickup truck market isn’t just a wrestling match, it’s a steel cage Texas death match.
Nissan entered the ring back in 2004 with its first-generation Titan, a truck with stout V8 engine power and innovative bed features. It was worthy, but it remained essentially unchanged for more than a decade.
Such a long lifecycle likely contributed to shrinking sales from almost 87,000 trucks in 2005 to just 12,527 in 2015.
Nissan was bloodied, but it picked itself up off the canvas and has now built the all-new second-generation Nissan Titan, and with two available versions. The light-duty Titan and the more capable Titan XD, which Nissan says splits the difference in cost and capability between the light and heavy-duty pickups from Ford, Chevy and Ram.
The bright yellow XD with the Pro-4X off-road package and diesel engine made a strong statement on the freeways and boulevards of West Los Angeles not only because of its loud paint job, but also due to its sheer size.
Powered by the standard 5.0-liter Cummins V8 (a 5.6-liter gas V8 is optional), the Titan had a maximum towing capacity north of 12,000 lbs. and a base price was $54,230.
Nissan is the only truck maker to use this engine in a conventional pickup, although it has been in commercial service since 2007. The Cummins produces 310 horsepower and 555 pound-feet of torque.
That’s big torque for a light-duty truck. It’s more than Ram’s Ecodiesel V6, but still less than a heavy-duty pickup like Ford’s F-250.
The engine has an iron block, aluminum heads and two-stage turbocharger system with one large and one small. The system is controlled by a computer that utilizes the twin turbo set up to optimize power, economy and drivability in every driving situation. The rev range red lines at 4,000 rpm, which is characteristic of a diesel engine. The system can also mimic an exhaust brake by increasing backpressure. Nissan pairs the new Cummins with a very smooth 6-speed automatic transmission.
The Pro-4X trim level is only available as a crew cab with a 6.5-foot bed and a 151.6-inch wheelbase. Nissan designed an all-new fully boxed frame and a double wishbone independent front suspension. In the rear is a solid axle with leaf springs and an electronic locking differential. Nissan has also outfitted the XD with huge ¾-ton-sized brakes, which is a good thing, because this is a heavy truck weighing over 7,000 pounds.
Around town it isn’t as athletic as a light-duty truck. The mass of the Cummins on the truck’s front end is noticeable, and the steering is heavy. However, it rides incredibly well for its high-level of capability and far better than any ¾-ton truck. The clatter from the Cummins V8 and the whistle from the turbos as it builds power is unmistakable. This is a diesel and it sounds like one.
Acceleration is adequate. Turbo boost builds slowly, which keeps the Titan from ever feeling quick. Pressing the Tow/Haul button on the end of the column-mounted shifter, which reprograms the transmission to deliver quicker downshifts, helps to wake things up a bit.
At 70 mph, the Cummins hums along at 1,800 rpm, practically right on its torque peak, so passing power is not a problem, even on steep grades. Fuel economy, however, is disappointing with an average of 14 mpg over 300 miles of mixed driving.
The truck also performs well in light off-roading conditions. The Pro-4X comes equipped with specially-tuned Bilstein shocks, 285/65R18 General Grabber tires as well as skidplates upfront and under the transfer case. The suspension likes fire roads, soaking up even deep ruts. And on trails that require low range, the Titan is almost unstoppable, thanks to its low gearing, sufficient ground clearance and impressive articulation.
This is a fun truck to get dirty. Nissan put the large rotary 4WD knob in an easily reachable spot near the wheel, and the system responds quickly. Unfortunately, the buttons for the differential lock and hill descent are positioned down low, making them a little harder to reach.
This Pro-4X test truck was equipped with all-three available option packages, which expands the base MSRP to $60,250.
The Pro-4X Utility and Audio Package ($1,400) added a 12-speaker Rockford Fosgate premium audio system, a small manually-deployed rear-bed step, a useful and adjustable in-bed tie-down system, LED bed lighting, a power sliding rear window and a 120-volt outlet in the cargo bed. All good stuff.
The Pro-4X Convenience Package ($3,520) and the Pro-4X Luxury Package ($1,510) added the luxury and convenience of heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, a power tilt, telescopic and heated steering wheel, remote engine start, leather seats with contrasting stitching and Nissan’s Around View Monitor with Moving Object Detection, which – along with front- and rear-parking sensors – makes parking this beast far less stressful.
Navigation, keyless entry, dual-zone climate control, a spray-in bedliner and a Blind Spot Warning system with Rear Cross Traffic Alert are all standard.
Inside, the Titan’s interior is handsome, spacious and comfortable. The seats are comfortable – although the seat heaters are a bit weak – and the huge center console and sizable door pockets allows plenty of storage.
The two big, clear analog gauges are attractive and easy to read, and the infotainment and navigation systems are very easy to use. The 7-inch screen, however, is small for modern pickups.
In total the design is very likable but it doesn’t break new ground or set new standards against other competitors in the segment.
Overall, the Titan XD is a desirable truck and it really does occupy the whitespace between light and heavy-duty pickups, both in cost and capability. Nissan says there are a significant number of 2500-series truck owners that bought more truck than they really need. If that’s true, the new 2017 Nissan Titan XD makes a lot of sense in a segment that’s been light on innovation.