Over the last 12 years, the Nissan Titan has been the worst-selling full-size pickup in America. It’s dead last in sales, behind the Ford F-Series, Chevy Silverado, Ram and GMC Sierra trucks. It is even behind the struggling Toyota Tundra. That poor showing leaves a mark. And the full-size Nissan Titan pickup truck might as well have it tattooed across its big chrome grille.
Truck buyers don’t want their new-vehicle smell tainted with the whiff of failure. How else can you explain Titan sales not even reaching 22,000 last year in a record auto sales market that moved more than 2.2 million big pickups?
Still, the redesigned 2017 Titan in combination with the Titan XD, which slots between half-ton trucks and their larger heavy-duty pickup siblings, have begun to move the needle. In January, sales jumped to nearly 3,000 units. That was triple the number of Titans sold in the same month a year earlier, and for the first time in ages, Toyota’s Tundra might just be starting to see the Titan in the rear-view mirror.
Despite its progress, Nissan has quite a grade to climb. In the same month, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sold nearly 34,000 Ram trucks. Sales of General Motors’ Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra twins topped 49,000 units. Ford pushed out 58,000 F-Series pickups.
Nissan has to make the very best truck in the segment if it is really going to take on the domestic truck brands. That’s the only way to do it. That’s the strategy. Anything else is spit in the wind. Nissan would have to gather the know-how and spend the money to create the greatest full-size pickup in the world; a dead-reliable truck that out techs, out performs, out rides, out comforts, out luxuriates and out cools the Ford, the Ram, the Chevy and the GMC. And it better offer the highest capability, the most power and the greatest fuel economy.
The 2017 Titan isn’t that truck. It isn’t even close.
Our test vehicle was a fully loaded Titan 4×4 in the Platinum Reserve trim. The sticker price was $56,595, including $1,195 destination charges. We spent a week driving it around Los Angeles, keeping in mind that it’s the lighter-duty quarter-ton brother to the competent Nissan Titan XD we reviewed recently. The XD uses a more robust frame, while the standard Titan makes due with essentially the same chassis Nissan used in the first generation of the truck. That’s right, its design dates all the way back to 2004.
Its normally aspirated, big-displacement powertrain isn’t exactly state-of-the-art either. The 390- horsepower, all-aluminum, double-overhead cam, 5.6-liter V-8 engine, now with direct injection, also dates back to the first-generation Titan. Its seven-speed automatic transmission is new, but the combination seems downright prehistoric compared with the twin-turbo V6 engine and 10-speed automatic powering Ford’s latest F-150. Series. Still, it’s the best part of this truck.
The combination — used in the Titan XD as well as the Armada, the NV van and Infiniti QX80 — delivers excellent throttle response, good low-end torque and a nice kick in the upper ends of the tachometer, which redlines at 6,000 rpm. And it sounds good, kind of rumbly like a muscle car.
This is a fast truck. Highway merging, even when loaded, is not a problem, and hammering the throttle off the line will spin the Titan’s 20-inch rear tires. The transmission is responsive and geared well, and there’s a likable firmness to the way it shifts. Manual shifts are possible with an up or down toggle on the shifter.
Fuel economy is acceptable for the class. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the truck at 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway, with a combined rating of 18 mpg. With its 5.5-foot bed empty and four aboard, our Titan averaged 17.1 mpg during a road trip.
The Titan does like the interstate; it eats miles effortlessly. Its interior is quiet, and its leaf spring rear suspension provides a good overall ride — but not as good as the coil-sprung Ram pickup, which remains the class leader for ride quality.
Around town, however, the Titan feels big and graceless compared with the more car-like Ram and the more athletic Chevrolet Silverado or Ford F-150, which is the sport sedan of the segment. In the suburbs, the Nissan feels hulking because of its slow, heavy steering and its huge A-pillars, which cause visibility issues. You need to look twice for pedestrians at every crosswalk.
The Titan’s interior makes a great first impression. The gauges are clear and attractive, the black and brown leather seats look fantastic, and there’s contrasting stitching on the seats, the dash and the shifter. There’s also a heated wood and leather steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, navigation and other cool tech like the Around View Monitor with Moving Object Detection, which makes parking this beast manageable. The Platinum also comes standard with blind-spot warning and rear cross traffic alert active safety systems.
One cool feature is Nissan’s Utili-track Channel System, which was pioneered on its first-generation Titan and emulated by other manufacturers. The series of channels in the bed floor and bed side rails come with removable cleats, which slide into the channels, providing a wide range of attach points to secure cargo. Other bed features are a 120-volt power outlet and LED lighting under the bed rail, which is fantastic for night work or tailgating.
The seat bottoms, however, are a bit flat, and thigh support is a problem on long drives. Also, too much of the trim feels cheap, and the design doesn’t break new ground or set new standards against competitors in the segment. In fact, it turns back the clock with a 7-inch navigation screen, which is the smallest screen in the segment. Hey Nissan, 2010 called and wants its dashboard back.
With LED headlights, running boards, dark chrome wheels and large P275/60R20-size tires, the Titan looks imposing and properly expensive. Too bad it just doesn’t look as cool as the class leaders, especially the Ram, Chevy or GMC offerings.
Unfortunately, the more time you spend in the Titan, the more you realize how dated it feels compared with its more modern and more popular competition. Aside from the Nissan’s five-year/100,000-mile warranty, it doesn’t really leapfrog its domestic competition in any measurable or emotional way, and few Ford F-Series, Ram or Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra owners are going to make the trade.
The Titan is good enough, however, to steal a big number of buyers from the less powerful and homelier Toyota Tundra, which sold 115,000 units in 2016. Despite updates to the Tundra for 2017, Nissan smells blood in the water and has launched two additional body styles of the Titan to drive sales.
But Toyota won’t go down without a fight. It doesn’t want to be dead last either. That’s going to be a good thing for truck buyers. Look for additional incentives on Tundras and Titans as these two wage war at the bottom of the full-size truck market throughout 2017.