2016 Nissan Titan XD First Drive - A Cat Looks at The Kings

Mark Stevenson
by Mark Stevenson

Ask people in the know which full-size pickup is arguably the worst new purchase you can make today and you’ll receive a resounding answer: the Titan.

Nissan’s foray into full-size pickups was a breath of fresh air when it debuted for the 2004 model year. But like all merchandise that sits stagnant on retail shelves, it quickly went out of style, became unrefined in comparison to ever-improving competitors, and could only be had with a thirsty V8 during the doldrums of the Great Recession.

It’s this languishing at the low end of the totem pole that must have cajoled Nissan engineers to seriously analyze its truck strategy going forward. Surely, if Nissan was to compete in the pickup game, it would need to update its model at the same pace as everyone else — or, the very least, at the same pace as Toyota. That’s an expensive undertaking considering an all-new model’s development is now priced well into the billions of dollars. And it’s a risky bet to invest that much cash in a segment known for ownership loyalty and domestic domination.

So, Nissan had an idea: hit ’em where they ain’t, and steal a seasoned truck guy to push the new-“class” pickup.

(Disclosure: Nissan flew me from Halifax, Nova Scotia, all the way to Arizona to drive their newest darling for a day. I stayed in a stereotypically Arizonan resort that could easily double as public housing in a live action version of “The Flintstones.” There were also drinks, food, and a children’s book gifted to us during our stay. The reading level of the book probably exceeded the comprehension level of some of those in attendance.)

After a plan to slather Titan badges upon Ram pickups was taken out to the back forty and shot, something had to be done. This — the Titan XD — is that something: a supposed tweener truck that splits the difference between the traditional 1/2-ton Detroit pickups and the 3/4-ton Detroit pickups. Though, make no mistake, the Titan XD (not to be confused with the new 1/2-ton Titan that’s coming later) is a 3/4-ton truck placed firmly in Class 2b territory (GVWR over 8,500 pounds).

“Triple nickel” torque has a weighty adversary

The biggest newsmaking part of Nissan’s Titan XD equation is the Cummins-sourced 5.0-liter turbodiesel V8 tucked inside the truck’s ginormous front end.

Nissan’s diesel isn’t entirely unique, as approximately 70 percent of its parts are shared with the Cummins ISV5.0 medium-duty diesel used in school buses and commercial applications. However, it’s different in that it’s purpose engineered and tuned for the 3/4-ton class. Nissan claims 310 horsepower and 555 lbs-ft of torque are produced by the new compression-ignition engine. (A gasoline V8 will arrive later, as well as a V6 for the 1/2-ton Titan.) And since the Titan lives in Class 2b, Nissan is well within its right to give fuel economy labels the middle finger just like every other 3/4-ton truck manufacturer. If you’re looking to compare thirst, the EPA got nuthin’ for you, son.

That 555 lbs-ft torque number — the basis for the engine’s “triple nickel” nickname — isn’t an earth-shattering figure versus other trucks in the class that are now reaching ever-so-close to 1,000 lbs-ft. But, those brawnier engines exist to haul massive, commercial-grade loads. The Cummins mill in the Titan XD, while not offering a class-leading torque figure, is a smooth operator that gives the weekend boating enthusiast the capability to tow a Bayliner to Lake Travis in comfort.

Even with all that muscly torque, the Titan doesn’t feel powerful on the butt dyno — and there’s a reason for that: mass. The Titan XD is an elephant. Really powerful. Really heavy. Not that quick. Curb weights start at 6,709 pounds in S trim 4×2 Crew Cab guise.

The thought behind Nissan’s heavyweight scheme, which flies in the face of fuel economy, is that a heavier truck is more stable. That claim proved true, at least during a (fairly canned) towing test, as the Titan refused to waver while dragging a 9,000 pound trailer load behind it. An engineer riding along with us claimed the truck is so stable that he’s never seen it trigger its standard trailer sway control during normal driving. That’s fairly impressive if true.

The backbone of this weight and stability is a frame derived from Nissan’s NV-series vans. The fully-boxed ladder frame is almost a complete carbon copy of the NV frame fore of the A-pillars, with heavy modifications made aft of the engine mounts to make it more befitting to pickup use. The Titan XD can carry nearly 2,100 pounds of heavy-duty widgets in its bed (when properly equipped), and a payload test with a 700 pound load was shrugged off by the tweener. During the majority of the payload test, I forgot I was doing a payload test, and only reminded of our load’s existence when a glance at the rearview mirror produced an image of a black crate instead of a tailgate.

Breaking new ground, just like everyone else

As much as the Titan XD carves out a pseudo-segment for itself, the truck’s design attempts to blend what came before it (the old Titan) with what’s happening now (everyone else). There’s nothing earth shattering about this Nissan pickup’s new sheetmetal.

A Brobdingnagian grille sits between two equally mighty headlights featuring LED daytime running lights and available LED projectors. More lighting is recessed in the Titan XD’s sculpted bumper. The size of the grille dwarfs the presence of the Nissan badge sitting front and center, but the grille’s upper bezel provides an excellent locale for the massive, embossed letters spelling T I T A N.

The Titan’s profile could be confused for a F-150 or Ram to those not fluent in pickup. Plus, it’s a truck, so not much is happening about the Titan’s side other than some fancy badging and wheels — dependent on trim, of course. However, should you choose to go for the PRO4X trim, say goodbye to those step rails.

Wheels measure in at 17-inches for base-model painted steelies and go up to 20-inch aluminum circles on SL and Platinum Reverse models. Power heated, manually extendable tow mirrors available on SV and above models round out the features of importance.

More badges adorn the Titan XD’s rear, and it’s here again where Nissan designers show restraint by not turning the entire tailgate into a rolling billboard. (Lookin’ at you, R A M.) LED taillights also make the rear of the Titan twinkle as much as the front, and a rear spoiler — which is molded into a dampened assist locking tailgate — helps deliver an extra nth of fuel economy. Nissan’s Utili-track system makes an appearance in some models, allowing for adjustable tie-down locations for your toys.

Jump inside, stay awhile

Much like the Titan’s exterior, the interior sets no benchmark in the segment, but matches some of the best and provides a comfy place for one towing his or her boat to the cottage.

The optional Zero Gravity thrones, combined with the soft leathers in upper trims, are an excellent way to spend time behind the wheel. There’s a wide range of motion, and it easy to find a neutral position with a combination of seat and steering wheel adjustments.

Buttons are large for the glove-wearing among you. Steering wheel and dash controls are easy to find and manipulate. As with all Nissans, some of the buttons, knobs, and trim pieces in the Titan XD look and feel a tad chintzy — though, to be fair, so do those in competing trucks. If you’re a buyer with real work on your mind, a vinyl floor welcomes you in base trim S models.

Innovation wrapped in an old package

Throughout the Titan XD’s trim range, you aren’t going to find an infotainment system that’s as good as competitors from Ford, GM and Ram.

Audio begins with an AM/FM/CD unit with a 5-inch display. It’s not much, but it makes up for its spartan looks with Bluetooth audio streaming capability available as standard. And, let’s face it, at least it isn’t a basic radio with a Casio calculator display. A 7-inch touchscreen is available in SV models and comes standard in PRO-4X and above trims. However, this version of NissanConnect is in dire need of an update, and can’t hold candle to the visuals offered by competitors.

It’s within this old wrapper that Nissan has implemented some truly innovative solutions to common problems. In addition to the available Around View monitor and other features that Nissan has been touting for years, the screen provides a center line for aiming your truck up perfectly with your trailer. Once you’re hooked up, you can use Nissan’s Trailer Light Check by clicking and holding the lock button on the key fob, which will cycle through illuminating the exterior lights while you’re outside the truck. It’s a great feature for checking a trailer-hookup job without a spotter at 4 a.m. before a fishing trip — but not so good for your neighbors who will hear your truck honking away in the twilight.

The word of the moment: whitespace

This cat is looking at the kings, and eyeballing some leftover grapes. By carving out a niche for itself, Nissan hopes to be the big truck in the small pond. But how much of a niche really exists for the Titan XD?

As you can see above, the Titan XD does overlap some Ram 3/4-ton pickups, both in GVWR and towing capability, and some 1/2-ton trucks from Ford and GM in the towing department. As Nissan introduces new cab configurations to market, expect some more of the empty space to be filled, and possibly even higher towing numbers.

However, looking at the graph above, one can only wonder why Nissan didn’t build a heavy 1/2-ton pickup instead.

So we asked.

“The final segmentation of Titan XD is really central to what we see as the ‘white space’ in the full-size truck market,” explained Phil Lienert, communications specialist responsible for Nissan’s trucks, SUVs, and crossovers. “The bottom line for us is that Titan XD is not just tuned for pulling power, but for optimal stability, strength and an overall secure feeling while towing loads up to 12,314 pounds. Curb weight and max towing both impact the final GVWR we selected for XD. We’re exactly where we intended to be in terms of the capability and size of the truck. As opposed to class distinctions, our focus was always on the unmet needs of the full-size pickup customers.”

In a nutshell: You can’t have stability without weight, and you can’t build a heavy, capable truck (to this degree) within the confines of Class 2a. Increased stability (weight) and capability (towing) means an increased GVWR, and it also means membership to the same club as all those Super Duty and 3500-series pickups of the world.

Blue-collar sophistication

The Titan impresses on- and off-road. Beating a yellow PRO-4X truck along a trail covered in aggressive, sizable aggregate showed the solidity provided by the truck’s big, beefy frame. It wasn’t a smooth ride, but it was reasonably quiet and accomplished without a single trim rattle.

However, I’m not an off-road guy. Our brothers at Off-road.com can probably give you a better idea of the Titan XD’s capabilities in the bush.

Instead, I’ll say this: the Titan XD is better than any other 3/4-ton truck on pavement if this level of capability you need. It’s smooth, takes on imperfections as good or better than any other truck, and it’s infinitely comfortable. It’s not full-size sedan smooth, and anyone who says that is either completely stunned or leveraging hyperbole. But, when it comes to its nearest competitors, the Titan XD is more sophisticated than them all.

The Titan XD isn’t about to dethrone any of the Detroit Three, but that other cat in Plano should choose its next move wisely.

[Images: © 2015 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars]

Mark Stevenson
Mark Stevenson

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6 of 135 comments
  • Klossfam Klossfam on Mar 11, 2016

    If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, RAM should be flattered with the near exact copying of the RAM center stack...This tweener is probably the answer to the question no one asked...Ugly as sin also...

  • DC Bruce DC Bruce on Mar 11, 2016

    Mark- with respect, please do your homework before writing an uncritical review such as this. There are any number of Ford and GM half tons with payloads equal to or greater than this truck and with tow ratings above 10,000 lbs. I'm driving one now, which I've used to pull a 27 foot travel trailer all over the country. Both Fords Ecoboost 3.5 and GMs 6.2 liter V-8 have torque ratings of 460 lb-ft. And they have maintenance costs lower than diesels. The Nissan "story" supporting this truck is just that--a story. This truck is just an overweight pig that Nissan is now trying to justify with the road-hugging weight argument last used by Buick in the 1960s. Unless you have serious hauling needs, the argument for diesels becomes very tenuous given the low rpm torque of turbocharged engines or large, variable displacement DI gasoline engines like GM's 6.2 engine. The "legendary" longevity of diesels has been hugely compromised by the complicated and delicate add-ons required to clean up diesel's inherently dirty exhaust. Just ask the owners of Ford's 6.2 and 6.4 liter "powerstroke" diesels. In many parts of the country, diesel fuel is priced the same as 91 octane gasoline and the "clean diesels" do not achieve the fuel economy of their "dirty" predecessors, largely because fuel is used in the particulate filter to burn off the trapped particulates.

    • See 3 previous
    • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Mar 13, 2016

      mopar4wd - Ford's payload ratings increased across the board (roughly 400 lbs) with the aluminum F150 but not in the HD payload package. That dropped slightly.

  • Roger hopkins The car is in Poland??? It does look good tho...
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X The push for EV's is part of the increase in our premiums. Any damage near the battery pack and the car is a total loss.
  • Geozinger Up until recently this was on my short list of cars to replace my old car. However, it didn't pass the "knee test" with my wife as her bad knee makes it difficult for her to get in and out of a sedan. I saw a number of videos about the car and it seems like the real deal as a sporting sedan. In addition I like the low price, too, but it was bad luck/timing that we didn't get to pull the trigger on this one.
  • ToolGuy I agree with everyone here. Of course there are exceptions to what I just said, don't take everything so literally. The important thing is that I weighed in with my opinion, which is helping to move things forward. I believe we can all agree that I make an important contribution (some will differ, that is their prerogative). A stitch in time saves nine. Life isn't fair, you know. I have more to say but will continue at our next meeting. You can count on that, for I am a man of my word. We will make it happen. There might be challenges. I mean, it is what it is. This too shall pass. All we can do is all we can do. These meetings are never really long enough for me to completely express all the greatness within me, are they? Let's meet to discuss. All in a day's work. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day. At the end of the day, I must say I agree with you. I think you will agree. When all is said and done, there is more said than done. But of course that is just one man's opinion. You are free to disagree. As I like to say...(I am working on my middle management skills -- how am I doing?)
  • Golden2husky Have to say he did an excellent job on the C7, especially considering the limited budget he was given. I am very happy with my purchase.