2016 Nissan Titan XD - Towing With the 5/8-Ton Truck

Alex L. Dykes
by Alex L. Dykes
2016 nissan titan xd towing with the 5 8 ton truck

Japanese car companies have been trying to break into the American full-sized pickup market for decades. Despite Japanese trucks having a sterling reputation for dependability and reliability internationally, ‘Muricans are a different bunch. Not even Ford’s switch to “European-style” twin-turbo engines and aluminum bodies could stop the freight train that is the F-Series sales chart.

On the opposite end of that sales chart is the last-place Titan. Nissan sold just 12,140 Titans last year, 1/10th of Toyota’s own meager volume and 1/65th of Ford’s truck sales.

Rather than picking up its marbles and going home, Nissan thought outside the box and came up with a novel idea. Why not “right-size” a 3/4 ton truck and sell it for a little more than your average 1/2 ton? With the Detroit Three engaged in serious towing and payload wars, the heavy-duty pickup segment looks more like a Freightliner convention.

That’s where the diesel Titan XD comes in.

Let’s cover what the Titan XD isn’t first.

This is not a truck that sits exactly in the middle of the 1/2 and 3/4 ton segments. Instead, Nissan cherry picks aspects from each segment to create the XD. The result is a truck with 1/2-ton towing and payload numbers, yet the towing feel of a 3/4 ton truck. It has the curb weight and diesel engine of a 3/4 ton, yet it rides on the highway like a 1/2 ton. Are you confused yet? Just wait.

Instead of using a small diesel V6 like we see in the RAM 1500 EcoDiesel or the long-rumored F-150 diesel, Nissan teamed up with Cummins to snag its new V8. With a starting price of $41,485, that makes the XD the least expensive way to get big V8 torque in your new tow rig.

When it comes to industrial engines, “new” is a relative term. In truth, the Titan’s 5.0-liter turbodiesel V8 isn’t new and that’s just how 3/4-ton shoppers like it. Cummins basically took its ISV5.0 school bus engine and removed the variable geometry single turbo. In its place, Cummins put in a new twin sequential turbo system that it calls “2-stage, 4-mode”.

At low revs, the smaller diameter turbo feeds into the larger turbo to reduce lag and increase boost pressure. At high revs, this is no longer efficient, so a valve body is used to remove the small turbo from the equation. The same valve body can also act as a wastegate under maximum boost or to restrict exhaust flow when greater engine braking is required.

The new twin-turbo setup allows the engine to deliver 310 horsepower at 3,200 rpm and 555 lbs-ft of torque at a low 1,600 rpm. While that pales in comparison to the 900 lbs-ft you can get out of a modern RAM 3500, the new V8 engine yields the same power and torque figures we saw in the RAM 3500 just 12 years ago.

Harnessing the engine’s torque is a new Aisin six-speed automatic dubbed A466ND. In case you were wondering, the transmission isn’t new either. Inside an entirely new housing (without a PTO) sits the same basic transmission found in the aforementioned RAM 3500 with 900 lbs-ft. This is not a light-duty transmission by any means. Also overrated is the rear axle, which was pilfered from the one-ton Nissan NV3500 van and fitted with a tweaked gear set.

To complete the picture for our mechanically minded readers, the curb weight of our 4×4 Platinum Reserve model was 7,480 pounds. No, that’s not a typo. Yes, that is some 2,500 pounds more than an F-150 SuperCrew Lariat. With a GVWR over 8,500 pounds, this means the Titan XD is exempt from pesky EPA fuel economy estimates.

Sound like a 3/4-ton truck? You bet. What happened to the 5/8-ton part? That’s complicated.

As I said before, Nissan didn’t really straddle the line as much as they cherry picked things from the 1/2-ton and 3/4-ton segments and mashed them all into the same truck. We get a fully boxed 3/4-ton frame, 1-ton rear axle, 1-ton transmission, and a school bus diesel engine. Nissan mated the heavy-duty parts to a suspension tuned like a 1/2-ton suspension and steers the whole thing around with a recirculating ball steering rack like you see in the F-350.

The XD rides very differently from the F-250, Silverado 2500 or RAM 2500, largely because of Nissan’s choice to limit payload to just over 2,000 pounds maximum. That allowed them to have a softer rear suspension that makes the XD more livable on your daily commute or on rough roads with an empty bed. On the downside, this choice means that the payload rating is actually 33-percent less than the maximum configurable on an F-150.

No, the hilarity of a 1/2-ton truck that can cart around one and a half tons in the bed is not lost on me.

During the week I was testing the XD, my Jaguar needed to visit the shop for substantial work. (This is a tale for another time). Because of a series of comedic mix-ups with the shop and my location in the boonies, I ended up towing the Jag for 250 miles and the experience was illuminating. Although the XD rides more like a 1/2-ton truck, it tows like a 3/4 ton truck. My Jag is 4,000 pounds dry and the trailer is just over 2,500 pounds. The resulting 6,700-pound combo is within the tow range of nearly every 1/2 ton truck and my Saab 9-7x Aero (which is typically tasked with towing the kitty to the vet). Living in the woods, owning a 2000s-era supercharged Jaguar and living in a house we literally built ourselves, I am no stranger to towing.

I’m also no stranger to trailer sway. When towing with a conventional car trailer, it’s often difficult or impossible to get the weight balanced in an ideal way and still have the car properly situated. Toss in a tow vehicle like my 9-7x with a svelte 4,700-pound curb weight and a compact 113-inch wheelbase and there’s no way around the obvious: sometimes it feels like the trailer is driving the tow vehicle, not the other way around. This same feeling to varying degrees happens in a 1/2-ton truck between 6,000 and 10,000 pounds. Connect the trailer to a 7,500 pound truck with a 151.6-inch wheelbase and you hardly notice its existence. That’s what the XD is all about.

Tow ratings aside, the way the Titan XD drives while a trailer is attached is exactly the same as the 3/4-ton trucks from the Detroit Three. No, I’m not kidding. This is the XD’s raison d’être. The XD was built to tow. The Aisin six-speed transmission’s internals were designed for nearly twice the torque we see in the Nissan, the rear axle was designed for nearly 20-percent more weight than Nissan rates it for, the diesel engine has the heat rejection requirements of a commercial truck and Nissan even tosses in a steering rack like GM uses in its 1-ton trucks. This means that not only will the Titan XD haul around 7,000+ pounds without batting an eye, it should hold up to daily heavy towing in a way that the 1/2 ton trucks just won’t.

So if it was “built to tow,” why is the tow rating “so low”?

That’s a complicated question, but one that I am often asked. First off, 12,312 pounds isn’t low. Second, increasing the payload and towing numbers would have made the ride harsher and the truck more expensive. That’s a bad combo when you’re aiming for “white space.” Perhaps more importantly, at least 26-percent of truck shoppers live in a state where you can’t tow that much anyway.

Towing and diesel torque are the modern truck owner’s bragging lines. Trouble is, most states restrict what you can tow with your regular, old Class C license. California is the clearest, so we’ll use that as an example. You can’t conventionally tow, gooseneck tow, or 5th-wheel tow a trailer with a GVWR greater than 10,000 pounds with a standard Class C license. Period. Want to pull a 10,001-pound conventional trailer? You’ll need a Class A license. Towing a gooseneck or 5th wheel between 10,001 and 15,000 pounds, however, requires a simple Class C endorsement.

The rules are even more strict if you’re a commercial operator as you can end up falling under DOT jurisdiction when your GCWR crests 10,000 pounds. Since the GVWR in the XD ranges from 8,800-9,000 pounds, a Titan with a teardrop camping trailer could push you over the limit. For the majority of truck shoppers, even those that tow on a regular basis, going over a 10,000-pound tow rating isn’t going to matter much.

Now let’s get back to Frankenstein’s monster. If you were hoping that the XD’s “smaller” diesel engine would result in epic fuel economy, you’ll be disappointed. This is another area where the XD falls on the 3/4-ton side of the segment. Our week-long average over 750 miles was just under 16 mpg, a near tie with the diesel Ford, GM or Chrysler trucks. The obvious reason is that the XD weighs about the same and is essentially the same size.

In addition to towing and payload, pricing is where the Titan differentiates itself from the other 3/4-ton trucks. If all you want is a truck with a big diesel engine and a big cab, the Titan is thousands less expensive. Versus a comparably equipped F-250 or Silverado, the Titan XD will be at least $5,500 less expensive. On the RAM side, a RAM 2500 configured comparably to the Titan XD S will be $9,000 more expensive. By the time you get to “well equipped” or top-end trims, the Nissan is around $10,000 less than comparable American diesel trucks. Except for the 1500 Ecodiesel. Ram’s baby diesel offering is $1,500 less than the Nissan.

Nissan certainly succeeded at its mission of creating a different kind of truck. However, there are a few more considerations. Because of Nissan’s low volume, the XD has few variations compared to the competition. There is just one cab size, one bed length and one engine at this time. Nissan has announced that the new 5.7-liter gasoline V8 will join the XD, but it won’t come with the heavy-duty Aisin transmission. This lack of variation significantly limits the competition cross-shops.

This lack of variation means that if you just want a 3/4-ton diesel experience, a RAM 2500 Tradesman with the more powerful Cummins will be just $2,200 more expensive. It wouldn’t be a four-door cab or be as well equipped as the Titan, but it won’t be much more expensive either.

For the bulk of 3/4-ton shoppers and even may 1-ton shoppers, the Titan XD will truly be the “right-sized option.” Because of licensing laws and the reality that few folks actually tow 20,000-pound trailers, the Titan XD’s towing and payload limits shouldn’t be a problem. Yet the heavy-duty engine, transmission, and frame bode well for longevity.

Of course, at the other end of the spectrum, Nissan has stiff competition from the RAM 1500 diesel. For my modest towing needs, the 9,200 pound towing limit of the RAM is just fine. The eight-speed automatic may not be as durable, but it does allow the RAM to be notably quicker to 60, and nearly twice as efficient when commuting with an empty bed. It may get pushed around more than the Titan, but it makes a better daily driver.

Nissan provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of diesel for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30 mph: 4.0 seconds

0-60 mph: 9.1 seconds

1/4 mile: 19.95 seconds @ 85 mph

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2 of 117 comments
  • Jagboi Jagboi on Apr 11, 2016

    " I’m also no stranger to trailer sway. (snip) sometimes it feels like the trailer is driving the tow vehicle, not the other way around. " Do you have a weight distribution sway control hitch with the stabilizer bars? You should, it makes the tow vehicle /trailer combination behave more like one vehicle than two, and will greatly improve the straight line tracking. That won't compensate for improper tongue weight, but will make towing much easier.

  • Carlson Fan Carlson Fan on Apr 11, 2016

    "Versus a comparably equipped F-250 or Silverado, the Titan XD will be at least $5,500 less expensive. " Based on what MSRP? Sorry but a completely meaningless number unless you can tell me how much I can get off MSRP on the Titan. With a Sierra or Silverado, 20% EASY! Best to take that misleading statement completely out of the review.

  • Kwik_Shift I'm kind of excited to check one out. Local dealers are anticipating 3 months for the first one to come in.
  • Jkross22 We're all being a little unfair to GM. It could be worse. They could have partnered with Microsoft to deliver RT - that wonderful tablet OS that couldn't run any legacy MS products - and brought it to the car. Or Win 95 and Clippy.
  • JMII The change could help GM better collect data from its drivers and passengers, and it could also be used as a foundation if GM decides to charge for subscription services.Could? Like the sun *could* set in the west today?Things didn't so well when BMW tried to charge for this service. This will go VERY badly for GM. Can you imagine the customer service calls?Customer: hello I am trying to hook up my phone to my new car but it isn't workingGM: we offer Google services nowCustomer: ok I use Google all the time, but how do get the stuff on my phone to show on the screen?GM: its doesn't work that way, your phone is not involved at all, just enter all your personal information again into our system and we will manage it for youCustomer: ummm... my [insert name of competitive vehicle here] doesn't work that way.GM: but we've made it easier for youCustomer: seriously, you don't support Apple nor Android? Guess I shouldn't have bought this POS, I'll be sure to tell all my friends to never buy a GM product, have a nice day.GM: ...This ultra-mega-dumb even for GM. I assumed if anything moving forward technology wise more OEMs would stop developing their own systems as a cost savings measure and just let the phone OS handle everything. Seems data collection is more important. Well as long as TikTok isn't installed we are safe right?
  • Ollicat Wow, who doesn't want more data collected from them for free so they can be charged for subscriptions services in the future that they used to get for free?
  • Mike Beranek Yet another good reason to stick with an older "analog" car that doesn't steal your information, hassle you to buy stuff, and spy on your passengers.