2020 Nissan Titan First Drive - Competent, but Not a Conqueror

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
2020 nissan titan first drive competent but not a conqueror

Nissan’s full-size Titan pickup truck has a problem that Nissan engineers, marketers, and product planners will probably never fix.

That problem? The truck isn’t built by one of the Detroit Three automakers.

Ram, GM, and Ford each have such loyal followings that it seems like the full-size truck market is simply impenetrable. It’s not just Nissan, either – Toyota’s Tundra faces the same challenge.

To its credit, Nissan seems to understand this. Company reps say that they know that conquest sales will be tough, so they’re focused on the over half-million truck buyers (their number) that don’t really harbor any brand loyalty, as well as current Nissan owners who may be looking to move into a full-size truck.

That may just be PR speak – putting a positive spin on things is their job, after all. Then again, perhaps it isn’t. While the Titan doesn’t have the built-in brand loyalty of its Detroit rivals, it’s not a bad truck. It’s not on par with the segment’s best two – Ram’s 1500 and the Ford F-150 – but it’s ready to tangle with Chevy and GMC. On its own merits, it’s plenty competent.

(Full disclosure: Nissan flew me to Utah so that I could drive the Titan, and fed and housed me. I did not take the offered jacket, travel drink cup/mug, or speaker they offered.)

Changes for 2020 include new styling (including different grilles on different trims to help observers differentiate which is which), a new nine-speed automatic transmission, a power increase for the 5.6-liter V8, standard availability of Nissan’s Safety Shield 360 driver’s-aid tech (automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear automatic braking, high beam assist, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot warning, lane-departure warning), and revised interior decoration. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.

The nine-speed trans allows for wider gear spread and a revised final drive ratio of 4.083:1.

There’s two levels of Titan: Titan and Titan XD heavy-duty. Both trucks go on sale in early 2020, with the XD following the smaller Titan. Titan is available in King or Crew Cab, with both being available in S, SV, or PRO-4X trims and with either two-wheel or four-wheel drive. Crew Cabs are also available in SL and top-line Platinum Reserve trims. XD models will be available in all trims, but only as Crew Cab and only with four-wheel drive.

Heavy-duty XD models are three inches taller, 14.6 inches longer, and ride on a wheelbase that is 11.8 inches longer. The XD has a fully boxed ladder frame, commercial grade differential, heavy-duty brakes, heavy-duty suspension, an integrated gooseneck hitch, and can tow up to 1,600 pounds above the regular Titan’s 9,370 pounds. The bed is 6.5 feet long, as opposed to 5.5.

New LED fog lamps are part of the styling refresh, and this Titan is the first ever available with a dual panoramic moonroof. Available driver-aid tech includes forward collision warning, smart cruise control, traffic sign recognition, and driver alert.

There’s a nine-inch touchscreen in the center stack, and other available features include over-the-air software updates, Wi-Fi hotspot, and vehicle access via app.

Heated front seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, premium audio, keyless entry and starting, satellite radio, power tilt/telescope steering wheel, USB – those are also available features.

Depending on trim, you can have 18-, 19-, or 20-inch wheels, and the Titan rides on a double-wishbone suspension with stabilizer bar and coil-over shocks up front and multi-leaf with solid axle, stabilizer bar, and shock absorbers at rear. PR0-4X models have Bilstein monotube coil-over shocks.

Other PRO-4X features include standard four-wheel drive, hill descent control, electronic rear differential, LED headlights, skid plate, 18-inch wheels, all-terrain tires, red badging, tow hooks, an off-road gauge, and a black grille.

The SL is all about chrome (grille, mirrors, front bumper, exhaust finisher, door handles) and has 20-inch wheels and LED lighting for the whole cargo area. Platinum Reserve adds a satin chrome grille and tailgate finisher, lighted chrome running boards, and two-tone paint. It also has 20-inch wheels.

Towers, take note – available towing-related features include trailer light check, trailer brake controller, rearview camera, trailer sway control, tow/haul mode with downhill speed control, front and rear sonar, and 360-degree camera.

Our drive took place at altitude – hi, Park City – and the Titan struggled to accelerate a bit at times, although it wasn’t too bogged down during a towing demo in which I was lugging around about 4,300 pounds worth of Ski-Doos. The 5.6L felt like it would offer adequate if not excellent punch closer to sea level – certainly it would be class-appropriate. No one expects a truck to be a burner, and there was at least enough guts for drama-free merging.

The ride is predictably trucky, even in the SL Crew Cab I drove. Again, about par for the course for a full-size truck. Not Ram road manners, but acceptable.

Steering corrections were needed, but not excessively so, and the system feels weighted well enough and acceptably accurate. Oddly, the gas engine made a clatter that sounded diesel-like, although with the windows up the sound faded. Titan’s interior is a pleasant place – it’s roomy front and rear with plenty of headroom, and it’s quiet.

While the cabin styling is getting a little dated, at least the switchgear is easy to reach and use. Titan’s cockpit is arguably better than what Chevrolet (and perhaps GMC) have on offer.

Nissan had us do some light off-roading with the PRO-4X, and it seemed perfectly capable, although large trucks are always tricky to handle on the trails.

Pricing hasn’t yet been announced.

Nissan is offering up a pleasantly competent truck with styling that sets it apart from its forebears despite not being revolutionary.

It doesn’t have the Ram’s on-road grace or cabin (heck, it doesn’t even have the F-150’s cabin), and it doesn’t offer up unique features like aluminum body work or a multi-function tailgate. That could hold Titan back – it’s hard enough to conquest the big boys in a segment so loyal, and being able to out-do the leaders on the block at their own game, or offering up some tech that no one else does, would be helpful to Nissan’s cause.

Mid-pack manners and lack of gee-whiz features aside, the Titan still drives well enough on- and off-road and has enough room and enough basic content to lure buyers. How many of those independents will become Nissan loyalists remains to be seen, but the Titan won’t be completely shut out by the leaders of the pack.

[Images © 2019 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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