FORT McDOWELL, AZ – It wasn’t a bad truck, but Nissan’s first fullsize pickup, the Titan, failed to break the seemingly fire-hardened bond between Detroit automakers and their loyal customers.
The original Titan launched in 2004 and has been mildly refreshed over the course of 11 looooong years, which explains why sales of the Titan have fallen from modest to embarrassing in recent times.
In the ’15 model year, which ended Sept. 30, Nissan delivered a mere 12,352 Titans and was outsold by the Toyota Tundra more than 10 to 1. For every Titan sold in ’15, Ford handed over the keys to 57 F-Series trucks.
With the new Titan XD, Nissan has a solid plan of attack: Give shoppers all the flexibility they want; design in serious on-road presence and off-road credibility; clean up and seal up the interior; illuminate the bed; and get in the game with a premium offering worthy of well-heeled customers who are happy to spend more than $60,000 for a truck.
We’ve said this before about clever Japanese products seemed destined to upset Detroit’s apple cart – from the in-bed storage bin in the Honda Ridgeline to the burly ruggedness of the Tundra.
But this time around, Nissan is trying something completely different: Its ace in the hole is an engine designed and built by Cummins, an Indiana company whose diesel prowess in 18-wheelers, buses, motor homes, tractors and heavy-duty pickups immediately draws the attention of customers who normally wouldn’t give the Titan a second look.
In the new Titan XD, the Cummins 5.0L V-8 does everything well, propelling this crew-cab 4x4 around town with 800 lbs. (363 kg) in the bed, through a muddy, rutted work site, up a treacherously steep rock wall and along an undulating highway at 70 mph (113 km/h) while towing 9,000 lbs. (4,082 kg) with nary a word of protest.
There’s no mistaking this engine as anything but a diesel, especially at idle, but it quiets down on the highway. It’s not overly loud or prone to excessive vibration, but its NVH signature is more akin to Detroit’s heavy-duty diesels than Fiat Chrysler’s light-duty 3.0L diesel V-6 in the Ram 1500.
With the supremely capable 5.0L, the Titan XD can go anywhere, do anything. Most importantly, this twin-turbo V-8 may be a plow in fertile terrain, helping Nissan cultivate a small patch of neglected turf in the ground war that is the U.S. pickup market.
Returning to a Simpler Time
The strategy goes something like this: Truck customers who need to tow heavy loads historically opt for heavy-duty diesel pickups that reached torque ratings of 600 lb.-ft. (813 Nm) about a dozen years ago.
Back in the day, that was a monstrous number, until the Detroit automakers decided in recent years that 800 lb.-ft. (1,084 Nm), or close to it, would be the norm.
This past summer, the ’16 Ram 3500 (powered by a Cummins 6.7L diesel, incidentally) offered an astonishing 900 lb.-ft. (1,220 Nm) of torque, capable of towing more than 30,000 lbs. (13,608 kg) – the equivalent of five Ram 3500s.
Before this arms race began, lots of customers were perfectly happy with their diesel towing capabilities. Since then, they have been overlooked: They want a diesel but don’t want to pay a premium as high as $10,000 for an engine that far outstrips their needs.
These customers want to go back to the torque levels of 2003, and Nissan hopes to lure these folks to their showrooms as their old trucks need replacing.
And it just might work.
The automaker estimates 75,000 pickup buyers migrate from light-duty to heavy-duty trucks each year, and another 75,000 go the opposite direction. That’s a pool of 150,000 people who could find the Titan XD to be ideal, Nissan executives say.
The automaker isn’t saying how many it plans to sell, but its best year with the previous truck was 2005, when 86,945 units landed in U.S. driveways.
Nissan makes no bones about it: The new Titan XD is not a heavy-duty ¾-ton (680-kg) pickup. Instead, it aspires to be the most capable ½-ton (454-kg) truck on the market. Hence, the XD stands for “extra duty.”
Oddly enough, the Titan XD’s ratings of 12,314 lbs. (5,586 kg) for maximum towing and 2,091 lbs. (948 kg) for maximum payload fall roughly in line with those of the most capable Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado, each powered with gasoline engines.
The key difference, according to Rich Miller, Nissan’s chief product specialist, is that the F-150 and Silverado will labor mightily while towing 12,000 lbs. (5,443 kg) because they can’t match the 555 lb.-ft. (752 Nm) of torque in the Cummins 5.0L V-8.
“Our vehicle will tow 12,000 lbs. with great confidence and excellent braking, ride quality, etc.,” Miller says. “There’s a difference between outright towing ability and the ability to tow with great confidence and stability. We feel that our truck does the latter.”
That explains Nissan’s claim that the Cummins V-8, mated to an Aisin 6-speed automatic transmission, will get up to 30% better fuel economy than its gasoline counterparts when doing heavy work.
However, observed fuel economy was not spectacular during our test drive here.
When towing 9,000 lbs. on a hilly highway, the hard-nosed Titan XD manages 9.6 mpg (24.5 L/100 km), according to the trip computer. After off-roading and puttering around town, part of it with 800 lbs. in the bed, observed fuel economy is 13.8 mpg (17 L/100 km).
A standard exhaust brake lets the engine help with decelerating, preventing wear on the disk brakes at all four corners. With its advanced compacted-graphite iron block, the 5.0L V-8 weighs 800 lbs. and reaches peak torque at a low 1,600 rpm. Redline is 4,200 rpm.
The 310-hp Cummins V-8 will run 10,000 miles (16,093 km) between oil changes and consumes a gallon of urea-based diesel exhaust fluid about every 750 miles (1,207 km), depending on duty cycle. The urea tank holds 4.5 gallons (17 L).
New Platinum Reserve, Room for Gatorades
Every piece of sheet metal is new on the Titan, as are the frame, suspension and interior.
Nissan left no stone unturned in attempting to surprise and delight customers with features such as the soft-drop tailgate, radar-based blindspot detection, 120V outlet in the bed, extensive storage under the second-row seats and an astounding 16 cupholders, including space in the center console that can accommodate two 32-oz. (946 mL) Gatorades.
That space was freed up when designers moved the gear shifter from the center console to the steering column.
In the bed is an integrated gooseneck ball and two cleats for hitching up a large trailer such as a fifth wheel. When it’s time to fill the bed with dirt or mulch, the cleats and gooseneck ball can be removed and those ports can be capped, making for easier cleanup.
There are five trim levels of the new Titan XD: the work-oriented S, volume-based SV, offroad-ready Pro 4X, upscale SL and top-of-the-range Platinum Reserve, a grade never before offered by Nissan, with premium black and brown leather and seat surfaces quilted to resemble a hunting vest.
Nissan expects the SV to be the volume leader, accounting for about 30% of the mix. An integrated trailer brake is standard on SV trim and up.
There are 30 ways to configure the Titan XD, available at launch with only a crew cab and 5.5-ft. bed (1,676 mm). A spray-in bedliner is standard.
Pricing will start at about $40,000 for the S trim, $50,000 for Pro 4X and $60,000 for Platinum Reserve, plus $1,200 in destination charges.
Going on sale in late December, the Titan XD is merely one implement in Nissan’s bid for traction in the truck market.
Around the middle of 2016, a gasoline version will arrive, powered by a retuned 5.6L direct-injected V-8, which makes 400 hp in the Infiniti QX80 SUV. A gasoline V-6 will come later, but Nissan is providing no details about the engine.
The automaker is playing up the all-American lineage of the new Titan: designed in California, engineered in Michigan, tested in Arizona, assembled in Mississippi and powered by a Cummins engine that comes straight from the heartland.
The automaker likely will succeed if the heartland embraces the new Titan.
'16 Nissan Titan XD 4x4 Specifications
|Vehicle type||4-door, 5-passenger, crew-cab pickup truck|
|Engine||5.0L DOHC twin-turbo Cummins diesel V-8; CGI block/aluminum heads|
|Power (SAE net)||310 hp @ 3,200 rpm|
|Torque||555 lb.-ft. (752 Nm) @ 1,600 rpm|
|Bore x stroke (mm)||94 x 90|
|Transmission||6-speed Aisin automatic|
|Wheelbase||151.6 ins. (3,851 mm)|
|Overall length||242.7 ins. (6,165 mm)|
|Overall width||79.5 ins. (2,019 mm)|
|Overall height||77.9 ins. (1,979 mm)|
|Curb weight||7,152 lbs. (3,244 kg)|
|Estimated base price||$45,000|
|Competition||Chevrolet Silverado, Ford F-150, GMC Sierra, Ram 1500, Toyota Tundra|
|Cummins V-8 = instant street cred||VW has sullied diesel prospects|
|Excellent, well-executed interior||Asian OEMs yet to upset fullsize truck market|
|Titan XD competitively priced||… Relative to heavy-duty diesel trucks|