Nissan’s Titan XD Revives the Product

Jan. 25, 2016

When Nissan’s Titan XD full-size pickup was launched in 2004 as an ’05 model, it had some really useful features: an optional factory-applied spray-in bed liner, a range of cargo-securement devices, and on the extended King Cab, a rear-hinged back door that folded against the bed so loading was more convenient than those that swung out only 90 degrees. Its hefty V-8 had a pleasing baritone note when many engines were meekly muffled, and it drove through a 5-speed automatic transmission when others were still using 4-speeds.

Alas, the Titan failed to catch on in sales, and has been a poor fifth behind the Detroit-based Big Three and Toyota, which has been a weak fourth. The two Japanese builders found that pickup buyers are loyal to the American brands, and never mind that the foreign trucks and most of their components are made in the USA. Nissan’s sales especially lagged as competitors made continuous improvements while the Titan languished in appearance and mechanical details. But Titan for 2016 has undergone quite a transformation, with new styling, pleasing interiors and, maybe most impressive of all, Cummins Turbo Diesel power.

The first model is the XD, for extra duty, which was shown to truck and auto writers before the holidays in sunny Arizona. That was almost a Christmas present, for the new Titan was a pleasure to drive on and off road, and the famous engine maker’s 5-liter (305-cubic-inch) diesel V-8, mated to a smooth Aisin 6-speed automatic transmission, performed with smoothness and authority. Both components, by the way, are built in Indiana, and the truck itself is assembled in Mississippi. Cummins calls its diesel the ISV5.0 but, assuming it proves to be reliable and long-lived, most owners will call it pretty neat. Rated at 310 horsepower and 550 lb.-ft. of torque, its output is substantial but sensible. 

Just as noteworthy, a beefed-up chassis pushes Titan XD into a weight classification between half-ton and three-quarter-ton pickups. With a gross combination weight rating of about 8,800 pounds (8,960 pounds for a 4x4), Titan XD is in Class 2B, according to Rich Miller, the chief Titan product specialist.  Because it’s meant to carry and pull less than competitors’ “heavy duty” Class 2C pickups, the Titan XD’s springs and shocks can be softer, yielding a smoother ride.

Driving several of the demo trucks bore out claims by Miller and his colleagues of good ride quality and substantial performance. The trucks really moved, but without noise or harshness, and shifts were smooth and unobtrusive. The eight-cylinder diesel sounded busy, but the tachometer showed it spinning within 200 or so revs of the larger, straight-six Cummins diesels (aka ISB6.7) that I’ve driven in Ram HD pickups. When I put my foot into it, the Titan XD’s V-8 diesel would rev well past 3,000 rpm, but that didn’t happen much.

Whether loaded or empty, XDs rode smoothly on pavement or off-road trails. Their four-wheel-drive systems enabled them to climb like Spiderman and bound over rocky trails that almost had me cringing. Jolts come through, but were a bit more muted than in stiffer-sprung trucks. Although two of the Big Three competitors got into a p.r. skirmish in 2014 over whose HD pickup could pull more, Nissan product people discovered in their market research that not many guys tow a really heavy trailer anyway. At least one participant in every Nissan-sponsored focus group said that he regularly pulled a trailer weighing about 8,000 pounds, and didn’t need the 15,000-pound towing capacity of competitors’ three-quarter-ton trucks. So, “Why pay for something you don’t need?” Miller said.

Furthermore, each year about 75,000 customers down-size and another 75,000 up-size between half- and three-quarter-ton pickups. Why not offer something they could stay with? Thus the Titan XD, with a payload capacity of 2,091 pounds and towing capacity of 12,314 pounds. Miller didn’t say this was more than competitors’ half-ton models, and indeed, Ford, for one, claims its F-150 has more payload and almost as much towing ability as the Titan XD. The point is, the XD should cost less and ride better than heavier-rated models.

At one of the demonstration stations, Titan XDs were hitched to utility trailers toting Bobcat skid-steer loaders. Each trailer’s gross weight was about 9,600 pounds, our hosts said, which was well within an XD’s gross combination weight rating of 19,750 pounds. Thanks to the beefier chassis, there was no rear-end squatting as you’d see with lesser pickups, and the Cummins-Aisin power train pulled the trailers briskly on a four-lane state highway, up and down hills at 60 to 70 mph. When switched on, a tow-haul mode raised the tranny’s shift points so engine revs were higher while under power. There’s no exhaust brake, but downshifts to 4th and 3rd maximized compression braking. The rented trailers had surge brakes, so built-in controllers for electric trailer brakes stayed idle. 

All trucks at this event were diesel-powered, but Nissan says the XD will soon be offered with an advanced Endurance 5.6-liter (342-cubic-inch) gasoline V-8 (which will be available in regular Titans). This addresses the fact that modern diesels with their pollution-control equipment have become rather expensive. And for quite a few years, gasoline has cost less than diesel fuel while prices for both have dropped, so using more cheap gas is not the problem it was when it was over four bucks a gallon. The Endurance V-8 has been greatly updated from when it went into the original Titan and Nissan’s NV series of full-size commercial vans.

At the press event, we saw only 4-door crew cabs, but new Titan pickups will also come with 2-door Regular and 4-door King Cabs using 8-, 6.5- and 5-foot-long cargo beds. Five trim levels include S, SV, Pro-4X, SL, and Platinum Reserve. Interior appointments go from basic to luxury. The interiors I saw were as nice as competitors’ and much nicer than those in older Titans. I spent most of my time in trucks with the Pro-4X interior, which is middle of the line. Pricing of the XD series will be in the $40,000 to $60,000-plus range. Expect an upcharge of about $15,000 over a regular Titan with similar trim, and $5,000 more for a gasoline-powered XD. The five grand would cover the cost of the higher-rated chassis. 

Nissan executives fully realize that the Detroit-based Big Three brands are well entrenched in the full-size pickup market, and that the Titan has a long climb toward anything resembling parity.

“We know that they’ve been at it much longer than we have,” said Steve Parrett, a regional communications manager. “We’ll just have to work harder at it. One thing we can do is what we’ve done: create a new segment. And we know some commercial operators who we think will look at this product and find use for it.”