Pros: Highly capable platform; healthy V8 performance; credible off-road capability; built-in-the-USA bragging rights
Cons: Limited number of variants: no regular cab, no V6 and no heavy-duty option
At the time of its 2004 introduction, a full-size pickup from a Japanese manufacturer was very big news. Toyota had been flirting with the category, but at that time Toyota's Tundra was considered a tweener, not of a scale to go head to head against Chevrolet's Silverado, Dodge's Ram or Ford's F-150.
The Nissan Titan had a great name for a truck, was a full-size effort with no choice but a big-displacement V8 under the hood and offered your choice of king or crew cab versions. From the start, its capability was beyond question; the execution, however, came in for several criticisms. The instrument panel seemed to reflect a collision between design and accounting. The design staff was striving for a contemporary theme, while the number crunchers were taking every dime out of the Titan's cost structure. In the 2004 launch, the numbers team apparently won, although a mid-cycle refresh a few years later did a lot to reduce the previously cheap appearance of the dashboard and door panels.
Built in Canton, Mississippi, the Titan shares a production facility with Nissan's Armada SUV and its NV commercial van. It has not achieved the volume sales Nissan might have liked, but it has provided Nissan's truck community with a competitive entry in the full-size market. A replacement, expected for the 2014 model year, is reportedly on schedule. In the interim, full-size truck prospects can still find a lot to like on the Titan menu.
Comfort & Utility
Nissan offers Titan shoppers four well-equipped models: S, SV, PRO-4X and SL. Those four variants run the gamut from entry-level value to leather-appointed near-luxury. All provide comfortable seating, myriad storage options and-in both the back seat area and the bed-an abundance of load flexibility.
Comfort begins with the truck platform. Nissan starts with one of the best. A fully boxed ladder frame provides the architecture on which everything else is hung. Double wishbones up front and dual-rate leaf springs in the rear provide both comfort and control, while four-wheel disc brakes counter the available performance of the 5.6-liter V8. Inside, King Cab passengers enjoy unencumbered access to the rear seating area, which can flip up for enhanced storage. With either King Cab or Crew Cab models, you can enjoy seating for up to six. A clear analog gauge set fronts the driver, while the optional leather seating surfaces on SL models provide an upscale touch to an upsized truck.
Utility is enhanced by three bed lengths: 79-inch King Cab, 67-inch Crew Cab and 87-inch Crew Cab LWB. Nissan's Utili-track bed channel system provides easy and secure loading, while a factory-applied spray-on bedliner supplies a level of bed protection appropriate to both real work and long-term ownership. Add optional equipment like a lockable climate-resistant bedside storage compartment located behind the side rear wheel well and tailgate-area illumination. The result is a load-worthy tool that's user friendly for both families and commercial firms.
Opt for the top two Titan trim levels, and you'll enjoy a half-ton of technology. On the PRO-4X, that includes Bluetooth hands-free phone and a rear sonar system (for a better view of the boulder you're about to back over). XM satellite radio is an option as part of Premium Utility packages on the SL and PRO-4X. On the uplevel SL, you can benefit from a Rockford Fosgate audio system and a HomeLink universal transceiver. Nissan's navigation system is an option on both PRO-4X and SL, but only in the Crew Cab and only in specific regions of the country. Nissan's marketing slogan for the Titan is "Innovation That's Tough. Innovation for All." Despite that, you'll never confuse the Titan's tech menu with more sophisticated offerings on the Ford F-Series or the updated Ram.
Performance & Fuel Economy
Nissan's torque-laden 5.6-liter V8 is a gem that delivers its full measure of torque (385 lb-ft) at just 3,400 rpm and backs up the prodigious output by providing fully 80 percent of that number below 1,000 rpm and 90 percent below 2,500 rpm. If we were reduced to clichés, we'd call it a stump puller. Although satisfactorily visceral, the V8 soundtrack is also appropriate to a truck you'll want to spend seven days a week with; there's absolutely nothing coarse within its rev range.
The kicker is that the 5.6-liter V8 is the only powertrain offered. To enjoy the benefit of V6 efficiency, you'll have to shop someone else's showroom. The same is true if your intent is to tow more than 9,500 pounds: Nissan makes no attempt at offering a heavy-duty Titan variant, and there's no word that, in the short term, that decision is about to change. The EPA provides a city/highway rating of 13/18 mpg for the Titan 4x2 and 12/17 mpg for the Titan 4x4. Through its corporate alliances, Nissan could have its pick of diesel alternatives; we wish they'd choose one.
Although it's fully a product of the last decade and not this one, the product team was arguably ahead of the curve back in 2004 when the Titan was first launched. Nissan's advanced airbag system provides production with front seat and seat-mounted side impact airbags, while a roof-mounted curtain air bag supplies both side impact and rollover protection for front and rear outboard occupants. The front seats have active head restraints. The balance of safety features are standard-issue items including front and rear crumple zones, vehicle dynamic control and a tire pressure monitoring system.
To avoid accidents, you need capable acceleration, steering and braking. Both vehicle dynamic control and traction control systems are standard. The 2012 Titan won't wind its way through a slalom course with the ease of a passenger car, but the Titan's reflexes remain credible for a truck stretching more than 20 feet in length and providing a payload of approximately 2,000 pounds.
In any of its configurations, Nissan's Titan is one smooth operator, even if its platform is showing its age. The powertrain is refined, although its five-speed automatic transmission is short at least a gear in its competitive set. And the sturdy nature of its fully boxed F-Alpha pickup platform is immediately evident; the Titan is the automotive equivalent of Fort Knox. Finally, the Titan's 28-gallon fuel capacity should provide more than 400 miles of highway driving between fill-ups.
Nevertheless, this is still a 5,000-pound platform, before adding passengers, cargo and fuel. If you need a full-size vehicle for towing or hauling, the Titan works well and fulfills that mission statement. But if you're looking for ease of use day in and day out, there are trucks on the market with similar capability that drive "smaller," and for in-town usage, smaller is typically better.
Other Trucks to Consider
If shopping for a full-size pickup, you have entered one of the most competitive categories in the U.S. auto industry. For most car companies, volume is king, and available incentives reflect that fact.
Ford is perennially on top of the sales charts, followed closely by Chevrolet and its corporate twin, GMC. Chrysler has rebranded its truck division as Ram, and with the singular branding comes a renewed focus on making the full-size 1500 fully competitive. For Lexus-like refinement it's hard to argue with the Toyota Tundra. Like the Titan, it pulls in a smaller share of total sales than the domestics, but it does an excellent job of combining capability with comfort.
As much as we'd enjoy pulling the trigger on a PRO-4X Titan, hopping boulders with 5,000 pounds of truck strapped to our backside doesn't sound as recreational as Nissan might have intended. Instead, we'd probably opt for the SV Sport Appearance package, which provides a level of urban coolness to the Titan's in-your-face architecture. With its 20-inch alloys finished in Dark Hyper Silver, white-faced gauges and two-tone cloth seats, this sportier Titan fully delivers on the big truck's promise without overwhelming the buyer with features he or she may never use. And with base prices of the Titan starting at under $29,000, you can find a truck that can meet both your needs and your budget.