Going to southern Arizona in December is one of life’s pleasures, and clear, sunny skies as viewed from the cabin of a comfortably appointed and nice driving full-size pickup make the world seem like a truly happy place.
The occasion was Nissan North America showing off its new Titan XD. We roamed the landscape northeast of Scottsdale, where open spaces allowed our modern-day buckboards to stretch their muscles and show what they can do.
Titan XD, for eXtra Duty, is a great leap forward for Nissan. The company’s original Titan full-size pickup had some advanced ideas when introduced in 2004 as an ’05 model, but it has not progressed much since then. Sales languished as the company’s engineers and designers turned their attention to automobiles and cargo vans, and competitors constantly improved their products.
The new Titan keeps some of those early features, such as an optional factory-applied spray-in bed liner and a range of cargo-securement and storage devices, and has gained sharp exterior styling, refined interior trim, and — perhaps most notably — Cummins Turbo Diesel power.
This is the first on-road use of the engine maker’s 5-liter (305-cubic-inch) diesel V-8. A beefed-up chassis pushes Titan into a weight classification that sits 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, which yields 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 Indiana-built Cummins, with its 310 hp and 550 lb-ft of torque, worked through an Indiana-made 6-speed Aisin automatic transmission to accelerate each truck with restrained authority. The trucks really moved, but without noise or harshness, and shifts were smooth and unobtrusive.
The eight-cylinder diesel sounded busy, but a look at 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.
Loaded or empty, the Titan XDs rode smoothly on pavement or rough off-road trails. Their four-wheel-drive systems enabled them to climb like goats and traverse rocky trails that I wouldn’t subject my own truck to. Jolts come through on these rough pathways, but were a bit more muted than in stiffer-sprung trucks.
Although two of the Detroit Three competitors got into a debate in 2014 over whose HD pickup could pull more, Nissan discovered in market research that not many customers 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.
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, 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 might see with a half-ton pickup, and the Cummins-Aisin powertrain pulled the trailers briskly on a four-lane state highway, up and down hills at 60 to 70 mph. A tow-haul mode altered the tranny’s shift points so engine revs were raised while under power. The Cummins V-8 has no exhaust brake, but downshifts to 4th and 3rd maximized compression braking. The rented trailers had hydraulic surge brakes, so built-in controllers for electric trailer brakes weren’t needed here.
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 standard in regular Titans). 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.
Modern diesels with their pollution-control equipment have become rather expensive. For quite a few years gasoline has cost less than diesel fuel, so lower fuel economy is not the problem it was when gas was over $4 a gallon.
At this 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 far 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 is not finalized, but will be in the $40,000 to $60,000-plus range. Expect an upcharge for the diesel version of about $15,000 over a regular Titan with similar trim. The gasoline-powered XD will probably be around $5,000 more than a regular Titan, to cover the cost of the higher-rated chassis. The Cummins diesel should deliver 20% better fuel economy than Nissan’s 5.6-liter gasoline V-8, but weighs about 300 pounds more.
Nissan executives fully realize that the Detroit-based Big Three makes are well entrenched, and that the Titan has been in last place among the five builders competing in the full-size pickup market.
“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.”