Close your eyes momentarily and you’d think you were riding in a typical American full-size pickup truck. Open your eyes and glance around the comfortable interior of this Nissan Titan XD and you’d still think so, because it’s spacious, and it looks and feels good. And with the big American V-8 under the hood, it acts like it, as well. That’s how you’ll probably react if you take the time to test-drive this latest addition to the pickup scene when you spot one at a Nissan dealer.
Because, as executives said at a ride-and-drive event last week, the Titan is American all the way through. It was designed in San Diego, engineered in Detroit, and assembled in Canton, Mississippi. Its heart – that 5.6-liter (342-cubic-inch) gasoline V-8 – is built in Desherd, Tenn., a small city southeast of Nashville. The plant there is about to celebrate its 19th year of engine production, mostly of Nissan auto engines, but also V-6s and V-8s for vans and pickups. The Endurance V-8 has been around a while and has direct fuel injection, but engineers have updated it with, among other things, advanced variable valve event and lift – VVEL -- to add power and save fuel.
As we reported a few months ago, product specialists have also redesigned the Titan pickup. Introduced in 2004, it ran into a solid wall of loyalty to America’s Big Three brands, so Titan sales have languished. So did Titan development as Nissan seemed preoccupied with its automobiles, which have gained considerable favor in the marketplace. But in recent years truck specialists among the engineering and product people have been working on new Titans variants and are rolling them out at auto shows and events for the press.
Most obvious to tire kickers who look past the fresh styling are the deluxe interiors, with five trim levels from pretty nice to posh. And priority was given to long 4-door crew-size accommodations that now account for about two-thirds of sales by all makers of full-size pickups. So Nissan’s initial production is of Crew Cabs. Later this year there’ll be shorter 2-door Single and 4-door King Cabs for those who don’t need all that passenger space. The trucks we drove last week were Crews that each seated five, with buckets in front and contoured benches in back. Folded up, the rear areas have flat floors for easy storage of tool boxes and other gear.
These were examples of the XD Gas, for eXtra Duty gasoline. Late last year, Nissan showed off the XD with the Cummins ISV5.0 diesel V-8, which we press guys drove last December. Both versions use the same chassis, though with about 500 pounds less mass, the Gas’s front suspension is slightly softer. Both have capabilities between traditional 1/2- and 3/4-ton vehicles, so a Titan XD will haul and tow more than one, but ride better and cost less than the other.
Research with pickup owners showed there’s a need for this model, said Rich Miller, who headed the program for both the diesel and gasoline XDs. Some competitors make much of their 3/4-ton pickups’ towing ability, but few of the owners Nissan researchers encountered said they actually pull really heavy trailers. And about 75,000 owners switch between the two categories, so the planners figured, why not offer something they can stay with? Thus the XD’s rating of 5/8 ton – my term, not theirs.
The engine and truck perform very well, we found on a jaunt from Nissan’s headquarters near Music City to the engine plant. Most of the route was on well-paved but twisty back roads, and the return to our hotel in Nashville’s West End district was on freeways. A driving partner and I switched between wheel time to navigating from the shotgun seat. What the routing showed was the XDs’ smooth ride, first with one carrying 850 pounds of bagged gravel, then with another whose bed was empty. And yes, the V-8’s output fulfilled the promise of its numbers: 390 hp and 401 lb-ft.
Acceleration was brisk, and with go-pedal floored we were pushed back into our seats as revs climbed past 4,000 to the 6,000-rpm limit. The engine made pleasing mechanical sounds but the exhaust was muted, unlike the original 5.6 V-8 of a dozen years ago, which was purposely loud. The new VVEL engine is supposed to be more economical, but with this kind of driving the readout on the instrument panel showed between 13 and 14 mpg. A lighter foot should raise the numbers, though that’s something that customers’ experience will determine.
All transmissions are automatics, as there’s no call for manuals, planners at all builders have found. The Cummins diesel mates to an Aisin 6-speed automatic, and the 5.6 Gas gets a 7-speed from Jatco, a Nissan subsidiary. The 7-speed was very smooth with shifts barely noticeable in normal driving and still smooth and positive under full power. Its top three ratios are overdrives, so the engine loafs at highway speeds – under 2,000 rpm at 70 mph and about 2,200 at 80 per.
The transmission’s selector lever is on the column and it includes a tow-haul switch that raises shift points when loads are heavy, or lowers them when they’re not. Tow-haul also causes downshifting on downgrades to try to keep road speed to what cruise control’s been set to. There were no such hills on our route, but out West in Arizona, the Aisin performed very well as a hill holder, and climber, for that matter, when paired with the Cummins during the diesel demo last December.
Owners of heavier pickups tend to prefer diesels, Nissan executives said, so XD diesel sales are expected to be almost double that of the gasoline versions. More than half of all Titans will be the restyled and revived half-tonners, which are due out this summer. They will get the 5.6 V-8 or a 4-liter V-6. The V-6, by the way, is no slouch. I drove one in a full-size NV van a couple years ago and found that it flew. Then again, the van was empty, but even with a load it should provide decent propulsion and deliver better fuel economy.
With revised trucks, handsome interiors and well performing powertrains, executives hope that Titan sales will increase. Their official target for the first year is 100,000 – a modest number in this hot segment, but as one exec quipped, “Our plan is to exceed the plan.”