What does it take for a pickup to be considered “American”? Nissan is a Japanese company, but its Titan XD is American all the way through. Nissan executives, who showed off the pickup at their headquarters near Nashville in April, say it was designed in California, engineered in Michigan, and assembled in Mississippi.
Its 5.6-liter (342-cubic-inch) gasoline V-8 is built in Desherd, a small city in southeast Tennessee. The powertrain plant there is about to celebrate its 19th year of 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, or VVEL, to add power and save fuel.
Introduced in 2004, the Titan half-ton pickup ran into a solid wall of loyalty to America’s Big Three brands, and its sales languished. So did Titan development, as Nissan appeared to focus on automobiles. But in recent years truck specialists have been redesigning the Titan, and came up with a new 5/8-ton model called the XD, for eXtra Duty. The first XD was diesel-powered, using Cummins’ new ISV5.0 V-8 diesel, which we wrote about following its introduction last December.
Now comes the XD Gas, with that Endurance V-8. Both versions use the same chassis, though with about 500 pounds less mass, the Gas’s front suspension is slightly softer. Each will haul and tow more than a traditional 1/2-ton pickup but ride better and cost less than a 3/4-ton truck. Research with pickup owners showed there’s a need for this model, said Rich Miller, who headed the program for both XDs. Owners of 3/4-ton pickups said they seldom pull really heavy trailers. And about 75,000 owners switch between the two categories each year, so why not offer something they can stay with? Thus the XD at what I’m calling a 5/8 ton.
The engine and truck perform very well, we found on a jaunt from Nissan’s headquarters near Nashville 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. What the routing showed was the XDs’ smooth ride, as we drove first one carrying 850 pounds of bagged gravel, then another whose bed was empty.
With 390 hp and 401 lb-ft of torque, acceleration was brisk, though the go-pedal needed serious pressure and revs climbed past 4,000 to the 6,000-rpm limit. The engine made pleasing mechanical sounds but the exhaust was muted. 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.
The 5.6 gas gets a 7-speed automatic transmission from Jatco, a Nissan subsidiary. It 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 mph. The transmission’s selector lever is on the column. 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.
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 version. 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.
With revised trucks, handsome interiors — five trim levels ranging from nice to posh — 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.”