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When Only A Different Size Diesel Pickup Will Do
Breaking the stronghold that Detroit’s automakers have on the American full-size pickup truck market is not an easy task—just ask Nissan.
The Japanese maker introduced its first full-size offering, the Titan, in 2002 as a 2003 model. An American designed and built pickup, it was comfortable to drive and was ahead of its day with features like a factory bedliner, cargo tie down rails and electronic stability control. But that wasn’t enough to sway pickup buyers as they continued to flock to Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge (now Ram) trucks.
Nissan sold barely 12,000 Titans last year, that’s way less than what Ford sells every month of its F-150 trucks.
But Nissan isn’t throwing in the towel. The company discovered a chink in Detroit’s stronghold that hadn’t been filled in—a different size truck powered by a diesel engine named the Titan XD, something those other guys don’t offer.
Different size in this case means the Titan XD crewcab is slightly larger than light-duty, full-size half-ton trucks, and slightly smaller than heavy-duty three quarter-ton models. Nissan lables it an “inbetweener” full-size pickup truck.
Since many buyers don’t need or want a heavy duty truck, or its cost, but do need the torque that a diesel offers, Nissan turned to the diesel experts at Cummins to provide the engine and had the folks at Aisin supply a heavy-duty automatic transmission.
The result is a truck that can haul more than a 2,000-pound payload and tow more than 12,500 pounds, excellent inbetween numbers. And, since the Titan XD has a gross vehicle weight above 8,500 pounds, Nissan doesn’t have to state estimated fuel economy numbers.
Note that there is also a standard half-ton light-duty Titan that is almost 20 inches shorter and available with a V-8 or V-6 gasoline engine.
The Power Of A Diesel Engine
The Titan XD pickup’s Cummins V-8 diesel is a clean-sheet design that on paper will out-grunt every light-duty gasoline truck that Detroit has to offer. It’s not the same as the larger displament Cummins inline-six turbodiesel that powers the Ram three-quarter-ton pickup, but it bests the V-6 diesel offered in the half-ton Ram. The Nissan slots neatly between the two in hauling and towing.
Displacment of the new diesel is 5.0-liters, and with its twin two-stage Holset turbochargers, the 90-degree dual-overhead cam diesel clatters up 555 pounds-feet of torque and 310 horsepower. That enables a maximum towing capicity of 12,300 pounds and a maximum payload of 2,091 pounds. That’s right about where light duties end and heavy duties begin. By comparison, the Ram light-duty half-ton diesel tows 9,200 pounds.
The engine block is made of compacted-graphite iron, which is twice as strong as cast iron and weighs half as much. The heads are aluminum, and the piezo-based fuel injectors are capable of up to seven injections per combustion event.
Available in either two-wheel or four-wheel drive, the engine is connected to a heavy-duty Aisin six-speed automatic transmission with tow/haul mode and an American Axle rear-end, available with an electronic locking differential.
Big Truck Styling Outside, Luxury Inside
There’s not a whole lot that designers can do to a big pickup truck to distinguish it from competitors, except when it comes to the front end. With the Titan XD diesel, Nissan followed the current trend with a big-rig-style prominent chrome grille with slats and mesh with black inserts on our off-road ready Pro-4X test driver. The grille is flanked with equally large headlamps with a distinctive LED slash that sets the truck apart at night. This is topped by a tall, bulging hood, while the fenders are well-defined with rounded wheel arches. A standard running board stretches between the front and rear wheels, long enough to provide access to the front of the cargo bed. And, of course, there’s a factory bed liner. The backside is, well, it’s a pickup with a tailgate and large rear taillights.
Beneath the sheet metal is a fully boxed high-strength steel frame and an extended wheelbase of 151.6 inches that stretches the crew cab truck to 242.7-inches in length—about 20-inches longer than the gasoline-powered XDs. A heavy-duty independent double-wishbone with stabilizer bar front suspension is reinforced. A rigid rear axle suspension utilizes hefty leaf springs and leaf bushings, along with twin-tube shock absorbers.
While everything underneath the Titan XD Pro-4X was rugged and tough, the interior was close to a large luxury automobile with power adjustable leather heated and cooled front seats and comfort amenities such as power tilt/telescoping heated steering wheel, wood and metallic trim along with a 12-speaker Rockford sound system. All of the latest high-tech goodies were included: A seven-inch color display for the navigation and infotainment systems, Bluetooth connectivity, USB port with iPod connection, Siri Eyes, SiriusXM satellite radio and a rear-view and 360-degree camera.
Dominating the front cabin is a massive instrument panel that includes a combination of analog and digital gauges along with a five-inch color display with unique diesel monitoring and
maintenance displays. A standard column-mounted transmission shift lever provides better usability of the center stack. Controls and buttons there are mounted high and easy to reach. It also opened up the center console for additional storage that can hold a 15-inch laptop computer.
Rear doors open wide for easy entry and exit, but the rear cabin doesn’t have quite the room that the Ram crew cab offers. Our Pro-4X came with a rear heated seat that had under seat storage with a locking lid and an integrated fold-out flat floor.
On The Road
After settling in behind the steering wheel, the first thing I noticed about the Titan XD diesel was that the window sills dip downward at the front edge like Ford’s F-150, giving better side view visibility. It may be a copycat design, but it’s a good one.
Push the start button and there’s no mistaking that a diesel engine is under the hood, but it’s surprisingly quiet at full song, thanks to judicious use of insulation and laminated glass. At highway speeds wind noise is impressively absent, and there’s just a hint of turbulence coming from the large towing mirrors.
My week driving the truck was a variety menu that included in-town stop-and-go traffic, two lane highways, gravel roads, freeways and four hours of some delightful off-roading. The XD diesel is a large body-on-frame truck with a solid rear axle, but Nissan engineers somehow came close to eliminating the bouncy ride referred to as a “truck-like” feel. The long wheelbase provided more comfort than I expected over all road surfaces with minimal bounce and shudder through the boxed frame.
Only a Little Throttle Needed
The Cummins diesel responded extremely well to part-throttle acceleration at low speeds. It’s a remarkable engine, and there is so much torque available I rarely needed engine speed above 2000 rpm. The only times the diesel needed full throttle was when I was jumping onto a crowded freeway or passing on two-lane highways—and it responded well in those situations. Engineered specifically for the Titan XD diesel, the transmission is well-matched to the engine, with a smooth, steady shift quality.
It’s obvious the XD is not canyon carver—there’s plenty of understeer and a lot of length to maneuver. But overall, the steering is solid with good on-center feel and a natural progression to turn-in that generated confidence. Parking a truck as big as the XD requires some care, and some experience. I found it necessary to execute three-point turns into most parking lot spaces. This even with a very quick 2.75-turn steering ratio that helps maneuvering at low speeds.
Editor/wife Lynne and I took tour our Pro-4X off-roading where the little used Forest Service roads were muddy, rutted, full of pot holes and steep with occasional large rocks. With 275/65R18 all-terrain tires, a ground clearance of eight inches, under-belly skid plates, heavy-duty transfer case and an electronic locking rear differential, the XD was more than capable of delivering an afternoon of pure fun. The 360-degree camera was a jewel in finding out-of-sight obstacles.
When we handed the keys back to Nissan, the trip odometer read 187.7 miles, and we averaged 16.7 miles per gallon. Dang good for an almost heavy-duty crew cab pickup truck that spent four hours slogging through the mud and ruts.
In The Marketplace
As the “inbetweener” full-size pickup truck, the Nissan Titan XD diesel crewcab doesn’t have a direct competitor. Pricing for a two-wheel drive starts at $37,485 and goes up from there. Our four-
wheel drive Pro-4X had a sticker base price of $50,970. Add the $7,030 worth of options and $1,195 destination charges and the total package was $58,165—certainly not chump change. By comparison, the Ram 1500 half-ton crew cab with the VM Motori six-cylinder diesel and four-wheel drive has a base price of $55,615—$4,195 more than the Nissan Pro-4X.
On the other side, you have the heavy-duty diesels of Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD, Ford F-250 Super Duty, GMC Sierra 2500HD and Ram 2500 that start at around $55,000 or more.
Pickup truck brand loyalty is strong and breaking away is a tough decision. But take the 2016 Nissan Titan XD for test drive, and you just might decide that a inbetweener-size pickup is the right truck for you.
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