In the 1970s, pickups began to displace cars as the average American’s vehicle of choice. In the subsequent decades, sales of light trucks have exceeded all expectations and despite blips on the radar (namely fluctuating gas prices), your average half tonner still outsells most rival cars by around two to one, something that Japanese manufacturers, as they made in roads here in North America, became only too aware of.
|1. The Titan’s 5.6L V8 makes 317-hp at 5200 rpm and 385 ft-lbs of torque at 3400 rpm and can run on E85 in some regions.
2. Payload is rated at over 2,000 lbs.
3. A class IV hitch brings the tow rating to 7,400 lbs, while a Premium Utility package raises that further to 9,300 lbs.
4. The 2010 Titan comes in King and Crew Cab with short or long boxes.
5. Pricing ranges from $26,320 for a base XE to $36,420 for an LE, with the PRO 4X off-road version at $34,050.
While it wasn’t long before they got the small car segment licked, building a full-size pickup was an entirely different proposition. Toyota’s first effort, the 1992 T-100 was a disaster: too small, underpowered and expensive (though it was well made). Its second, the Tundra, was still ¾ size, even though it finally offered a V8. But it was rival Nissan, which can be credited for launching Japan’s first true full-size pickup. Aptly named the Titan, it debuted for the 2004 model year. Critics were stunned. Here was a 224-inch long truck, weighing over 5,000 lbs and powered by a 5.6-liter V8.
Built at Nissan’s facility in Canton, Mississippi, it appeared, on paper, to offer everything that GM, Ford and Dodge did with their half tons. However, while newer designs, from Toyota and also the Detroit three have debuted since then, the Titan has soldiered on largely unchanged.
Currently the future of the Titan is uncertain, with a deal to share a platform with the current Dodge Ram having fallen through and Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn saying the automaker will go-it-alone in building a replacement. With a timeline for a second generation Titan uncertain, we at AutoGuide felt it was time to revisit this pioneering Japanese full-size rig to see how it compares in today’s marketplace.
If there’s one thing that grabs your attention, it’s both the styling and stance of this rig. Somewhat radical eight years ago, the Titan’s look has worn rather well. The lines are clean and crisp, the nose properly aggressive, with its bold grille, angry looking headlight assemblies and bulging fenders. The flanks are smooth and simple, though swollen rear fenders also add to the muscular theme. A wide 67.9-inch track lends a head on appearance akin to a sumo wrestler, so from a visual standpoint it has all the right ‘tough truck’ credentials.
Fit and finish are middling in most respects, rivaling the best trucks half a decade ago, but not quite up to the standard of the latest offerings, particularly Ford’s F-150. Currently the Titan is available in two different cab configurations – King or Crew, each with a choice of standard or long boxes (though the King has 6.5 and 8 foot options, Crew 5.5 or 7). The 2010 Titan also comes in four different trim levels. The base XE starts at $26,320, while the SE begins at two grand more. The PRO 4X, the hardcore off-road version, stickers at $34,050, while the luxury laden LE begins at $36,420.
INTERIOR DOESN’T LOOK UP TO THE TASK
Inside, the cabin is massive and anybody familiar with the smaller Frontier will find themselves at home here. The seats are comfortable, especially the optional Captain’s chairs, which come on the SE, PRO-4X and LE models. Along with them, you also get a massive center console with plenty of space and holders for up to six Big Gulps and a lunch box or two.
Compared to some vehicles of late, the switchgear is refreshingly simple, particularly the HVAC controls and stereo. Toggle switches on the steering wheel for the stereo and cruise are a nice touch and other nifty features include a double glovebox and optional iPod interface (standard on the LE).
If there are any criticisms of the cabin, it’s the fit and finish. It’s somewhat on the chintzy side. The plastic feels about two steps above rental grade and the brushed aluminum finish is likely to wear in short order. Also the ergonomics are starting to look a little dated, especially compared to the newer F-150 and Dodge Ram, which currently set the standard for full-size truck interiors.
Despite the steeply angled windshield, headroom is a capacious 41 inches in front and a whisker under 39 in back. Wide opening rear doors also make rear access a breeze, especially when loading bulky items, or a child or three.
The box, can be equipped with a sprayed on bedliner (Nissan is the only truck manufacturer to do this), as well as a Utili-track system. A $270 option (standard on the LE), it consists of dual rails mounted equidistant on the floor of the box. Four heavy-duty cleats, that run in the rails (two on each side), allow you to firmly secure cargo without having to resort to fussy straps or cords. In addition, the cleats are designed to work in conjunction with Nissan dealer accessories, such as a bed divider and extender to add further flexibility. There’s also an optional $225 retractable step to facilitate easier access to the cargo box. However, the cost of all this stuff adds up, and newer trucks like the F-150 offer better cargo utility for less money.
On the road, the Titan is actually rather refined, even by today’s standards. The ‘Endurance’ 5.6-liter V8 is a smooth, fairly free revving overhead cam design, boasting decent power (317-hp at 5200 revs), but more importantly ample torque – 385 ft-lbs where it counts, at 3400 rpm. As a result, acceleration is strong and direct (even with electronic throttle) plus there’s ample thrust in reserve for all but the most extreme of situations. Payload capacity on both 4×2 and 4×4 models is rated at over 2000 lbs, while equipped with the optional Class IV hitch and 7-pin adapter, the Titan can tow up to 7,400 lbs (an impressive 9,300 if equipped with the optional Premium Utility package that ads a heavy duty battery, lower 3.36:1 final drive (versus 2.94), trailering mirrors, Utili-track and bed mounted 12-volt power outlet among other things). As a result, pulling a trailer containing a decent sized boat or car, is virtually child’s play.
Coupled to the V8 is a five-speed automatic transmission, with a manual shift feature. Like the engine, it’s a refined unit, fairly smooth in operation that doesn’t tend to hunt through the gears, even under brisk acceleration or stopping. A standard tow/haul mode is also useful, contributing to this rig’s impressive hauling capability. Yet for all this refinement, the transmission is geared fairly low, thus fuel economy is not a strong suit of the Titan. In regular driving you’ll be lucky to get 14 miles per gallon around town or more than 17 on the highway.
Thanks to its well designed F-Alpha boxed frame and coil sprung front short/long arm front suspension, the Titan feels quite sporty but delivers a fairly supple ride under most conditions. The leaf sprung solid axle rear feels surprisingly composed on bumpy roads, even without a payload, which is more than we can say for many newer competitors.
Steering is a little over boosted, but considerably sportier than it’s main Japanese rival, the Tundra, with decent on-center feel. The same goes for handling. While the 5,000 lb plus Titan certainly has limitations, for a big truck it equates itself well. It’s rather controllable, doesn’t tent to feel its weight when entering a corner and sudden directional changes reveal a decidedly minimal amount of body roll. Oversteer can be easily induced however, especially in the wet, aided by the V8’s robust torque and fairly small P265/70/18 tires, though bigger 275s come on the off-road PRO-4X. Braking is a major strength of the Titan, big 13.8-inch front discs and 12.6-inch rear units (vented no less), deliver ample stopping power – 60 mph to 0 in well under 155 feet – while 4-chanel ABS and Electronic front/rear distribution minimize front end dive under panic stops.
OFF-ROADING A CHALLENGE, DESPITE PRO-4X GEAR
In terms of boonie bashing capability, the Titan has quite a lot going for it. Nissan’s 4WD system is easy to use and whether in high or low range, you’ve got ample torque and traction to motor through the majority of stuff, despite the truck’s portly mass. The PRO-4X, adds skid plates for the transfer case and radiator, along with specific Rancho off-road shocks and an electronic locking rear differential with standard 3.36 ring and pinion. These features make quite a difference out there on the trail, especially combined with the larger 275 off-road tires and specific 18-inch alloy wheels.
If there is any drawback to the Titan’s off-roading ability, besides weight, it’s ground clearance. Approach and departure angles of 28 and 27.7 degrees respectively are decent enough, but it’s the rocker panels that can become a bit of an obstacle. Also, unlike smaller brother Frontier, there’s no Hill Descent Control feature on the off-road package, so considering the Titan’s substantial girth, steep hills require maximum concentration when four-wheeling.
While it maybe in the twilight of its existence, the veteran Titan is still worth a look when shopping for your next full-sized pickup. It still offers distinctive style, good on-road refinement and excellent towing capability, even if some of its features are now starting to look dated.